Origins: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

I’ll be honest: Godzilla isn’t really on my radar. I mean, I know about the character and how he’s a huge deal in Japan and all, but my experience with him amounts to this itty-bitty epic:

Yep. Godzilla and Bambi were memes before memes were a thing.


Anywhoo, on to the upcoming movie. It looks to be a huge summer romp, and Stranger Things fans might be interested to know that Millie Bobbie Brown has a sizeable role. It’s good that she’s busy, but I have to admit I’m sort of expecting her to go all Eleven on Godzie and decimate him with her mind.

Godzilla has a storied history in Japan, and there have been a ton of movies made about him, but we’ll get to that. Here’s the trailer for tomorrow’s release, and for some reason it uses a meditative instrumental version of “Over the Rainbow.” Who knows why, but maybe it’s implying the characters would rather be over the rainbow than watching Godzilla duke it out with an evil three-headed serpent thingie:

Like I said, it looks interesting. Definitely not boring, that’s for sure. And it looks as if Godzilla has been enlisted to save all of mankind, but knowing Godzilla, he still ends up smashing things.

Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla. (Black Gate)

Counting this film, Godzilla has been in forty-three features. In 2020 it’ll be forty-four. The creature is busy.

Godzilla, or Gojira (ゴジラ) is of a Japanese character genre known as kaiju (怪獣), which, according to Urban Dictionary, literally translates to “strange beast.” Essentially, it involves the strange beast attacking and destroying cities or else fighting with other monsters (King Kong is considered kaiju). Urban Dictionary says that there are several different types of kaiju. They can be humanoid, they can be allied with good or evil, or maybe not take a side, but either way, they’re big and loud.

Godzilla was born out of the Atomic Age. Literally. According to the kinju site, Observation Deck, when the United States executed its Bikini Atoll test in 1946, a Japanese fishing boat called the Lucky Dragon was infected, resulting in the death of one crew member.

Godzilla has changed a lot between 1954 and 2014. (Wikipedia)

This incident was the inspiration for Godzilla. The energy from the American hydrogen bombs woke the creature, and oh boy, was he mad. Observation Deck says Godzilla could not only flatten cities, but breathe radioactive fire. His height varies from 164 feet to 328, and in case anyone is wondering, the movies don’t use stop-motion to animate the creature. Instead, a guy in a dinosaur suit plays our ferocious beast. Godzilla is basically Barney, only meaner and not purple. And he doesn’t sing.

So. As befitting any Godzilla newbie, I thought I’d dive into some of the free movie offerings on Prime. For your consideration, an eighth of Godzilla’s filmography (See a list of all forty-two here)…

Godzilla (1954)


The granddaddy of ’em all, this 1954 film was shot between 1952 and 1954 by the Toho Film Company. It’s easy to see why this movie would have terrified Japanese audiences, because not only is Godzilla scary, but his voracious appetite for fish would have been rather chilling to a people for whom fish is a staple. Besides the monster going on rampages, there’s a nice little love triangle between scientist’s daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi), Dr. Serizawa (Akihito Hirata), inventor of the Oxygen Destroyer, and ship’s captain Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada).

Not surprisingly, the movie is a blatant cautionary tale against the dangers of atomic power: “If nuclear testing continues, another Godzilla may appear somewhere in the world.”

Oh, the irony.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956)


This appears to be a sequel, but everything about it screams cash-in. Foreign correspondent, Steve Martin(!) (Raymond Burr) is on his way to Cairo when he makes a stopover in Tokyo, just in time to see Godzilla wreck the place. Steve emerges from the rubble only to dramatically collapse, and is taken to a hospital. The film heavily recycles footage from the 1954 movie, so much so that it almost is the original movie. To top it all off, they badly dub English over the original Japanese lines. I giggled. I couldn’t help it.

Son of Godzilla (1967)


Godzilla has reproduced! A group of scientists and navy men in the South Pacific are conducting experiments and attempting to control the weather, and for some reason the experiment results in a giant crickets roaming the island. That’s before Godzilla and Junior show up. Plenty of camp going on in this one, since it is the late sixties and all. Godzilla’s eyes look almost googly, so he’s definitely not menacing, and his son is downright cute. It’s tempting to squeak, “Not the mama!” whenever he comes onscreen. Way too much fun.

Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)


Godzilla is back, and he’s mad this time! He’s also got a cyborg to fight because aliens have landed and they’re trying to take over the world. It’s a toss-up as to who’s going to cause the most damage when the cyborg attacks Tokyo. We also get to watch Godzilla grow after he gets struck by lightning. The movie is a mixed bag of decent. It was dubbed in English, only the acting was well-done, a rarity when trying to make one language conform to the pacing of another. The special effects still look kinda lame (there’s one scene where a thief turns into an odd alien ape-ish creature), but it’s a fun sci-fi feature.

Godzilla (1998)


Beuller? Beuller? Matthew Broderick stars in this late 90s creature-fest, which recycles the early Toho plotline of scientists solving the mystery of Ol’ Smashie, only this time the story is set in New York City instead of Tokyo. I’m not a huge fan of Broderick’s, and he runs true to mediocre form here. The movie isn’t long on plot, either, and is not for purists. Fan reviews are decidedly mixed, and the critics were worse. This, combined with blah returns at the box office, put the kibosh on any possible sequels.

When something works, it works. I have a hunch that as long as people like seeing creature-features, Godzilla will always return in some capacity.

Thanks for reading, all, and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for a look at a legendary distance runner, Steve Prefontaine…

Godzilla, Godzilla: King of the Monstersand Godzilla are available to own on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon. The Criterion Collection boxed set is available here.

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