The Return of Godzilla (1984) Ushers in the 80s on a Serious Note

Nine years had passed since the last Godzilla movie. What is referred to as the Showa era was over. Disco was also dead. Now was the time for Godzilla to return to the big screen. In 1984, Godzilla was released, although it is better known as The Return of Godzilla to help avoid confusion with the original from 1954. Although we didn’t call it a reboot at the time, that is just what happened. All of the previous movies aside from the original are now wiped from memory. So begins the Heisei era of Godzilla.

Return of GodzillaIt doesn’t take long to realize that this is now a much darker Godzilla universe. We aren’t going to see goofy sub-plots involving comical characters. Godzilla is not going to dance a little jig. This Godzilla is still a destructive force, just as he was in the original. Set 30 years after Gojira (1954), a fishing boat is found by a reporter, Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka), and he discovers all of the crew dead except for Hiroshi Okumura (Shin Takuma). He also discovers a giant sea louse, narrowly escaping death by killing it. After Okumura recovers and looks at pictures, he discovers the creature that attacked the boat was Godzilla. While the initial news is kept quiet, Godzilla returns again, this time destroying a Russian submarine. The Russians blame the United States and tensions are on the rise (very much in tune with what was going on politically at that point in the 1980s). The news of Godzilla’s return is made public to help calm the political issues and it’s only a matter of time before Godzilla begins attacking the Japanese mainland.

While Japanese forces defend Tokyo, a special aircraft called the Super X attacks Godzilla and, ultimately, uses Cadmium shells, which cause Godzilla to fall asleep. However, the Russians inadvertently launch a nuclear missile at the monster, only to have the United States stop it with one of their own. But, the resulting electrical storm revives Godzilla and the destruction resumes. A final confrontation ensues with the Super X being destroyed by Godzilla. A device created by a scientist lures Godzilla to sea, where he eventually falls into volcano Mount Mihara. He appears to be trapped but we all know he’s not dead.Godzilla 3

As previously stated, this is a much darker story than we had been getting in the 60s and 70s. Godzilla is a force of devastation and we witness not only massive damage to Tokyo but countless deaths as well, something absent from Godzilla films for some time. This Godzilla is bigger, stronger and looks more menacing. The sub-plots are taken seriously, involving a professor and Hiroshi’s sister. No surprise that it was a box office success in Japan, earning more than $11 million. In fact, it was the most successful Godzilla entry in the series since Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (1966). However, the American audience saw a much different movie, mirroring the same thing that happened with the original Gojira.

Godzilla 1985 was released by New World Pictures and featured some major re-edits in an effort to increase the appeal to the US film market. Raymond Burr reprises his role as Dr. Steve Martin from Godzilla, King of the Monsters! Footage of the Pentagon is added while a lot of scenes were cut or rearranged, including a lot of Godzilla’s Tokyo rampage. The United States is also made to seem less aggressive while Russia is shown to have launched the missile rather than being unsuccessful in their attempt to stop the launch. A very different film and, unfortunately, still the only version American audiences have officially seen released.

Godzilla 1985Critics at the time blasted the poor dubbing and bad special effects. However, I thought the special effects were a big step up from what we had seen in previous Godzilla movies. The movie is very dark visually, which actually enhances the battle sequences and really channels the original Gojira. There really is no comparison as the Japanese version far surpasses the Americanized one. Two VHS releases are long out-of-print and neither version has ever been released on DVD here in the US. Do some searching and you’ll be able to find the original Japanese language version. It really is the only way to watch this flick. Meanwhile, check out some trailers and get ready for the most serious Godzilla since the 1950s.

Next time, we visit the only other 1980s Godzilla film, 1989s Godzilla vs. Biollante.


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