Review: GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. And More Godzilla DVDs

An archive review from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · December 15, 2019, 9:55 PM PST
Godzilla Tokyo SOS

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on December 15, 2004, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

As Godzilla’s 50th-anniversary year draws to a close, Columbia TriStar Home Video has caught up with the end of the "Millennium" series of Big G films by releasing last December’s entry Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. this week on DVD. The penultimate film in the franchise before the kaiju steps out with the standard-tweaking Godzilla: Final Wars, Tokyo S.O.S. is a well-paced meat-and-potatoes monster mash in which the human subplots are tied in more closely with the city-smashing than in the previous entry, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. Proceeding directly from the ending of that movie, we find Mechagodzilla in disrepair following its last battle with its flesh-and-blood progenitor, and one of those in charge of fixing it up is a young man named Yoshito (Noboru Kaneko).

In the most delightful of a few homages to Toho’s past that crop up in Tokyo S.O.S., Yoshito’s uncle turns out to be Chujo, a scientist played both here and in 1961’s Mothra by veteran actor Hiroshi Koizumi. He and his little grandson are visited by Mothra’s twin “fairies” with a warning that the skeleton of the original Godzilla (which literally forms Mechagodzilla’s spine) must be returned to the sea, lest the new Big G come calling. It’s not giving much away to note that the authorities don’t heed the omen, and pretty soon Godzilla comes roaring back, Mechagodzilla is sent into combat against him and Mothra is successfully summoned to join the fight. The full final half of Tokyo S.O.S is devoted to the running battle and its ramifications, and in a nice visual flourish, director/co-writer Masaaki Tezuka begins the combat just before dusk (with attractive magic-hour lighting) continues it through the night and ends it as dawn breaks the following day.

The colorful photography and FX are given their due in the DVD’s 2.35:1 transfer, which is very clean and sharp and accompanied by aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. There’s a Japanese track (with removable subtitles) and an English one, and while the dubbing is OK, it’s no substitute for the authentic language. (Not to mention that whoever was in charge of the dub apparently knocked off after the closing credits began, and thus a little whammy at the very end of the film has voiceover on the Japanese track only.) For the first time, Columbia TriStar has ported a making-of segment over from the Japanese disc, a collection of peeks at the shooting of FX sequences with each followed by the scene as it appears in the film. There’s no interview material, or even identification of the various artisans (and I looked in vain for Fango correspondent Norman England in the backgrounds), but the glimpses of how the monster mayhem was achieved were satisfying enough for this lifelong kaiju devotee.

Columbia TriStar has also issued a number of vintage Godzilla adventures on fresh DVDs, and combined them with more recent films in an assortment of boxed sets. Unfortunately, the company didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to retransfer the Heisei titles previously issued (and included in the boxes) as fullscreen, dubbed double-bill discs, despite the fact that a fine subtitled print of that series’ highlight, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, made the repertory rounds over the past several months. The movies that have been given upgrades aren’t exactly the monster’s finest hours—Son of Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla vs. Hedorah and the first Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla—though they all have their nostalgic charms, and the makeovers each has been given are most impressive.

Kaiju fans, banish your memories of chopped TV airings and cropped VHS tapes and revel in these new widescreen transfers, which sport vivid colors and sharp images that make it feel like you’re watching the films for the first time. These are export prints with Toho’s own English-language credits and dub tracks (along with the original, removably subtitled Japanese), which means that the voices are sometimes distinct from those heard in the U.S. release versions (with the latter three from the list above retitled Godzilla on Monster Island, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster). But the most significant omission is that the notorious English-language reworking of Hedorah’s theme song—under the title “Save the Earth”—from Smog Monster is nowhere to be found on the new disc.

Nor are subtitled lyrics for the tune provided on Hedorah, and Mechagodzilla’s song to King Seesar (or “Caesar,” as the disc’s subs spell it) goes undubbed and untranslated as well, much as it was on the Cosmic Monster prints. Gigan’s English version includes the brief dialogue spoken by Godzilla and Angilas, while they “converse” only in audio feedback on the Japanese track. The sound on all these discs is 2.0 mono, and the screeches, screams and smashes come across just fine.