Gojira vs. Biorante [Godzilla vs. Biollante] (1989)

This is the one where Godzilla fights a giant rose.

It’s one of those things that is so bizarre that you just have to lead with it.

What makes this particularly strange is that this story somehow beat out a script which pitted the Big G against a gigantic super computer, a story which was eventually reborn as the impressive — if a bit batty — cyberpunk mecha adventure, Gunhed.

And, in fact, that points at something even more inexplicable: After the success of Godzilla 1985, and the big green guy’s return from a decade of silence, Toho really wasn’t sure what to do for a follow up.  So they had a big script competition…

And this is the one that won first place.


But it is also the film that established the pattern for the next decade of Godzilla films.  It even introduced the psychic Miki Saegusa, who would appear in every one of the remaining Heisei era Godzilla movies.

Mind you, she’s supposed to be sixteen in this one, and she was looking a lot older than twenty-two by the time she bowed out in Godzilla vs. Destroyah in 1995.

After Godzilla attacked in 1985, a team of mercenaries recovered pieces of Godzilla’s skin from the wreckage.  This sample was then sent to a tiny Arabian country, where they plan to use the G-Cells they harvested to create new crops that will make them the world leader in agriculture, with the help of the geneticist, Dr. Shirigami.

However, terrorists destroy the research center. leading to the death of Shirigami’s daughter, Erika.  He retires and virtually disappears, living all by himself with his plants.

Years pass, and the Self Defense Force has become far more concerned about Godzilla.  He’s still buried deep in the volcano they dumped him into at the end of Godzilla 1985, but they are worried that he is starting to stir.

So they persuade Dr. Shirigami to come out of retirement, to help them create an bacteria that eats radiation as the ultimate weapon against the Big G.

Only he has something else in mind for those G-Cells he’s supposed to be using: the rose his daughter had in her hands when she died is now dying, and he wants to keep her alive.  So he combines it with the G-Cells and some of his daughter’s cells end up in the mix as well.

And this strange mix of genetic information turns into the monstrous creature, Biollante.

Of course it does.

Meanwhile, terrorists try to hold Japan hostage by planting bombs in the volcano that will definitely waken him.  Unfortunately, they are very inept terrorists and Godzilla is freed, leading to the usual series of giant rubbery monster battles.

The film cost more than any other Heisei era film, and it isn’t hard to see why:  Biollante’s final form is absolutely incredible: it is one of the largest monster suits Toho ever built, standing ten feet tall, with tentacles, multiple small jaws, a giant, Godzilla-like head, a crew of twenty and 32 wires controlling it all (ten more than they needed for King Ghidora!).  The rest of the production looks incredible, with some of the best battle scenes in the entire series, and the first use of CGI in a Godzilla film, for all of the many computer displays.

Unfortunately, it didn’t do well in the box office, which led to reduced budgets for the films that followed, and a decision to focus on familiar adversaries in the films that followed (okay, Destroyah is more or less an exception.  Except that it isn’t).  However, Godzilla vs. Biollante has become a fan favorite for some reason or other and has done well on video.  I can still remember when the Heisei era films were completely unavailable on the American Market, and this film suddenly appeared on VHS with a huge portrait of Biollante in dazzling green and red on the cover:

(paid link)

It would be several years before any of the others were available.

I’ll confess I have a certain affection for this film.  It has absolute unshakeable confidence in the goofy idea at its heart, and turns this strange genetic mishmash — and the plot mishmash leading to it all — into a wild, colorful and artfully made film.  It led to a more cinematic look for the Godzilla films that followed as Toho strove to make them look more like American films.  The director, Kazuki Ômori, wasn’t a Godzilla fan and wanted to make something more like a James Bond film.  This resulted in the tangle of motives, mercenaries and assassinations which resulted in the death of Erika Shirigami.  As I’ve joked before, the story of your typical Kaiju Eiga film is just there to keep all the Giant Rubbery Monster battles apart, and the story here does that with a certain amount of style and enough complexity to keep it all interesting.  It is a nice ironic touch, though, that the group making the anti-radiation bacteria are the very people responsible for Erika’s death.

Although this is left rather subtle and a lot of people will miss it.

Unfortunately, one of the big problems here is that Biollante’s behavior isn’t consistent.  It seems frightened in some moments, ferocious and animalistic in others, and we get glimpses of Erika as well.  This might have worked better had they used Miki to explain what Biollante was feeling, or we had a scene where Miki told the Self Defense Force that they had to act quickly because the Godzilla side of Biollante was taking over.

As a result, the debate about Biollante’s motivations rages on to this day, not just with the fans but in the many comic book and videogame adaptations of the Godzilla franchise.

I can’t agree that this is one of the best movies in the series.  However, it is spectacular and fun and truly marks the beginning of the Heisei Godzilla era.  After all, Godzilla 1985 was an attempt to revive the series, but they had no plans for what might come next.

Or if there was going to be anything else.

So Godzilla vs. Biollante is not merely a great Kaiju Eiga film, but it is a historic moment, a bold experiment, and somehow it turns its ridiculous monster into something truly terrifying.

Which makes it more than worth a look if you love Kaiju films as much as I do.

Just don’t try too hard to figure out why Biollante does what she does.

I’m not sure anyone at Toho knew, either…

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