From the Archive: The Toho Godzilla Movies

Gojira (1954) (Godzilla) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Kaiju daisenso (1965) (Godzilla vs The Space Monster) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Gojira-Ebira-Mosura: Nankai no daiketto (1966) (Ebira: Terror of the Deep) Directed by Jun Fukuda

Kaijuto no kessen: Gojira no musuko (1967) (Son of Godzilla) Directed by Jun Fukuda

Kaiju soshingeki (1968) (Destroy all Monsters) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Gojira tai Mekagojira (1974) (Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla) Directed by Jun Fukuda

Mekagojira no gyakushu (1975) (Return of Mechagodzilla) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Gojira 2000 (1999) (Godzilla 2000) Directed by Takao Okawara

Ishiro Honda’s 1954 classic, Gojira (or in the west, Godzilla), is a direct attack on American nuclear weapons testing and a testament to the impact on the Japanese psyche of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear testing wakes up and mutates the terrifying eponymous reptile, who proceeds to eat much of Tokyo. Gojira is a force of nature, and also a man in a rubber suit.

Eventually he is slain and reduced to a skeleton by the ‘Oxygen Destroyer’ (in Japanese ‘Oxygen Destroyu’) a horrific weapon of mass destruction. There’s some human interest in the form of the love triangle between the Oxygen Destroyer’s crippled creator, his fiancée, and the man she now loves, but mostly we get big lizard action and a strong anti-nuke message.

It isn’t subtle, but it’s actually pretty good.

Despite Godzilla’s advanced state of deadness, he returned for many more movies, of which I present a sample here, specifically, the ones I have seen.

By Godzilla vs. The Space Monster, Godzilla is but one of many kaiju (monsters), and moreover becomes the defender of Earth against the three-headed King Gidhra.

Again in Ebira: Terror of the Deep he defends the righteous humans against dangerous radicals and a giant lobster, while Mothra – a giant moth – airlifts the good-guys to safety, guided by two tiny women who speak in stereo.

In Son of Godzilla the Big Green becomes a family man, adopting a miniature version of himself named Minya who blows luminous smoke rings (pretty naff-looking, but they manage to throttle one of King Gidhra’s heads in Destroy All Monsters). This film also features Spiegon (a giant spider) and the Gimantises (some giant mantises); not the most awesome of line-ups.

Destroy All Monsters on the other hand has a terrific line-up. More literally translated as ‘March of the Monsters’ or ‘Attack of the Marching Monsters’, this film has Godzilla and his friends let loose from monster island under alien control to devastate the Earth, but for the main event they break loose and fight a final challenge for the fate of the Earth against King Gidhra.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla gives us more alien invaders, this time attempting to neutralise the Godzilla threat using Mechagodzilla, a robot impostor in a rubber Godzilla suit. The suit gets burned off though, revealing the big robot which is taller than the suit, and Godzilla teams up with King Seesar (a man in a sort of Pekingese dog suit) to put the smackdown on the metal mimic.

Return of Mechagodzilla sees aliens (again) build a monster theme park and attempt to persuade the government to kill all the monsters on monster island. Godzilla and his friend Anguirus (a man in a rubber suit walking on hands and knees) talk the problem over – that’s right, they have a conversation – then Godzilla has a barney with the reconstructed Mechagodzilla, and cements his place as the original and best.

A second series of Godzilla movies began in 1985, of which I have seen none.

Godzilla 2000 featured the Godzilla Prediction Unit, who are to Godzilla as the guys in Twister were to Tornadoes. There’s also a big alien mutating thing called Orga, which swipes Godzilla’s cells to duplicate Regenerator G1 (which apparently is what lets Godzilla keep coming back), which lasts about a minute when it comes down to the final fight. Having beaten Orga, Godzilla proceeds to smash up whatever of Tokyo Orga hasn’t already levelled. Godzilla is not Earth’s defender anymore, he just seems to feel that Tokyo is only big enough for the one monster.

What’s wrong with them?

Toho’s Godzilla movies are fairly predictable, and feature men in rubber suits swinging slow, ponderous punches at each other, punctuated by a series of cheap special-effects and bizarre screaming, roaring and chirruping sounds. 

