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We Call Him… Gojira!

On July 29th, Toho Studios released their 29th movie featuring Godzilla – the radioactive, prehistoric daikaiju (or giant monster).  The film is called “Shin-Gojira,” but you’ll probably come to know it by its international title, “Godzilla Resurgence.”  The King of the Monsters has had a long and varied career that started in 1954.  He’s been a friend and foe to mankind, offering commentary on nuclear war, commercialism, pollution and bio-engineering.  He’s faced three-headed space dragons, giant insects, mechanical doubles, botanical doubles, celestial doubles and his greatest foe, Roland Emmerich.  Yes indeed, major Hollywood studios have adapted the big guy on two occasions, for better – Gareth Edward’s 2014 film – and for worse – the 1998 film starring Matthew Broderick.

My love affair with Godzilla began in November 1994.  I was nine years old and spending the night at my grandmother’s in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour and a half from where I grew up.  My parents were out for my mother’s high school reunion, and Gram was watching football.  Ol’ Gram took her football very seriously.  I recall getting scolded for ringing her good-luck buzzer.  “We only ring that when Penn State scores a touchdown!”  (Don’t hand a kid a button if you don’t intend him to push it!)  I wanted nothing to do with football, so on that particular November night, I went up to Gram’s room to watch TV. And what did I stumble upon? TNT’s MonsterVision Godzilla Marathon, which was just getting underway.

This wasn’t my first exposure to Godzilla.  I can remember wandering around my hometown’s West Coast Video and spotting “Son of Godzilla” on the shelf.  It had dinosaurs on the cover!  Cool!  So I rented it.  And I didn’t like it at all.  It was dull and the son of Godzilla (later named Minya in the series) was too cutesy for my adolescent tastes.  As a kid, I was always into the design of monsters.  I loved drawing creatures, real and imagined.  Even Godzilla’s look disappointed here – like someone stuffed Homer Simpson in a lizard costume, complete with a beer belly, sleepy eyes and a shortened snout.

So thanks to football and TNT, I was going to give Godzilla another chance.  The first feature in the marathon was “Mothra vs. Godzilla” (or “Godzilla vs. The Thing”) wherein a massive egg washes ashore only to be apprehended by greedy businessmen. Twin fairies arrive and reveal that the egg belongs to Mothra, a giant – you guessed it – moth.  And its presence attracts something else: Godzilla!  I still have a vivid memory of those dorsal spines rising out of the ground with that calamitous-sounding Akira Ifukube score.  My jaw dropped as he turned toward camera, his hooded eyes glowering and the iconic roar emanating from his toothy maw.

We Call Him Gojira

The next film in the marathon was “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.”  As fanciful as “Mothra” was, “Monster Zero” hit the gas on unbridled imagination.  Aliens come to Earth with the promise of a miracle drug.  In exchange, they want to use Godzilla and Rodan (a giant pteranodon-like creature) to eliminate a threat to their planet: Ghidorah, the three-headed space dragon I referenced earlier.  As it turns out, the aliens are controlling Ghidorah, and they bring Godzilla and Rodan into the fold to annihilate Earth’s cities.  It’s this type of unbridled and, yes, goofy imagination that’s very attractive to a child.  That and, ya know, giant monsters beating the hell out of each other.

I returned home the next day eager to find more.  I would learn that the franchise was broken up into two eras – the Showa (1954 to 1975) and the Heisei (1984 to 1995).  Much to my dismay at the time, most of the Heisei films weren’t available in the United States.  Well, legally anyway.  There would also later be a Millennium series from 1999 to 2004.  Though the Showa period contains the grim original film, it’s largely marked by campier entries.  Godzilla sliding across the ground on his tail to dropkick another monsterGodzilla performing a victory dance modeled after moves popular in Japan.  The usual.

Much of the camp was jettisoned for the Heisei films, which are also more serialized than their predecessors, featuring recurring human characters and plot points that had a cross-film impact.  One of the most exciting elements for me at the time was the shared universe.  No, Toho never attempted something as complex as, say, Marvel, but like that super hero studio, monsters such as Mothra and Rodan had their own standalone films before teaming up with Godzilla on larger and larger outings.

