GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH: Time Travel and the Origins of Godzilla
Explaining the Heisei Godzilla Timeline
Author: Keith Aiken
Special Thanks to Oki Miyano and Bruce Goldstein
The original GODZILLA (Gojira, 1954) was a tremendous box office success that launched a wave of science fiction and monster movies from Toho Co., Ltd. Over the next twenty-one years, Toho released dozens of similar films, including fourteen Godzilla sequels. The first fifteen Godzilla movies are now known as the Showa series because all were produced during the Showa Period (“period of enlightened peace”), the reign of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito.
Nine years after the last Showa film TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (Mekagojira no Gyakushu, 1975), Toho and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to revive the Godzilla franchise. Rather than continue where the previous movie left off, Tanaka chose to make the new film THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (Gojira, a.k.a. GODZILLA 1985, 1984) a direct sequel to the original GODZILLA that would ignore all the other movies in the Showa series. THE RETURN OF GODZILLA in turn began a new series of seven films that ran from 1984-1995. On January 8, 1989 Emperor Akihito assumed the throne and began the Heisei Period (“peace everywhere”). With six of the seven movies being made after Akihito became emperor, the second cycle of Godzilla films are generally referred to as the Heisei series.
The first two Heisei films, THE RETURN OF GODZILLA and GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE (Gojira tai Biorante, 1989), were moderately successful, but the third movie GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH (Gojira tai Kingughidora, 1991) was a big hit at the Japanese box office. Godzilla battling one of his most famous foes proved to be an irresistible lure for ticket buyers, but the story— about time travelers going back to 1944 in an attempt to prevent the creation of Godzilla— was extremely convoluted and confusing. Sixteen years after GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH was made, many viewers are still perplexed by what the movie was about and how it relates to the other films in the Heisei series.
For more than a decade, fanzines, books, message boards, and websites have put forth a wide range of explanations for GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH, many of which ignore what is portrayed in the film and are even more complicated than the original story. The most common theory is that GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH erases the events depicted in GODZILLA, THE RETURN OF GODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE and starts a fresh timeline with a new Godzilla that first appears in 1992. While this seems like an easy explanation of the story, it misinterprets what is actually shown in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH and is contradicted by the later Heisei films GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA (Gojira vs Supeesu Gojira, 1994) and GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH (Gojira tai Desutoroia, 1995).
Rather than going by fan theories and guesses, the best method for understanding how GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH works is to look at what is shown in the Heisei films. According to Toho, the Heisei timeline includes GODZILLA (1954) and the seven movies from THE RETURN OF GODZILLA to GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH. An accurate explanation of the timeline should not contradict anything shown in any of those eight films or include additional movies that Toho said are not part of this series. The viewer should also add as little guesswork to the story as possible, because any explanation that requires a lot of fan-created events never shown onscreen will not reflect what Toho or the filmmakers intended. Going by what is shown in the Heisei films, the necessary information is there and the pieces do fit together.
THE FIRST GODZILLA
Since GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH concerns the origins of Godzilla, the place to start is with the original, 1954 GODZILLA. The character of Godzilla was conceived by Tomoyuki Tanaka (who would produce GODZILLA and all of the Showa and Heisei movies), and the script for the first film was co-written by Takeo Murata and director Ishiro Honda.
GODZILLA begins with the monster destroying ships near Odo Island off the coast of Japan. The creature was already well known to the islanders; according to their legends Godzilla was a sea monster that had inhabited the waters of Odo Island for centuries. Whenever fishing was poor the monster would rise from the ocean to feed on people, and the islanders would appease the beast’s anger with ancient rituals and human sacrifice.
