The sixteenth film in Toho's Godzilla series, it marked the beginning of a rebooted series of Godzilla films that ignores all the films from 1955's Godzilla Raids Again through 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla. The film acts as a direct sequel to the original 1954 film Godzilla. Produced as part of Godzilla's 30th anniversary, the film returned the series to the darker themes and mood of some of the early films and returned Godzilla to his destructive antagonistic roots.
The film was used as the basis for Godzilla 1985. Edited and with new scenes shot in the United States, Godzilla 1985 was released theatrically in the United States in the Summer of 1985 by New World Pictures. The American version of the film featured Canadian actor Raymond Burr reprising his character Steve Martin, from the film Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, which was also made in the same way.
Three months after a volcanic eruption on Daikoku Island, the Yahata-Maru Japanese fishing vessel is caught in strong currents off its shores. As the boat drifts into shore, the island begins to erupt, and a giant monster lifts itself out of the volcano. A few days later, reporter Goro Maki is sailing in the area and finds the vessel intact but deserted. As he explores the vessel, he finds all the crew dead except for one young man called Hiroshi Okumura, who has been badly wounded. Suddenly a giant Shockirus sea louse attacks but is eventually killed with some difficulty.
In Tokyo, Okumura realizes by looking at pictures that the monster he saw was a new Godzilla. However the news of Godzilla's return is kept secret to avoid panic until Godzilla attacks a second time and destroys a Soviet submarine. The Soviets believe the attack was done by the Americans, and a diplomatic crisis ensues which threatens to escalate into war. The Japanese intervene and finally announce that Godzilla was behind the attack. The Japanese arrange a meeting with the Soviet and American ambassadors and, after some debate over the issue, Prime Minister Mitamura decides nuclear weapons will not be used on Godzilla even if it were to attack the Japanese mainland. The Japanese Self-Defense Forces are put on alert and search for Godzilla.
Godzilla is later sighted at Tokyo Bay, forcing mass evacuations out of the city and a state of emergency is declared. The JASDF attacks Godzilla with Mitsubishi F-1 fighter jets, but their missiles are useless against him. Godzilla then proceeds to the coast, where the waiting army, equipped with tanks, rocket launchers and soldiers armed with Howa Type 64 assault rifles, proceeds to fire on Godzilla, but they are quickly subdued. Meanwhile, aboard the Soviet ship, one of the crew members attempts to stop the missile from launching as Godzilla then proceeds towards Tokyo's business district, wreaking havoc along the way. There, he is confronted by four laser-armed trucks known as Hyper Laser Cannons, and then the Super X, a piloted VTOL craft constructed in secret to defend Tokyo in case of emergency, in particular a nuclear attack.
Godzilla has a final battle with the Super X, eventually damaging the aircraft and forcing it to make an emergency landing where he destroys it by toppling a building on it. Godzilla continues his rampage, until Professor Hayashida is successful with his invention and uses the bird call device to distract him. Godzilla leaves Tokyo and swims across the Japanese sea to volcanic Mt. Mihara, where he notices the signal device. As he walks towards it, he falls into the mouth of the volcano where he is surrounded by detonators, which are activated by Okumura, creating a controlled volcanic eruption that traps Godzilla for good, at least for the time being.
- Ken Tanaka as Goro Maki
- Yasuko Sawaguchi as Naoko Okumura
- Yosuke Natsuki as Professor Makoto Hayashida
- Keiju Kobayashi as Prime Minister Seiki Mitamura
- Shin Takuma as Hiroshi Okumura
- Eitaro Ozawa as Minister of Finance Kanzaki
- Hiroshi Koizumi as Professor Minami
- Mizuho Suzuki as Minister of Foreign Affairs Seiichi Emori
- Taketoshi Naito as Chief Cabinet Secretary Takegami
- Yoshifumi Tajima as Minister of the Environment Hidaka
- Kenpachiro Satsuma as Godzilla
The screenplay was first written in 1980, but as an entirely different film. Godzilla was to fight a shape-shifting monster named Bagan, and the Super X played a much smaller role. Among the SDF weapons in this script that made it to the big screen were the Water Beetle (an underwater mech) and the Giant Basu (which is equipped with a giant arm to capture submarines).
Veteran Godzilla actor Akihiko Hirata, who appeared in several past Godzilla films (best known of his role of Doctor Serizawa from Godzilla) was slated to play Professor Hayashida; however, he had died from throat cancer before production began. Yosuke Natsuki, another veteran, took the role instead. Stuntman Kenpachiro Satsuma (who previously played Hedorah and Gigan in the original Godzilla films) played Godzilla for the first time, as a replacement for another stuntman who backed out at the last minute.
The lifelike animatronic Godzilla prop used in close-up shots is the 20-foot (6.1 m) "Cybot Godzilla." It was heavily touted in the publicity department at the time, even though it was not used in the film as extensively as promoted. A full-size replica of Godzilla's foot was also built, albeit all of the scenes in which it is used were removed from the American version (the sole exception being a shot of the foot crushing a row of parked cars during the attack on the nuclear power plant).
Prior to New World Pictures' release of the film, Toho had the film dubbed in Hong Kong. This "Toho international version", titled The Return of Godzilla is uncut and was released in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. So far, this version has not been made available in the United States.
The Return of Godzilla was a reasonable success in Japan, with attendance figures at approximately 3,200,000 and the box office gross being approximately $11 million (the film's budget was $6.25 million).
When Godzilla 1985 failed at the box office, it was the last Godzilla film produced by Toho to receive any major release in North American theaters until Godzilla 2000 fifteen years later.
The New World version of the film was almost universally criticized by North American critics. However, the Japanese version was received better, mainly by fans; many praised it for being very close to the original film.
In 1985, the film won the Japan Academy Award for Special Effects.
The international version was released on VHS (dubbed in English) in the UK in 1998. The running time matches that of the Japanese version, and the only notable difference is the English text and dubbing. This version of the film has remained unreleased in both the USA and Canada.
This film was distributed to DVD in Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Thailand, Spain, Italy and France, but never legitimately in the United States and Canada due to legal issues. Since the release of Godzilla vs. Biollante in 2012, The Return of Godzilla remains the only Godzilla film to not have been legitimately released on DVD in the United States.
In 1988 Dark Horse Comics released a six-issue limited series, Godzilla, which was an American adaptation of the Japanese manga adaptation of The Return of Godzilla.