But if you’re looking for an introduction to Godzilla, or perhaps a re-introduction, there are a number of places to start.  Indeed, I’ve heard my personal first two entries, “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero,” described as the “From Russia with Love” and “Goldfinger” of the franchise (with less Robert Shaw and Shirley Bassey).  That is to say, those two films are looked upon as the solidification and pinnacle of the Godzilla formula.  Still, I would be remiss not to mention the original.  No, not the Americanized version with Raymond Burr.  I’m talking about the Japanese cut of the original “Godzilla,” which first became available in the United States in 2004. Directed by Ishiro Honda and produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, it’s uncharacteristically dark for the series. The film offers a stirring commentary on nuclear war with references to not only the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also the firebombing of Toyko and Lucky Dragon 5, which was a Japanese fishing vessel exposed to fallout from US hydrogen bomb tests.  If you’re at all accustomed to the goofier entries in the Godzilla series – Did I mention the outing where the big guy dances? – this film may come as a shock.  But it’s definitely worth checking out.


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Garrett is an entertainment professional living in the Los Angeles area. In his free time, he's a shark hunter, Jedi Knight, Kaiju wrangler and dog owner. He also edits and contributes to movie discussions at 3byThree.

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37 thoughts on “We Call Him… Gojira!

  1. I was aware of Godzilla only peripherally but my hubby is a huge Godzilla fan. He emerged from the ’98 film shaking with rage and quite literally wept with joy at the 2014 film.
    I try and stay sympathetic but the old Japanese Godzilla films do not work for me, it’s just so hard to manage the man in the rubber lizard suit.

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    • The ’98 Godzilla was a negative emotional experience for a lot of us. ;-)

      The actors-in-rubber-suits-with-miniature-city certainly is a distinct approach and not for everyone. I should have mentioned that the man who pioneered the technique is Eiji Tsuburaya. He wanted to do stop-motion (like in King Kong) for the original Godzilla, but they didn’t have the budget and there was no one in Japan with the expertise.

      Thanks for reading!

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      • Not really much of a Godzilla fan, but the original 1954 film (sans Burr) is a fascinating watch. The dark mood, the social commentary, the overall sadness make it stand out as a different sort of creature feature. As a special effects guy, I get a kick out of the many strategies they use in the film to bring the Large One to life. Man in a suit, hand puppet, and even, I swear, a short stop-motion sequence involving the tail. Even if one doesn’t care for this type of film, I would recommend it as a historical document. And you get to see things “blow up real good” to boot.

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  2. Never seen the movies, but these titles are glorious:

    Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla (in 1974 and again in 1993)

    Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla

    Mecha-Godzilla Strikes Back

    King Kong vs Godzilla, with a poster showing King Kong swinging Godzilla around by his tail.

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  3. Never really watched the Godzilla movies, but my parents tell me that one of their nicknames for me as a toddler was “‘Zilla” (from Godzilla) because of the stompy way I moved when I was learning to walk. (I was their first child).

    Then again, I think Godzilla is one of those things you “know” by osmosis if you’re involved at all with American culture (or maybe American geek culture?) even without watching it.

    (My parents had seen the original Godzillas; they were young-marrieds back in the day when those things were the late-night movie on some tv channels)

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    • Yes, I imagine one can pick up quite a lot by osmosis: one figures out that Gamera is a giant fire breathing turtle who first fights Gozilla and then they become friends, etc.

      But there’s just no substitute for being a bored pre-teen watching TV and seeing a Gozilla movie come up on the TV and getting all hopped up on sugary fizzy caffienated drinks and loving how cool it is to watch the rubber-suited monsters beat up on each other.

      I have a vague recollection of one movie in which Godzilla fought a giant humanoid robot for a while and then they started using sign language or semaphone to each other in a way that was totally incomprehensible to the viewer, but then united against a common foe of some sort, but don’t remember which one that was.

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      • My experience with Gamera falls strictly within the classic Showa period. (And, of course, the MST3K send ups of the same.)

