By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Godzilla was a subject very distant in almost anyone's mind. The monster had attacked in 1954, but was defeated shortly afterwards by an unknown chemical compound. Danger still remained, however. Anecdotal evidence of other monsters poured in from across the globe, and an attack by a large, reptilian creature, was even confirmed in New York City in 1998. The Japanese Self-Defense Force, Admiral Taizo Tachibana reasoned, would always have to be prepared.
In 2002, 48 years after the first Godzilla attack, a US nuclear submarine disappeared off the coast of Guam, and the anti-nuclear submarine Satsuma was dispatched to investigate. The eerily glowing dorsal fins of an unknown, and unfathomably large creature were sighted near the incident. It appeared as though a nightmare from the distant past would soon make a terrifying reemergence...
Meanwhile, the admiral's daughter, Yuri Tachibana, was in the process of filming a fictional documentary near Mt. Myoko in Niigata when a tremor struck. Yuri sighted a mysterious old man in the area, dressed in traditional robes, but he promptly vanished. Later on, in the dead of night, a motorcycle gang was trapped in a collapsing tunnel, and a witness claimed to have observed the frightening face of an monster, which he identified as Godzilla. In the midst of this odd occurrence, Yuri came to realize just how excellent a lead this story truly was. She also came to learn that the epicenter of the tremor, which had caused the collapse of the tunnel, had actually moved! In response to the expanding mystery, Teruaki Takeda, Yuri's adviser, located a book written by Hirotoshi Isayama that described prophecies similar to the course of events which were presently unfolding. It told of a group of legendary beasts known as the Guardian Monsters: Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah.
The following night, tragedy struck Lake Ikeda. Eleven rowdy teenagers on a bike trip from Tokyo were killed and entrapped in a strange, silk like substance in the water. With the continuing escalation of these phenomenal events, Yuri and her crew journeyed to the Motosu Police Station to chat with Professor Isayama, a prophet who claimed that Godzilla's return was imminent. Yuri recognized the man, for she could have sworn she had seen this old prophet on the day of the tunnel collapse. Isayama began to explain the truth behind Godzilla's origins and power. He revealed to Yuri that while Godzilla was the product of nuclear weapons, he was also the amalgam of tormented souls from World War II which gave the monster his invulnerability. The old man also revealed the legend of the three guardian beasts, about how they were defeated long ago and how their bodies were slowly rejuvenating. Yuri was instructed to go to the place where King Ghidorah slept. Upon leaving the police station, Yuri located an amulet possessing an unknown power close to a shrine near to where the old man claimed King Ghidorah was in deep slumber...
That night, Maganote in the Bonin Islands was leveled as a heavy storm passed through the area. However, it was clear that there was another destructive force that accompanied this natural disaster. A press conference revealed the government's suspicions of Godzilla-related activity to the nation and the world, and a warning was issued to watch the seas around Japan. As a new level of intensity began to grip the nation, Yuri informed her father of the legend, but he believed what he heard with a grain of salt. Even still, he was solemn and was not quick to automatically doubt, for he too experienced the tragedy of Godzilla almost half a century earlier, when he lost his parents to the monster.
Meanwhile, Motosu burst into chaos as the ground exploded in front of the police station. An enormous, red, dinosaur broke through the ground, and it resembled Godzilla! As differing reports on the identity of the creature became confounded and confused, horror struck Yaizu Harbor in Shizuoka. A dark monolith of charcoal grey scales rose from the sea, and Godzilla began to annihilate everything in his path toward his ultimate destination: Tokyo! He rampaged through Shimizu as the red monster barreled through Hakone Spa, and they finally met face-to-face in the Hakone Valley. While the burrowing, red monster managed to bite, body slam, and crash physical blows against his foe, he was outmatched in almost every aspect by his sadistic foe, and Godzilla's atomic breath made short work of the beast who fought valiantly but failed miserably. There were dozens of casualties in the Hakone Valley in the cataclysmic disaster, and Yuri received a minor injury as she attempted to cover the event.
Despite Takeda's warning against it, Yuri purchased a bike and began to follow Godzilla as he moved closer and closer to Tokyo. She convinced her boss to air her live coverage of Godzilla's advance, as General Katsumasa Migumo ordered an air strike against the monster in the countryside. With the systematic destruction of every one of the jets, Godzilla's atomic breath proved this campaign to be a complete and utter disaster. However, cavalry would soon arrive, if not solely for humankind, then at least for the motherland. Mothra had just completed her metamorphosis, as Isayama watched King Ghidorah begin to emerge from his crystal tomb near Mt. Fuji.