Rodan – a pterodactyl-like kaiju – flies without beating his wings, perches without folding his wings, and makes a sound like a jet engine as he flies over. 

The dialogue is almost invariably dubbed; badly. In Godzilla 2000 a horrified shopkeeper gives a  cry of ‘Gott in Himmel’ as his livelihood is crushed underfoot. 

The plots are often pretty laughable as well. Moreover, you often only get to see the US versions, with randomly inserted American actors looking out of windows at Godzilla (whom we just have to assume to be out there). The US version of Gojira (Godzilla King of the Monsters, starring Raymond Burr) has notably less mention of how terrible nuclear testing is, and indeed dares to suggest a nuke would be more merciful than Godzilla.

Godzilla floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Well, actually he pretty much floats like a bee and stings like a steam-hammer, but he boxes. He has footwork like Mohammed Ali (if Ali were to have boxed in a big green monster suit), which looks pretty odd in a giant lizard.

What’s right with them?

Well, for starters there’s a certain something about a man in a rubber suit stomping on buildings in Tokyo – or anywhere really, but it really has to be a man in a rubber suit. Who knows why, but it seems to work, while CGI patently doesn’t. 

The original Gojira had a real message as well, a damning indictment of all weapons of mass destruction; the maker of the Oxygen Destroyer sacrifices himself to make certain that no one can make him manufacture another, as well as to clear the way for his fiancée to be with the man she loves. It’s also the Godzilla movie most often shown subtitled, which makes it seem a lot less ridiculous.

How bad are they really?

Many of them are very bad, or at least plain silly. Gojira is actually fairly meaty, but the likes of Son of Godzilla are really just excuses to get on the monster suit and stir up some box office takings.

The Best Bit?

Godzilla’s trademark ‘tail-slide’ move.

What’s up with…?

  • That ‘Gott in Himmel’ dubbing?

  • At the end of Godzilla 2000, with half of Tokyo in flames and Godzilla about to get around to the other half, why does one scientists ask: “Why does Godzilla keep protecting us”? Moreover, why is the answer: “I guess there’s a little bit of Godzilla in all of us”?

  • If the aliens can build the death rays, why don’t they just vaporise Monster Island from orbit?

  • The tiny stereo women in Ebirah? Not that anyone in the film mentions this. It’s like: ‘We must wake Mothra and go to rescue our people’. ‘OK; let’s go.’ Rather than: ‘Excuse me, but did you know that you’re two inches tall, speaking in stereo and standing in a sea-shell, and there’s a huge fuck-off moth over there?’ They were parodied on South Park.

  • Actually, this bland acceptance is a feature of the later Kaiju movies. It seems that the monsters have become such an accepted part of existence in the Tokyo of the movies, that the good citizens are past being surprised. “Oh look. Monsters.” “Again? Who is it this time?”

Ratings:

Production Values – Gojira was probably fairly cutting edge, and its black and white photography gives it a darker edge which makes it seem altogether classier than later, glorious Technicolor versions. Unfortunately, the effects technology has gone nowhere; even by Godzilla 2000 it’s pretty much the same deal. On the other hand, it still looks better than a lot of CGI. 10

Dialogue and Performances – Actually very difficult to tell. For all I know the Japanese dialogue of each film could be a single, sweeping, epic poem that makes Beowulf look like a hack-job. Still, going by the translations, it’s pretty risible. Also, the dubbing performances are invariably naff. 17 (on the basis of the translated version)

Plot and Execution – Again, with the exception of Gojira, plot is almost an afterthought in Godzilla movies; a side note to the monster fight. And the monster fights are kinda samey and laughable, especially with the Big Green’s tail-slides and pugilistic footwork. 13

Randomness – Hoh yeah. Aliens who look like humans and turn out to be giant cockroaches. Tiny women in a sea-shell. Gott in Himmel! 19

Waste of Potential – Quite the opposite. In fact, the Godzilla movies manage to make a huge amount out of sod all. 0

OVERALL 49% (May vary up to 20% either way depending on the specific movie)

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