What does Godzilla mean to me? All I had were half-remembered fragments. A sense that I loved his adventures but no concrete reasons why. Most of his movies I hadn’t seen since childhood. Some not at all. I could remember all the monsters — Biollante, Destoroyah, Mothra, Rodan, Gigan, Godzilla himself. But the stories? I had to watch them all again. Who was this character who sat so large in my mind but had become so ill-defined?
The best way to find those answers was to watch them all back-to-back — and then to take the question to the G-man himself.
Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan.
So many people have died for you, but none more tragically than Katsura Mafune (Tomoko Ai). And you’ll never even know her name. Let me tell you about her.
Her father was Shinzo Mafune (Akihiko Hirata), a famous oceanologist who discovered the Titanosaurus, an ancient beast living deep beneath the waves. As all ancient beasts are, the Titanosaurus was capable of great destructive power, injuring Katsura during a lab experiment. She was then saved by mysterious men who implanted cybernetic elements into her chest to keep her heart beating.
As payment, they enlisted mad Dr. Mafune to help redesign their fallen battle robot, Mechagodzilla. Turns out the benefactors were from Black Hole Planet 3, returned once again to rid the Earth of the human race — this time starting with Tokyo. As a failsafe, they implanted Mechagodzilla’s control switch in Katsura’s heart. Katsura loved her father, covering for him as Interpol investigated his relationship to both Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla 2, even as her father unleashed Titanosaurus onto the world for the first time.
I know you defeated Mechagodzilla 2, Godzilla, but that’s hardly the point. You’d have never done it if Katsura had not fallen in love with marine biologist Ichinose, the human hero of this tale, which allowed her to overcome her cybernetic programming and end Mechagodzilla’s second reign of terror with a suicidal gunshot to her heart. It’s a dramatic moment heightened by the absurdity of the situation: Your life held in the hands of a cyborg, whose remaining shreds of humanity lead her to choose love…and thusly death.
In many ways, Katsura’s self-sacrifice for you harkened back to that moment under the sea with Dr. Serizawa in 1954, as he watched you sleep and ignited the Oxygen Destroyer with so much sorrowful resolve. That showdown in the depths cast a man holding infinite power against the … sorry to say this about you … monster who embodied it. Here, it was a different kind of power for a different kind of monster: The human heart in exchange for you, now a symbol of our indomitable spirit rather than our scientific sins.
In that absurdity, there is power and emotion.
In your future films, you’ll cease to be the paragon of goodness you became over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, and few characters will see their lives as a positive cost in a world under your protection. Katsura’s story embodies this era from start to finish. It speaks to where you started — as a creature of indiscriminate destruction — and where you ended up, a hero worth saving. She is also part of the shape of things to come for how human stories will be told in your later series, led by decisive women with extraordinary abilities and choices to make. Her story, however, remains the only one written for the screen by a woman.
This was the final time Ishirō Honda would sit in the director’s chair. It was the final time Hirata would appear as a mad scientist in the series, too, bookending this set of stories. (His over-the-top performance as Dr. Mafune was a scene-stealer.) It was also the last film in your initial run of 15, a box-office failure so drastic it necessitated a complete relaunch of your character and a return to the grittiness of your original debut.
This is is not a beloved story in your canon, but it is a vastly underrated one.
New installments of Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan will post regularly leading up to the May 31 release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.