Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah Time Travel Revisited
The Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah Time Travel - Revisited is the 13th episode of Wikizilla's Kaiju Facts video series. It was uploaded on February 14, 2023.
This video recounts Toho's official explanation of the timelines present in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Hey kaiju fans, I'm Titanollante, here to explain the "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" time travel plot… the right way this time. If you've ever tried to search for an explanation online, you may very well have stumbled across this SciFi Japan article from 2007, or another source paraphrasing it (ahem). This has led to a widespread acceptance of the film adhering to a "stable time loop," or "causal loop." That is, a trope in fiction wherein time travel cannot alter history, and time travelers attempting to do so often find themselves shaping the very future they came from. However, this theory is contradicted by important details in the movie itself, along with Toho's official explanations—which we've since become aware of. The real answer is a split timeline. If you can't see it yet, don't fret, that's what this video's for. We'll mark the points at which the timeline branches, and expand on each. Now—let's start from the beginning…
The year is 1992, close to four decades after the first Godzilla decimated Tokyo in 1954, and about eight years after a second Godzilla did the same in 1984. Over 1,000 days have passed since the JSDF injected Godzilla with Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria in 1989, slowly sapping his strength and preventing him from making landfall. Humanity is suddenly visited by a trio of time travelers from the 23rd century who tell them of a grim future for Japan: Godzilla will return in the 21st century and annihilate the country. The group—known to us fans as the Futurians, but never named as such on screen—propose a mission to erase Godzilla from history by traveling to Lagos Island in 1944 and preventing a dinosaur there from being mutated into the King of the Monsters. The Japanese government accepts and the plan is put into action, but the Futurians secretly double-cross them by leaving behind three artificial creatures called Dorats to be mutated instead.
In the present day, Godzilla has disappeared and the three-headed monstrosity King Ghidorah emerges in his place, under the Futurians' control. The time travelers use the monster to cause mass destruction in an attempt to blackmail the Japanese government to adopt their computer system and seemingly relinquish political power. However, psychic Miki Saegusa senses Godzilla's presence in the Bering Sea, and our heroes discover through newspaper archives that a nuclear submarine sank in that area some years ago. Unaware of these findings, the government hatches a plan to blast what they expect to be the Godzillasaurus with a nuclear missile from a submarine owned by businessman Yasuaki Shindo. But, when the sub arrives, it finds itself in the claws of an already mutated Godzilla, who feeds on the sub’s radiation and grows even more powerful.
Pausing for a moment—what's really going on here? The time loop theory would have you believe that the Godzillasaurus was never actually mutated on Lagos Island, and the Futurians moving it to the Bering Sea is what created the Heisei Godzilla in the first place. In reality, however, Godzilla was originally created by H-bomb testing, and the movie is pretty explicit about it. From the beginning, writer Kenichiro Terasawa is presented with the book he completes in the future, which theorizes that Godzilla was the dinosaur on Lagos Island and was mutated by the 1954 nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll. Saegusa then relays to him that the Futurians analyzed the present-day Godzilla's skeletal and cellular structures and ran calculations with their 23rd-century computer that confirmed his hypothesis with near-100% certainty. Furthermore, after King Ghidorah has been created, Professor Mazaki states, ["Well, biological science aside, based on experience, it can be asserted that both King Ghidorah and Godzilla were born from nuclear tests at the Bikini Atoll."] and it is outright confirmed in the Toho-published "vs. King Ghidorah" theater program and Shogakukan's contemporary Super Complete Works tie-in book. When the Futurians teleported the Godzillasaurus, they were not fulfilling some predetermined destiny, but rather altered the course of time and created a new reality—in other words, the timeline branched off. In this timeline, the Dorats stood in for the Godzillasaurus on Lagos, causing the H-bomb to create King Ghidorah in place of Godzilla. Meanwhile, the Godzillasaurus lay dormant in the Bering Sea until a nuclear submarine just so happened to crash near him, irradiating him anyway and costing Shindo a fortune down the road.