During an expedition to Odo Island, Professor Kyohei Yamane (Takeshi Shimura) sees Godzilla with his own eyes. In a presentation to Japanese officials the scientist theorizes that Godzilla is a hybrid of land and sea reptiles that has lived in ocean trenches where it fed on fish and other deep sea organisms, but the recent H-Bomb test (the Bikini Atoll test took place on March 1, 1954) had disturbed the monster’s natural habitat and brought it to the surface. Yamane supports his theory with evidence recovered from one of Godzilla’s footprints; sand from an undersea mineral deposit dated back to the Jurassic Period, and a prehistoric arthropod called a trilobite that has been thought extinct for 250 million years. The trilobite’s presence further suggests that Godzilla came from an undersea pocket where prehistoric animals still lived.
While Yamane’s theory is never officially confirmed in GODZILLA, it is the only explanation ever given by the monster’s creators Tomoyuki Tanaka and Ishiro Honda. Toho’s English language materials for the film describe Godzilla as “an immensely huge reptile said to have inhabited the seas two million years ago”, and none of the following entries in the first cycle of Godzilla films contradict what was established in GODZILLA.
Godzilla is killed at film’s end when his body is completely disintegrated by the Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon created by Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata). A reporter covering Godzilla’s death announces “We’ve seen Godzilla sink to the bottom of the ocean!” and the audience is shown Godzilla’s skeleton melting away to nothing. The final lines in GODZILLA are spoken by Professor Yamane, who says, “I can’t believe Godzilla was the only survivor of its species. If we continue testing H-Bombs another Godzilla will one day appear somewhere in the world.”
Those last lines were cut from GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS, the Americanized version of GODZILLA that featured new scenes starring Raymond Burr (REAR WINDOW, PERRY MASON). While the US version did soften some of GODZILLA’s symbolism, the monster’s origin and connection to the H-Bomb were maintained.
THE HEISEI GODZILLA
In THE RETURN OF GODZILLA, Godzilla is awakened by a volcanic eruption on Daikoku Island. The monster makes its way to Tokyo, where it battles the military and destroys part of the city’s skyscraper district, Shinjuku. Godzilla is eventually lured with a sonic beacon to Mt. Mihara. Explosives are detonated around the rim of the volcano, dropping Godzilla into its molten depths.
The Japanese version of THE RETURN OF GODZILLA never makes it clear if the Godzilla in the film is the original Godzilla somehow returned to life or a new member of the same species. The American version GODZILLA 1985 is a different story; the US distributor New World Pictures decided to follow the example of GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS and shoot new scenes with Raymond Burr. The New World footage strongly implied that this Godzilla was the original Godzilla, and their GODZILLA 1985 trailers featured Burr stating “Thirty years ago they never found any corpse”. While anyone familiar with the first film would not have been surprised by Burr’s statement— after all, Godzilla’s body had been utterly destroyed so there would be no corpse to find— general audiences would take it to mean Godzilla had not been killed decades before. In any case, the footage shot in America for GODZILLA 1985 was not created by Toho and did not reflect back on what the filmmakers intended with the Japanese version of the film.
Toho quickly announced plans for a GODZILLA 2, but seemed at a loss at how to best follow up on THE RETURN OF GODZILLA. Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to hold a nationwide story contest to drum up ideas. Toho received more than 5000 submissions, with fan author Shinichiro Kobayashi’s entry Godzilla vs Biollante chosen as the winner.
To bring GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE to the screen, Tanaka and associate producer Shogo Tomiyama chose a mostly-new creative team headed by writer-director Kazuki Omori and fx director Koichi Kawakita. The two directors would become the main architects of the Heisei Godzillas; Kawakita would handle the special effects for the rest of the series and was largely responsible for Godzilla’s more-or-less consistent look in those movies, while Omori went on to write and direct GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH and write the screenplays for GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH (Gojira tai Mosura, 1992) and GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH.
