Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S DVD review

This latest batch of Godzilla films, starting with "Godzilla 2000," has been hit or miss all the way through. Fans have been split on nearly every film. The Shinsei series gets its only direct sequel here with "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S," and it's a pretty close call.

Mechagodzilla has been damaged. Godzilla has been wounded. After an epic battle, both creatures have been returned to heal in different ways, but there is a new threat. The Shobijin, the small fairies from Infant Island, have returned. They have come to visit Dr. Shin'ichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi), a man familiar with the island's most famous creature, Mothra. They bring with them a warning. Either the Godzilla skeleton that was used to create Mechagodzilla is returned to the sea, or Japan will face unprecedented destruction at the hands of Mothra. The government must now decide whether or not to stop the project and lose their only real defense, or continue with their only hope.

It's great to see Koizumi back in the genre he is most famous for. The longtime actor has not been seen since the beginning of the Heisei series, "Godzilla 1984." Unfortunately, screen time is short for just about all of the actors, except for those battling it out inside the suits.

For the first half hour the meager story is moved along, giving a very basic primer over what happened in the previous film. If you have not seen the previous years "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla," don't bother here. Akira Nakao returns as Japan's highest authority and gets plenty of screen time overall as he faces most of the burden concerning the giant weapon.

A rare direct sequel (though it really is just a continuation) for the series, "Tokyo" makes plenty of references to the original "Mothra." It does help add an additional layer to the story (considering what little time is has) and gives a reason for the government to be so apprehensive about Chujo's suggestion that the robot be disassembled. But when it all comes down to it, you're here for the monsters.

That's exactly what this film gives you. This has to be one of the longest battles in kaiju history lasting well over an hour in screen time (and an entire night in, uh, "real time"). The two main suits remain unchanged except for a large apparent scar on Godzilla's chest from the previous struggle. Unfortunately, for the first time in a while, it really is obvious the suit is made of rubber. Mechagodzilla looks fine, but a combination of too much lighting and oddball camera angles make the effect far too obvious in more than a few shots of Godzilla.

Mothra is mostly done in the traditional manner, though quick movements are handled by unconvincing CGI. Her design varies little from any of the previous incarnations. There are only a few brief shots where the wires show through. Miniature work is excellent and there is a ton of pyrotechnic work the crew can be proud of.

Even with all of the struggle, there is plenty of time for missteps. For whatever reason, the actors are constantly having flashbacks to either previous scenes in this movie or the one previous. It quickly becomes irritating. The battle itself has a moment of cheese (a ridiculous back flip) and some nasty editing, but that's compensated for thanks to a nice homage to "Ghidrah" as the larvae Mothra attaches itself to the end of Godzilla's tail. Finally, as usual, the CG effects are at least five years behind and more than a few times pull you right out of the movie. This likely has more to due with the ridiculously short length of the shooting schedule rather than anything else.

Put the two films together and you have a winner. Separated, the first probably wins out by a hair. Neither film has much in the way of characterization, but at least you care for the people in the first one. Here, the monsters win out and the destruction is on a grand scale, but you just don't feel a connection with the on screen action this time around. It's probably for the best that the series has come to an (supposed) end with the recently premiered "Godzilla Final Wars." It's become too formulaic for its own good. (*** out of *****)

Sony has brought the Godzilla films over here with nothing short of brilliant transfers recently, but something has gone horribly wrong here. Grain is at all time high for most of the film and the opening aerial dogfight is almost completely obscured. It likely has as much to do with the special effects as it does with the transfer. Flesh tones vary from dead-on to washed out. Later in the film, a small upper portion of the screen has an annoying layer that seems whited out. It comes and goes, but it really becomes grating after a while. Toss in some nasty aliasing issues too. Black levels are solid, but that's one of the few positive moments this transfer provides. (**)

Thankfully, Sony provides a solid audio track, regardless of whether you watch the film subtitled or dubbed. This is an intense, aggressive mix that never seems to let up once the action starts. Debris flies all around the sound field, as do missiles and monsters. The range of the bass is decent, but maybe not as powerful as it could be. Nonetheless, it provides a nice shock to a home theater and it's one you'll likely find in the DVD player more often than you would think. (****)

Surprise! Sony has FINALLY tossed on an extra feature to a Godzilla disc. Here you get almost 22-minutes of behind the scenes footage. A scene of the crew at work plays and then the finished shot from the film is shown. There is no narration, but you really don't need any. The logical approach to the effects is fascinating to watch and this is only the second time US audiences can see how it's done (the first was a brief feature on the "Godzilla 2000" DVD). The only other extras are some various trailers. On a final note, kudos to the art department at Sony for crafting a fantastic piece of cover art. (***)

For the 100th anniversary of this series, "Tokyo S.O.S." won't be the most remembered piece of work, but it will likely find a few a fans. This is a great one to introduce kids to in order to start their fandom of giant monsters. There's plenty of action to go around which, deep down, is all giant monster fans really want in the first place.

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