The Yokohama Defense Line, Patrol Fleet Headquarters, and the Yokohama Garrison Post were all set up in the continuing scramble to form an effective counteroffensive in Godzilla's predetermined path. Admiral Tachibana was beginning to believe the legends as the strange prophecies began to come to light, and as he landed on the Battle Cruiser Aizu, Godzilla closed in on the defense line. The winged insect Mothra appeared on the scene and landed atop the Yokohama Landmark Tower. The two immense beings exchanged roars, and with that, the fight commenced! As Yuri watched from below, explosive stingers fired from Mothra's abdomen as Godzilla continually attempted to gain the advantage with his atomic breath, and in the heat of their battle, the uppermost levels of the Landmark Tower were completely annihilated. The ground began to tremble, heralding the arrival of a new contender...
King Ghidorah arrived to assist Mothra, and the two guardian monsters joined forces against their enemy. King Ghidorah attempted to bite Godzilla with bolts of gravity energy, but he was too weak and was knocked cold by his opponent. As Godzilla attempted to finish him off with his atomic breath, Mothra took the full force of the blast and was incapacitated as well. With no guardian monsters left to carry on the fight, the military was forced to attack Godzilla by itself, utilizing a special drilling missile called the D-03. In retaliation, the monster destroyed more than 90% of the humans' defenses. Desperate, Mothra rose from the streets, burning brightly, but Godzilla sensed her approach and destroyed the giant moth once and for all. Her essence revived King Ghidorah. King Ghidorah fired a swirling sphere of surging gravity energy from his wings and chest at Godzilla. Godzilla was tossed into the bay, with an open wound visible near his left shoulder.
As King Ghidorah engaged in a fierce struggle in the bay, Admiral Tachibana, noticing the window of opportunity that presented itself with Godzilla's injury, requested that he take the Satsuma and shoot the D-03 into the open wound. Yuri, meanwhile, was apprehended by soldiers near the scene of the battle for entering a restricted zone. She overheard what her father planned to do over the radio, and she pled with her father not to risk his life. He explained that it was his job, and asked if it would be right for others to risk their lives instead? Yuri explained that it was her job to cover the story, and in mutual understanding, her father gave an order to the nearby soldiers which allowed her to collect information freely. As the Satsuma was readied, Yuri and Takeda arrived at the Yokohama Bay Bridge and began to transmit a live broadcast of the battle waging in the bay. Suddenly, Godzilla's atomic breath pierced through the water and destroyed the foundation of the bridge. The structure began to collapse! As Yuri dangled above the bay below, barely grasping onto Takeda hand, the amulet she had collected earlier fell into the water and reenergized King Ghidorah (who had received a terrible wound among the chaos of the underwater fray). The monster exhaled a cushion of air toward the surface as Takeda and Yuri fell, and while they were saved from certain death, Yuri lost consciousness. King Ghidorah rose into the sky and began to unleash his gravity beams, but they only further energized Godzilla. The powerful synergy of Godzilla's atomic breath, coupled with the energy he absorbed from Ghidorah's gravity beams, were concentrated into one powerful assault that completely wiped out the golden dragon.
The spirits of all the guardian beasts shown brightly in the sky, and their combined spiritual energy entered Godzilla. The monster began to lose buoyancy and descended deeper into the murky waters. Taizo piloted the Satsuma toward Godzilla, but the atomic mutant swallowed the submersible. As Yuri's spirit told her father not to give up, he soon regained his wits and managed to retake control of the vessel from within the belly of the beast. At the surface, Yuri spit up a little water and regained consciousness. As morning arrived, Godzilla rose from the bay, and Yuri and Takeda watched from the base of the wrecked bridge below. The D-03 sliced through the monster's wound from the inside out and exploded! As Godzilla attempted to fire a breath to finish off Yuri and Takeda once and for all, the breath instead forced its way through the now gaping wound. Godzilla again attempted another breath, and the same thing happened for a second time. Roaring in horror, Godzilla plummeted into the bay. As the Satsuma barely managed to escape, the furious beast, determined to muster enough power to at least destroy this one last enemy, attempted to charge another breath.
Godzilla suddenly disappears from radar. It appeared certain that victory was in the hands of the humans, and everyone celebrated his destruction. Yuri and Takeda met up with Taizo as he emerged from the Satsuma. Though Yuri saluted him for his valiant victory, Taizo explained that not only he, but also his friends and the guardian monsters should be saluted, for Godzilla was destroyed by the combined force of all of those who fought the battle. Little did anyone realize however, that while Godzilla's destruction appeared certain, this observation was far from the truth. Godzilla's disembodied heart began to beat in Yokohama Bay, and it appeared as though the monster might rise again to wreak havoc on the world another day...
This movie is especially notable for the changes made to the monsters. For example, King Ghidorah (aka Monster Zero) typically played the villain in previous Godzilla movies; this movie has him as a hero. Also, in the other films, he's (usually) depicted as an alien monster while in this film is a mythical earth creature. In fact, Ghidorah is actually portrayed a few meters shorter than Godzilla; previous incarnations of the character were much larger, and towered over Godzilla.