Kazuki Omori used only the bare bones of Shinichiro Kobayashi’s story in crafting the script for GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE. His final version is an effectively modern Godzilla story that focused on the concerns of genetic engineering. There are almost too many characters and ideas for a single film, but in the midst of the confusion Omori did present several key concepts that would have an impact in later films. Perhaps the most obvious would be that BIOLLANTE picks up immediately after the end of THE RETURN OF GODZILLA, establishing the tight continuity that was a hallmark of the Heisei series. The movie also introduced the character of psychic teenager Miki Saegusa (played by Megumi Odaka) who would return in all the films up to GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH, a rare example of a character other than Godzilla appearing in multiple consecutive Godzilla movies.
One rather important story point in GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE tends to be overlooked by most viewers. After Godzilla’s first battle with Biollante, the King of the Monsters returns to the ocean. Major Sho Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima) mobilizes sea and air forces to track the monster’s underwater movements, but Godzilla quickly evades the surveillance. Expecting Godzilla to head towards nuclear power plants near Nagoya, Kuroki directs the Japanese Self Defense Forces to intercept Godzilla at Ise Bay… but everyone is caught completely off guard when Godzilla instead surfaces near Osaka, on the opposite side of the Kansai Region from the JSDF fleet. With this sequence, Omori establishes that the Japanese forces cannot track Godzilla when the monster is moving underwater, a concept that comes into play again in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH.
With most of the JSDF in Ise Bay, Godzilla enters Osaka practically unopposed. During Godzilla’s attack on the city, a small military unit led by Lt. Goro Gondo (Toru Minegishi) fire rockets containing Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria (ANB) at the monster. In retalliation, Godzilla kills Gondo by dropping a building on him.
Based on actual forms of bacteria that devour oil and are used to clean up spills, the ANB begins to infect Godzilla’s body and destroy the source of his power. During Godzilla’s second clash with Biollante, the ANB weakens Godzilla so much that the beast stumbles away from his foe and collapses face-first into the shallow waters of Wakasa Bay. The water eventually lowers Godzilla’s body temperature and slows the spread of the bacteria enough for Godzilla to revive and wade back out to sea at the end of the film.
GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH
For the next film, Toho decided to up the box office appeal by bringing back one of Godzilla’s most popular opponents, the Three-Headed Monster King Ghidorah. With Ghidorah’s previous appearances not part of the Heisei timeline, Kazuki Omori was able to create a new story in which the monster was a genetically engineered creation from the future rather than an alien as in the Showa movies.
In addition to crafting a new origin for King Ghidorah, Omori also took the opportunity to reveal where the Heisei Godzilla came from. GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH finally explains that the Godzilla introduced in THE RETURN OF GODZILLA is not the monster from the original GODZILLA. Unfortunately, Omori’s sloppy writing— combined with the inherent contradictions of any time travel story— muddled many of the points he was making in the picture.
The lead character in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH is Kenichiro Terasawa (Isao Toyohara), a successful non-fiction writer for Super Mystery Magazine: Mu. In July 1992, his editor asks Terasawa to write about a UFO that was spotted in the skies over Tokyo, but he is more interested in following up on rumors that a dinosaur was seen by Japanese troops stationed on Lagos Island in the Marshall Island chain during World War II. Terasawa interviews billionaire businessman and dinosaur enthusiast Yasuaki Shindo (Yoshio Tsuchiya), the former commander of the Lagos garrison. Shindo confirms the story and gives Terasawa photos he took of the dinosaur back in 1944. Terasawa speculates that the dinosaur on Lagos was exposed to radiation from the 1954 Bikini H-Bomb test and was transformed into Godzilla. He plans to write a book entitled The Birth of Godzilla that will explain his theory.
Meanwhile, Japanese officials and military leaders hold a conference to discuss the UFO. During the meeting, psychic girl Miki Saegusa presents satellite photos showing that the UFO had briefly appeared near Godzilla’s resting place in the Sea of Japan. Miki explains that Godzilla has not moved from that location for nearly three years because the monster is still weak with ANB infection.