        I pretty much loved all of the 60s-70s big monster movies growing up. In a foreshadowing of my adult political views, though, I tended to prefer the ones where there was the main monster protected the humans rather than simply laying waste to their tiny model cities. So I tended to gravitate toward the Godzilla vs. alien-made monster movies, Johnnie Socko, and of course Gamera, who as you well know was a friend to all children in hot pants.

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  4. Fun fact: “Gojira” is a portmanteau of gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale), supposedly the nickname of a particularly large employee of Toho whose favorite food was whale meat. The original title was “The Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” but they wanted something a bit catchier. I’m not sure whether the English name was a simple romanization error, or an intentional reference to Godzilla’s god-like scale and power.

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  5. Great post. I love some Godzilla and have since i was a kid. It got imprinted on me in the 70’s and i’ve seen them all. Like a lot of genres when you are into it all the little l nuances and characters and details are rich with color and joy. I’ve seen quite a few other Kaiju flicks because a true connoisseur needs to appreciate some Ultraman. I’m really looking forward to seeing this new one.

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  6. Well, this was helpful. My 4-year old girl is currently, in her words, “a big fan of Godzilla”, having now watched 3 of the films (the Burr-ized “original”, vs. Destoroyah, and vs. Megaguirus). So now I know which ones to pick up next.

    Watched a ton of these as a kid on the local “Creature Feature”, as well as Ultraman (which was on every weekday IIRC).

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  7. Did you ever dabble in either Ultraman or Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot?

    Two more shows that went all out into the whole tokusatsu thing.

    I *ADORED* these shows when I was around 7ish.

    https://youtu.be/lnczokOnWjg

    I suspect that they don’t hold up *THAT* well… but, hey, another box set for the pile for after I retire and am able to visit Manitou a little more often.

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      • Ultraman was a lot of fun. It’s had at least a couple of eras of shows. When i got into it , it must have been late 70’s and the shows were very much in the spirit of godzilla/kaiju. Lots of guys in giant monster suits, alien plots and noble good guys.

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        • As far as I can tell, Ultraman had much better scripts while Johnny Sokko merely had a much better (to 7 year old eyes, anyway) hook in that it had a giant robot. I also want to say that Johnny Sokko’s bad guys were much more creepy/cool than Ultraman’s… but I suppose that’s a matter of taste.

          The robot also had this little pre-doing anything dance that was absolutely awesome.

          https://youtu.be/s8kM_ps5uVo?t=40s

          Ultraman, by comparison, merely did poses *WHILE* he was doing his special moves. The giant robot was like Rob Van Dam. Took 15 minutes to do a finisher. But it was a lot cooler.

          On the gripping hand, OH MY GOSH ULTRAMAN IS COMING OUT WITH A MOVIE THIS YEAR

          https://youtu.be/IjOvth3O2Vs

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          • This brought back a lot of memories.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL1p1iGZYb8

            Ultraman had monsters…goofy ass costumes filled with sweaty Japanese men. But boy they had some monsters and some fights.

            If you want to dip into some recent giant monster movie action from japan check out Big Man Japan ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0997147/). It’s weird, like weird weird. Not Godzilla weird but farther out than that. It’s modern and far out but a lot of fun.

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            • I started out by thinking “okay, this looks cool” but then read the user review and saw 8/10 stars and thought “okay, I’m pretty much sold” but then read the review:

              The Big Man does what he can, but ends up causing as much confusion and destruction as he prevents. Plagued by waning popularity, the erosion of his powers, and family problems, he stoically soldiers on. As a documentary, the film succeeds admirably. We see this man robbed of his destiny, and watch as he explains his half-hearted efforts to regain some sort of balance between what he was, and what he has become. However, the film’s special effects are cheesy, but actually add to the representation of a man stuck firmly in a meager existence. Daisato’s life is entirely devoid of any social support network. He visits a grandfather, but this man is suffering from dementia in a nursing home, and is in worse shape than our hero. Daisato is allowed visitation with his wife and daughter twice a year, and his ‘friendships’ are paid geisha girls with whom he drinks heavily.

              And now I’m depressed.

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