Closing Japan’s Wartime History
Akihiko Hirata’s final role in a Godzilla film came in Terror of Mechagodzilla. Like in 1954 as Dr. Serizawa, he again plays a scientist, although here he’s donning a phony mustache and giving off mad cackles in a forcibly cliched role. In terms of performance and writing, it’s dire. In subtext though, it’s enough to redeem Hirata’s Dr. Mafune.
Mafune hates mankind. The scientific community rejected his exploratory science into a dinosaur species. His anger stems from that betrayal. Mafune comes off as the last of Japan’s Imperialists, smugly superior and violent, banding together with an alien force who seeks to expand their civilization – also Imperialist.
Being a direct sequel to Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, the antagonists are still the Black Hole aliens, returning to Earth, recovering Mechagodzilla, rebuilding their machine, and again striking Earth. They too embody an aggressive pre-World War II ideology; they see (then) current Japan as simpletons, they themselves as super-human. For any failure, they condemn their own to death.
Terror of Mechagodzilla’s twist is that Mafune confronts his selfish anger in dealing with the aliens. Through them, Mafune comes to understand their inhumanity and the cost of his own. Like the Black Hole aliens, he too committed an atrocity. In this case, stealing his daughter’s humanity, turning her into a cyborg, and giving into power’s allure. Of the ‘70s era Godzilla films, Mafune’s arc is the richest.
Returning director Ishiro Honda conveys substance through a wild sci-fi story involving Mafune’s cyborg daughter and giant monsters. Terror of Mechagodzilla closes the original series with no shortage of off-the-wall ideas. But, also a final shot at Japan’s cruel wartime history. That’s an appropriate finish, shifting from morose and fearful allegory in 1954 to an acknowledgment that Japan’s own destructive expansion was worth mourning too.
This comes dressed in a kooky special effects spectacular, loaded with explosions, laser beams, and wonky kaiju fighting. Newcomer Titanosaurus bites Godzilla in the mouth, punching Godzilla with uppercuts that send him implausibly into the air. Terror of Mechagodzilla cannot escape the creative rut carved by the Godzilla vs Megalons, but it does pay attention to nuance elsewhere. That’s the difference, along with some dazzling miniature work and city destruction. The latter was rare as theater receipts dwindled through the decade.
Godzilla heads out to sea in the final shot. A sunset glistens on the waves. Despite a shoddy promotional suit used on screen, the send-off seems wholly proper. Terror of Mechagodzilla caps a film series that spawned from, commentated on, and reflected the totality of a gruesome conflict.
Oddly, Terror of Mechagodzilla is the only film in the Showa Era Collection with a notable aliasing problem. The image is weirdly pixelated, as if shoddily upscaled from an SD source. It’s a constant in this transfer, impacting definition in what looks like an otherwise passable image.
Color wanes a little, suffering from yellowing at times. Saturation lacks zip, waning with age. Still, things like Mechagodzilla’s lasers prove bright and rich.
Helping things is persistent contrast and pleasing depth. In the opening scenes, a submarine swims through a dry-for-wet miniature set, with excellent balance to create a sense of deep water but holding to brightness. The first brawl between Godzilla and Titanosaurus takes place at night, producing stable (if not inky) black levels. When explosions begin to spread, an opposite intensity is reached.
An English dub is offered alongside the Japanese language track, both in DTS-HD. The latter handles Akira Ifukube’s themes cleanly. Stable highs maintain their integrity. There’s little challenge in the lows, diminishing range, but to no fault for an older analog mono track.
Dialog keeps pace, smooth and clean.
Terror of Mechagodzilla
Director Ishiro Honda returns to close the original series in Terror of Mechagodzilla, and in doing so, brings the franchise’s war allegory full circle.
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