Officials meet with the crew of the UFO, actually a time machine called MOTHER. The crew— Wilson (Chuck Wilson), Grenchiko (Richard Berger), and Emi Kano (Anna Nakagawa) — reveal that they are from the year 2204 and have come to warn Japan that Godzilla will soon revive and destroy nuclear power plants, causing widespread radioactive contamination that will make Japan uninhabitable for centuries. The Futurians present a copy of the still-unwritten The Birth of Godzilla and state that their own analysis shows that Terasawa’s theory has a 90% chance of being correct. They suggest that the only way to save Japan is to travel back to 1944 and move the dinosaur to a location far from the H-Bomb tests.
This scenario doesn’t hold up because Terasawa’s theory is refuted by movies in the Heisei timeline that were made both before and after GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH. First, there is the origin Ishiro Honda and Tomoyuki Tanaka established in GODZILLA. Beyond that, Kazuki Omori also rejected Terasawa’s explanation in his script for GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH, as that film clearly states that the 1954 Godzilla and the Heisei Godzilla were two different beasts. If the Lagos Island dinosaur was the 1954 Godzilla as Terasawa believed, preventing its transformation would have zero effect on the Heisei Godzilla. The Futurians’ plan is based on an incorrect theory and therefore flawed from the start.
Terasawa, Miki Saegusa, and paleontologist Hironori Masaki (Katsuhiko Sasaki) are invited to join Emi and her android assistant M-11 (Robert Scott Field) on the mission. In 1944, they witness the dinosaur’s battle with American forces. Using her psychic abilities, Miki determines that the dinosaur is Godzilla. But Miki never met the 1954 Godzilla, and can only match the dinosaur to the monster she encountered in GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE. M-11 teleports the wounded dinosaur from Lagos Island to the Bering Sea, a frigid body of water between Alaska and Siberia. Contrary to popular belief, the dinosaur is not transported through time, so from 1944 -on it lies frozen at the bottom of the Bering. Before leaving 1944, Emi releases three small golden creatures called Dorats. The bio-engineered animals remain on Lagos until the 1954 H-Bomb test fuses and transform them into King Ghidorah.
The time travelers return to 1992, and Wilson informs them that the Japanese Self Defense Force say Godzilla is no longer in the Sea of Japan. Wilson announces the mission a success and that Godzilla has been removed from history. Much of the confusion regarding GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH stems from viewers accepting Wilson’s claims at face value. But Wilson is wrong, and the film quickly points that out.
The first obvious hint is that everyone in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH still remembers Godzilla. If Godzilla were completely erased from history, no one would be aware of the monster and all the death and destruction Godzilla caused in the previous two films would have never occurred. None of that happens; in fact, later Heisei movies would refer back to events from those films so they clearly were not erased from the timeline. The only corroboration that Godzilla had disappeared comes from the Japanese Self Defense Force… the same JSDF that could not track Godzilla’s underwater movements in GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE. Kazuki Omori showed that if Godzilla moved unexpectedly the JSDF would lose him.
And that’s exactly what happened. Miki senses Godzilla— not the dinosaur— moving slowly in the Bering Sea, and satellite photos of the location she indicated confirm her vision. Terasawa doesn’t understand why Godzilla still exists, but Emi explains that if the dinosaur had come into contact with radioactive materials at any time after 1944 it could have been transformed into Godzilla. Emi also tells Terasawa that the story about Godzilla destroying Japan was a lie; in her time Godzilla had never recovered from the ANB and did not attack again. For all intents and purposes he was beaten. The Futurians’ real plan was to create King Ghidorah and use the monster to force Japan to submit to their rule before the nation could become the most powerful country on earth. With Godzilla out of the way nothing could stop King Ghidorah, so the Futurians wanted to remove any chance Godzilla would be a threat.
Now knowing that Godzilla was never erased from history, Terasawa tries to figure out what went wrong. He digs through the archives at Mu and finds a news report from the 1970s about a Russian nuclear submarine sinking in the exact spot the dinosaur had been moved to. Terasawa realizes that this nuclear accident mutated the dinosaur into the Godzilla who first attacked in 1984. His theory had been wrong; by going to 1944 and moving the dinosaur to the Bering Sea the Futurians didn’t “uncreate” the original Godzilla, they caused the creation of the second Godzilla.
