Repairing History with Robot Monsters

On Okinawa, an elder High Priest pleads for Godzilla to destroy mainland Japan. He’s vengeful. His Azumi clan was wiped out, presumably during World War II, by the atrocities committed by the Imperial state. Japan’s hope in defeating Godzilla? An Azumi legend, nearly lost in the wartime aggression.

For a 1970s Godzilla entry, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla lashes out at its homeland. Previous sequels took shots at industrialization and capitalist growth, but Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla carries a mournful side. Tradition is lost, overridden by economic expansion, thoughtlessness, and historical revisionism. The main threat in this film is not Godzilla, rather a technological doppelganger who steps onto Okinawa, shooting lasers and missiles, destroying the island’s cultural remnants.

It’s generational. The Azumi High Priest (Masao Imafuku) holds nothing but hate for those who wronged him and his people. The younger Priestess (Bellbella Lin) holds empathy, envisioning the coming tragedy and death; those on the mainland were no longer responsible. She becomes the savior to Japan’s people, equal to those scientists, reporters, and police who also seek to end Mechagodzilla’s rampage.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla carries a mournful side

In reality, the High Priest and Priestess fill a small fraction of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla’s screentime. The rest deals in legends and mystery, with archaeologists trying to decipher a prophecy left by the Azumi. If only they could ask the meaning, lives would be saved. A violent past instead creates divide, and more people die.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla uses this basis to elevate itself, covering the obvious knock-off pop culture elsewhere. The aliens (from Black Hole Planet 3, wherever that may be) controlling Mechagodzilla turn into apes when killed, looking to profit off Planet of the Apes’ popularity. Even Toho tried this before. In King Kong Escapes, Kong wrestled his own robot challenger.

This is not Godzilla vs Megalon though, the dusty, decrepit entry released the year before. Where that film mangled Godzilla’s nuclear origins, this is a more socially aware effort. And, it’s bolder. Still cheap (a Godzilla suit meant for public appearances is used frequently), but bombastic. Mechagodzilla unleashes colorful firepower, and rather than aim for bottom-dwelling camp, this becomes a legitimate threat to Godzilla – weirdness in Godzilla’s sudden magnetic powers notwithstanding.

In the end, it’s Godzilla in an uneasy alliance with the Azumi’s King Ceaser, a lion-like beast who defends territory more than Japan. Loosely comparable to the way 1954’s Godzilla made nuclear terror digestible, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla seeks to repair a national fracture through the monster performance. The final frames see the Azumi High Priest locking a King Ceaser statue in a safe, preventing future use, but he’s smiling. Cooperation saved the last of his people. There’s a future now, a positive finish to a strained relationship.

Video

One of the more appealing transfers in Criterion’s Showa Era Collection, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla brings stellar definition to home screens. While not outright sharp (owing to the release print source), there’s enough visible resolution to find facial detail, texture, and other highlights lost on previous formats.

Free of print defects (an occasional stray hair aside), grain resolves cleanly. Encoding handles this material with care. Expert color reproduction dazzles with its saturation, emboldening an already vivid outing. Mechagodzilla’s lasers look splendid.

While black levels wane slightly, especially inside caves, dimension is firm. A night battle near a dock delivers superb density, backed with bright explosions. Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla keeps this peak for much of its runtime.

Audio

Both an English dub and Japanese dialog are featured in DTS-HD mono. Focusing on the original language track, the brassy score from returning composer Masaru Sato sounds great – mostly. There’s distortion when it comes to King Ceaser’s theme for whatever reason, going against the rest.

Dialog reproduction suffers no ills, nicely resolved from a vintage analog source. Balance maintains each element during hectic action.

Extras

Nothing.

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 29 Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 100,000+ already in our library), 100 exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.