Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Composed by: Kow Otani

As with the previous Heisei series, the first films of the Shinsei series underperformed box office expectations, and once again Toho once again rescued the franchise by bringing back classic monsters. Shusuke Kaneko, the director the critically acclaimed Gamera trilogy form the 90s, was given a crack at the Big G. This time Godzilla squares off against the trio of Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Baragon. GMK (the popular abbreviation in light of the film’s rather lengthy title), is one of my personal favorite Godzilla films. It takes some risky unique angles (turning the monsters into physical manifestations of spirits, making King Ghidorah a good guy, etc.) and it pays off. This time Godzilla is the destructive embodiment of all the souls killed in the Pacific War. He targets Japan, which was mostly responsible for said war. Godzilla’s assault threatens nature itself, prompting a trio of sacred guardian monsters to come to Japan’s rescue. In addition to a highly original premise, GMK doesn’t sugarcoat the level of death and suffering a monster attack would bring. While previous films rarely showed the actual deaths of human onscreen, here soldiers are visibly blown into the sky or incinerated, while people are crushed and obliterated inside their buildings.

Matching the unique nature of the film is Kow Otani’s score. Otani is a frequent collaborator with Kaneko, including on his Gamera films. Kaneko’s Godzilla score is heavy on synthesizers and electronics, a stark departure from previous scores. It nevertheless works well thanks to the strength of his themes. Kaneko’s score is very thematic, with four major and a couple ancillary themes filling up almost every space. Godzilla’s theme is introduced forebodingly at the very start of the album. It makes its first full fledged appearance at 0:15 in “Main Title.” Matching the Big G’s most villainous portrayal, it’s decidedly more sinister than his other themes. One unusual appearance of this theme is “Escape from Godzilla,” where it starts off powerful and menacing, but then literally fails (this makes sense if you see the scene it accompanies).

The other primary theme is a heavily spiritual motif for the three guardian spirit monsters in general and Ghidorah in specific. It usually appears on light synthesizer, often with a choral accompaniment. This theme is even more present than Godzilla’s as much of the early part of the film is devoted to the investigation and awakening of the guardian monsters. One track that highlights this theme is “Mysterious Old Man,” which engages in heavily mysterious fare until a choral iteration of the theme appears. Baragon and Mothra get their own individual motifs. Baragon’s is the least interesting in the score. It’s an electronic action motif that doesn’t really convey the monster’s size, spiritual role, or heroic determination in his lopsided fight with Godzilla (that particular fight is scored by “The Sacred Beast’s Ambush,” which is decidedly dominated by Godzilla’s theme). Mothra’s motif is actually a variation of “Mothra’s Song,” utilizing the first few notes with a couple alterations in key. Also, the motif is presented with an electronic choir that literally sings “Mosura.” It first appears in “The Giant Cocoon.”

The humans get two themes. In contrast to the usual military marches, Otani gives the Japanese Self-Defense Force a still heroic but more hard-edged electronic motif (“Cruiser Aizu” and “Attack Preparation”). The other theme, made up of three-note increments, forms the emotional core of the soundtrack. It appears towards the end of the first track and appears at key moments in the human drama.  It usually appears on piano, but Otani brings in other instrumentation in its two most major appearances. The first, “Determined to Protect the Future,” is a lengthy iteration that appears when the film’s male lead gets set for his final confrontation with Godzilla. The other, “A Salute to the Spirits of the War Dead,” is the final cue outside the end credits. Here it plays for a couple moments before the Guardian theme makes two appearances. The emotional theme comes back on piano and this time segues into and mixes with a final statement of Godzilla’s theme. The last track for the end credits has Ifukube’s Godzilla March, his Great Monster War March, and a reprise of GMK’s “Main Title.”

GMK is a very different soundtrack, and I’d say a pretty good one. Unlike other electronic and unusual scores in the franchise (Riichiro Manabe’s work in the 70s, “Godzilla Final Wars”) it manages to consistently maintain the drama and power of a Godzilla score. I do see how its electronic style and constant repetition of short motifs can annoy some listeners. I think I can give this a pretty good score.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklisting

  1. Call to Arms
  2. Main Title
  3. The Huge Fang
  4. The Menacing Claw Mark
  5. Incident at the Lake Shore
  6. The Mysterious Old Man
  7. The Giant Foot
  8. The Sleeping Three-Headed Dragon
  9. Dark Vision
  10. God of the Earth: Baragon
  11. The God of Destruction Appears
  12. Terrifying Landing
  13. The Forgotten Horror
  14. Confrontation of the Two Giant Monsters
  15. The Sacred Beast’s Ambush
  16. God of the Sea: Mothra
  17. Unleashed Spirits of the War Dead
  18. Attack Preparation
  19. A Tense Moment
  20. God of the Sky: King Ghidorah
  21. GMK
  22. Godzilla’s Rage
  23. Determined to Protect the Future
  24. Mysterious Power
  25. The Miracle of the Three Sacred Beasts
  26. A Desperate Crisis
  27. Escape from Godzilla
  28. A Salute to the Spirits of the War Dead
  29. End Roll: Godzilla Theme – Great Monster War March – Main Title (partly composed by Akira Ifukube)
  30. Godzilla Theme (composed by Akira Ifukube)
  31. Great Monster War March (composed by Akira Ifukube)
  32. Godzilla (Roar, Breath, Ray)
  33. Baragon (Roar)
  34. Mothra Larva (Roar)
  35. (Roar, Movement Sound)
  36. (Roar, Flight Sound)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s