Unaware of Terasawa’s discovery, Japanese officials decide to combat the Futurians and King Ghidorah by recreating Godzilla. One of Shindo’s multinational companies owns a nuclear submarine, which is dispatched to irradiate the dinosaur they incorrectly believe is dormant in the Bering Sea. En route the sub is intercepted by the ANB-weakened Godzilla, proving once again that the monster still existed and had never been erased from history. Godzilla attacks the sub and absorbs its nuclear energy, which burns off the ANB infection. The infusion of radiation also increases Godzilla’s size from 80 meters to 100 meters in height.
THE THIRD GODZILLA and THE END OF THE HEISEI SERIES
The remaining films in the Heisei series built upon what was explained and re-established in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH. In 1993’s GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II (Gojira tai Mekagojira), a 65 million year-old dinosaur egg is found on Adonoa Island, a radioactive site in the Bering Sea. The egg hatches a Godzillasaur (the same species of dinosaur seen on Lagos Island) who is named “Baby Godzilla” by scientists taking care of the creature. While not directly related to Godzilla, the infant is adopted by the adult monster at film’s end and would return for the next two movies as Little Godzilla and Godzilla Jr.
The following year’s GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA features several references to GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE, reaffirming that the older film is still part of the Heisei timeline. Two of the main characters, Chinatsu Gondo (Towako Yoshikawa) and Akira Yuki (Akira Emoto) are the sister and best friend, respectively, of BIOLLANTE’s Lt. Goro Gondo. In addition, the new monster Space Godzilla is connected to Biollante cells that had drifted into space.
Kazuki Omori returned to write the last Heisei film, GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH. The movie contains numerous links to the original GODZILLA. Professor Yamane’s daughter Emiko (played once again by Momoko Koichi) has a small part, while the children of Yamane’s adopted son Shinkichi have major roles in the film. The new monster Destoroyah is an offshoot of the Oxygen Destroyer created by Daisuke Serizawa in 1954.
DESTOROYAH also repeatedly refers to the death of the first Godzilla, and Kenichi Yamane (Yasufumi Hayashi) suggests that the Oxygen Destroyer be recreated to kill Godzilla the “way we killed first Godzilla”. Once again, Omori states that there were two Godzillas; the 1954 original and the Heisei Godzilla. The film also introduces the third Godzilla of this timeline… after the Heisei Godzilla dies in a nuclear meltdown, the younger Godzilla Jr absorbs the radiation and is transformed into the next Godzilla.
THE HEISEI TIMELINE
Pre-1944: The legends of Odo Island tell of a sea monster called Godzilla.
1944: Dinosaur on Lagos Island is moved to the Bering Sea.
March 1954: Bikini Atoll H-Bomb test.
1954: Events in GODZILLA. Mutated and driven from its underwater environment by H-Bomb tests, the first Godzilla appears on Odo Island, attacks Japan, and is killed by the Oxygen Destroyer.
Late 1970s: A Russian nuclear submarine accident in the Bering Sea transforms the Lagos dinosaur into the second Godzilla.
1984: Second Godzilla awakened by volcanic eruption, attacks Japan, and is dumped into volcano at Mt Mihara.
1990: Events in GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE. Godzilla escapes from Mt Mihara, battles Biollante, and is infected by ANB.
1992: Events in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH.
1993: Events in GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH.
1994: Events in GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II. Prehistoric egg found on Adonoa Island hatches a Baby Godzilla.
1995: GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA refers to events in BIOLLANTE, proving that film is still part of the timeline. Baby Godzilla becomes Little Godzilla.
1996: GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH refers to events in the original GODZILLA, and states clearly that the original and Heisei Godzillas are not the same monster. Heisei Godzilla dies, Godzilla Jr becomes the third Godzilla.