As "vs. King Ghidorah" proceeds, the dragon monster clashes with a now-100 meter-tall Godzilla in Abashiri, eventually being shot out of the air and plummeting into the Sea of Okhotsk. Unchallenged, the Big G rampages through Sapporo before swimming to Shinjuku. With no other hope against the monster, Emmy returns to her year of 2204 and pleads with a representative of the Earth Union Organization, Morrys, to have the still-living King Ghidorah converted into a cyborg. Here Morrys reminds her of the failure of Japan, having been "destroyed" by Godzilla. This solidifies that the Futurians successfully altered the course of history. How so? Well, the Futurians' prophecy of Japan falling to Godzilla was a ruse from the start. In reality, the monster never recovered from his ANEB poisoning and didn't return to the surface. Japan became the richest and most powerful nation on the planet by the 23rd century, even buying up countries in Africa and South America. The Futurians, representing an organization known as the Equal Environment of Earth Union, stole a time machine from the Earth Union Organization (a kind of successor to the United Nations) and traveled back in time with the intent to stifle Japan's growth. They'd use King Ghidorah to exhaust the country's defenses and force them to submit to their will in desperation. However, in the timeline the Futurians ultimately created, an uninfected Godzilla thwarted Ghidorah and crippled Japan himself. This is again further supported by external sources, with the Super Complete Works book putting it in more precise terms than Morrys did.
Continuing with the plot… the EUO agrees to transform the comatose Ghidorah into Mecha-King Ghidorah and Emmy uses the time machine in its chest to bring it back to 1992 Shinjuku. As the cyborg materializes overhead to challenge Godzilla, the timeline forks one last time.
Emmy manages to fly Godzilla out to sea and both he and MKG fall into the ocean, briefly knocking Godzilla unconscious and discouraging him from resurfacing. Most importantly, her intervention prevented Godzilla's total razing of Japan, meaning that the second timeline's future was avoided. This third and final branch is the reality in which the rest of the Heisei series films take place. The wreckage of MKG gives humanity early access to 23rd century technology, leading to the formation of the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasure Center and G-Force, and the creation of the superweapons Mechagodzilla and MOGUERA. The lack of a fixed future also heightens the suspense in "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah", as there's no guarantee that G-Force will be able to prevent Godzilla's impending meltdown from destroying the world.
Before we wrap up, let's deal with a few loose ends. Firstly, the time loop theory seems to be predicated on the idea that Terasawa falsely believed the present-day Godzilla to be the same one that attacked in 1954. The Futurians, basing their plan around the book Terasawa writes in the future, would then adopt this belief and misguidedly create the Heisei Godzilla in the first place. As best as we can tell, there is no basis for this idea. Most likely, this was an attempt to explain why the Futurians would want to prevent the Godzillasaurus from being near the H-bomb, but as we established before, he was originally created during Castle Bravo. As it turns out, the 1954 and Heisei Godzillas were both awakened by these tests (talk about two birds with one stone), but there's no indication that Terasawa could not tell them apart. And by the way, we can be sure the two are different creatures because of how extensively the events of the 1954 movie are later referenced in "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah." The Oxygen Destroyer killed the original Godzilla just like in the Showa series, though its use here gave rise to Destoroyah.
Another thing: there's one time travel rule laid down early in "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" that is seemingly contradicted later in the film. Mazaki asks why Shindo, with his firsthand knowledge of the Godzillasaurus, can't accompany them back to 1944. Glenchico explains the dangers of having two versions of the same person at one point in time: one of them would disappear. Yet Emmy is able to return to 1992 in Mecha-King Ghidorah, even with King Ghidorah lying at the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk. How can this be? Well, the honest truth is: we don't know. But we can offer a possible explanation. The movie's theater program refers to the three timelines as the "original," "second," and "third history", while the Super Complete Works labels them the "first," "second," and "third flow of time." Assuming, then, that these three timelines really are the only ones that exist, and that minor changes like Spielberg spotting the time machine or its arriving on Lagos do not create branches, the two Shindos would be the exact same person. That is, Shindo going back in time would risk him meeting his former self from the same timeline. By contrast, MKG is technically the Ghidorah from timeline #2 and its arrival in the "present" immediately created timeline #3. So, the Ghidorah still laying on the seafloor is not MKG's past self, but rather… an alternate reality version of his past self.