Originally, the Godzilla featured in this film was intended to walk with his back and tail parallel to the ground, similar to the American Godzilla- however, this idea was dropped due to the strain it put on the suit actor, and Godzilla retains his traditional posture.
Mothra was also revamped. Like Ghidorah, Mothra is portrayed as being far smaller than normal. Her poison scale and hurricane wind attacks were removed, and were replaced with a shotgun-like burst of projectile stingers fired from her abdomen. In addition, Mothra's fairy servants, the Shobijin, are dropped completely, (though an homage exists in the form of a pair of twins, who make a cameo appearance by looking up in awe at Mothra as she flies overhead.)
Baragon was also altered. His heat ray, which is comparable to Godzilla's ray (except red), was seen in the Showa series. For this film, however, it was removed.
Apparently, the reason behind the changes to Ghidorah, Mothra, and Baragon were made in order to make Godzilla seem stronger - Kaneko wanted his version of Godzilla to be the most powerful Kaiju in the film. He originally wanted to use Varan and Anguirus, two monsters who are notably smaller and less powerful than Godzilla, as his opponents. When advised by Toho to replace them, he compensated by making Ghidorah and Mothra weaker than they normally were. Fuyuki Shinada, who designed the monster suits for this film, was disappointed that Varan (his all-time favorite monster) wasn't going to be in the film, so he compromised by putting Varan's facial features on Ghidorah's three heads.
In addition, the "radioactive" element has been replaced with a more mystical element. Godzilla has origins rooted in Japan's World War II past. Although Godzilla is still mutated by the atomic bomb, he is also described as an incarnation of those killed or who were left to die at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Pacific War. The extent to which his nuclear and spiritual origins balance is never specified. Kaneko, a lifelong pacifist, did this to boost the "anti-war" angle of the original 1954 Godzilla. It was also because he knew that audiences wanted a "realistic" Godzilla, but there was no "realistic" way to explain a 60-meter monster ("You could get away with it if he were 15 meters tall," he said), so he thought it worked better with a fantasy element. GMK Godzilla has no pupils- Kaneko intended his version of Godzilla to be evil, and felt that Godzilla's eyes shape the audience's preception of the monster.
It is interesting to note that this Godzilla is the same one from the first film as the souls of World War II revived him, also further differentiating this film from the others.
Yuri Tachibana, BS Digital Q Reporter Chiharu Niyama
Taizo Tachibana, SDF Admiral Ryudo Uzaki
Teruaki Takeda, Science Writer Masahiro Kobayashi
Haruki Kadokura, Yuri's Boss Shiro Sano
AD Aki Maruo Takashi Nishina
Kumi Emori, SDF Intelligence Captain Kaho Minami
Katsumasa Mikumo, SDF Lieutenant General Shinya Owada
Masato Hinogaki, SDF HQ Secretary Kunio Murai
Yutaka Hirose Hiroyuki Watanabe
Tokihiko Kobayakawa, SDF Intelligence Major Shingo Katsurayama
Adjutant Miyashita Toshikazu Fukawa
Chief Cabinet Secretary Masahiko Tsugawa
Hirotoshi Isayama, Prophet Eisei Amamoto
Commanding Sector Officer Nobuaki Kakuda
Mototsu Station Police Officer Takafumi Matsuo
School Teacher Kazuko Kato
Yaizu Harbor Fisherman Katsuo Nakamura
Village Headman Koichi Ueda
Man in Hostel Bathroom Yoichi Atsumi
Suicidal Man Yukijiro Hotaru
Bicycle Shop Owner Masaya Takahashi
SDF Officers Koichi Kawakita, Masaaki Tezuka
Twin Girls in Yokohama Ai Maeda, Aki Maeda
Budgeted at roughly $9,400,000, GMK opened in Japan on December 15th, 2001 on a double-bill with an animated film called Hamtaro: Ham Ham Big Land Adventure. In its opening weekend, it grossed approximately $1,900,000. By the end of its box office run, GMK grossed a total of approximately $20,000,000, with 2,400,000 admissions. It was the largest-grossing Godzilla film of the Millennium series in Japan.
Troy Guinn of Eccentric Cinema gave a score of 8/10, calling it "one of only three Godzilla films I would recommend to anyone besides giant monster-movie fans or sci-fi buffs, the other two being the original Gojira and Mothra vs. Godzilla. Miles Imhoff of Toho Kingdom gave a score of 4/5, calling it "one of the best things to hit the Godzilla franchise in years. Bryan Byun of DVD Verdict gave a positive review, calling it "one of the most exciting entries in Godzilla's long cinematic history.
Stomp Tokyo gave the film a score of 3/5, calling it "one of the better-looking entries in the series, albeit one of unfulfilled potential. Popcorn Pictures gave the film a score of 2/5, calling it "a big disappointment" with "too little monster action and too much boring talk.