Finally, what effects did the time travel have on the previous two movies? In order for "The Return of Godzilla"'s events to have transpired in the second and third timelines, Godzilla would've had to be created before 1984. The aforementioned SciFi Japan article alleges that "[Terasawa] finds a news report from the 1970s about a Russian nuclear submarine sinking…" and the recap at the bottom places the crash specifically in the "late 1970s." Les investigated this claim and sent us all directly to hell. [emphasized breath] Though neither the era of the crash nor the nationality of the sub are mentioned in dialogue, a snippet of one of the newspapers Terasawa and co. read does implicate the Soviet Union. The paper reports that, on "the 8th" of an unspecified month and year, USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev declared the submarine's nuclear reactor to have been disarmed and denied the possibility of nuclear contamination. [Terasawa: "The claim that the nuclear material was salvaged was obviously a lie."] The other paper we see has bits cut off, but you can make out mention of a nuclear submarine built in 1983 and deployed in 1984 which was reported to have crashed on "the 7th," presumably of the same month. Here's where we start to run into trouble… the Super Complete Works book states that the submarine crashed on April 7, 1989. Not only does this seem to line up with the "7th" date from the newspaper, but it makes a bit of sense when you consider that Gorbachev didn't become General Secretary until 1985, and Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, who's also mentioned in the article, didn't take office until 1986. It's possible, then, that April 1989 was printed on one or both of the props, though we can't see any such date in the movie. — If Godzilla wasn't irradiated until 1989, that would mean he could not have been around to attack Tokyo in 1984, nor could his DNA have been collected to create Biollante and the ANEB. Looking exclusively at the on-screen events of "GvKG" and ignoring the future Heisei films (which the filmmakers obviously didn't have in mind yet), it's possible to accept that "Return" and "Biollante" could've been erased from history. They're never brought up after our heroes return from 1944, and Shindo's submarine finds Godzilla in the same place the Godzillasaurus was left, as though he never moved. However, the non-time traveling Fujio immediately recognizes that Godzilla disappeared from the Sea of Japan, and Maser tanks have already been built to defend against him, so perhaps Godzilla did make his presence known at some point. Or it was just an oversight. All the same, we'd prefer to give priority to the later entries in the series, which evidently rule out this April 1989 birthdate for Godzilla. Notably, "Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla" names Biollante as a potential culprit for G-cells making it into space and also shows a flashback to Goro Gondo's death from "vs. Biollante," ANEB missile launcher in hand. It's worth noting that modern sources which lay out the Heisei series' continuity, such as "Godzilla Dictionary [New Edition]" and "Shin Godzilla Walker: The New Legend of the King of the Monsters," include "Return" and "Biollante" with no mention of erasures. Still doesn't explain why Godzilla was all the way back in the Bering Sea, though. Maybe he just likes being at home.
So, to recap… the universe that "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" is set in traverses three distinct timelines. [Timeline #1] In the first, the Heisei Godzilla was a Godzillasaurus living on Lagos Island who was irradiated by the H-bomb in 1954 (no relation to that other guy). The JSDF infected him with Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria in 1989 and he never recovered, allowing Japan to become the most prosperous nation of the 23rd century. A group of terrorists go back to their past to change history, but instead split the timeline. [Timeline #2] When the Futurians moved the Godzillasaurus to the Bering Sea and left behind three Dorats in its place, a second timeline arose in which the H-bomb created King Ghidorah instead. However, a nuclear submarine crash conveniently mutated the Godzillasaurus anyway, and a second dose of radiation from Shindo's submarine made him even stronger. After Godzilla defeated Ghidorah in 1992, he embarked on a destructive campaign through Japan that left the country a shell of its former self. Futurian turncoat Emmy Kano traveled forward in time to this reality's 2204 and salvaged the wounded Ghidorah, converting him into Mecha-King Ghidorah and bringing him back to 1992. [Timeline #3] MKG's arrival brought about the final timeline, in which Godzilla's rampage was interrupted and the events of the remainder of the Heisei series were allowed to occur, Japan (mostly) intact. The Futurians do alter the course of time, and as far as the movie shows, it wouldn't be possible to return to the future they once came from—only travel within the new reality they created until another decision branches them off once more. The movie is therefore not part of a single continuous time loop, and canon-destroying dates printed on off-screen newspapers notwithstanding, the major events of previous movies were not affected.
That's the rundown of the time travel from "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah." We hope you could make sense of it. If not, leave your questions in the comments. And pay your respects to writer/director Kazuki Omori, who passed away just last November. Rest in peace, Omori-san. We finally figured out your movie... mostly. Thanks for watching!