When you think of giant monsters — the first thing that comes to mind is King Kong, and the second is… Godzilla.
Godzilla — a monster whose name literally means “Gorilla-Whale” is undeniably the most prolific fictional character Japan ever produced. The giant radiation-breathing reptile made it’s debut in 1954 as the Toho studio B-movie (it’s A-movies were “Seven Samurai” and “Musashi Miyamoto”). Originally conceived as “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” Japanese look-alike, Ishiro Honda’s “Godzilla” (released in America as “Godzilla: King Of The Monsters” with some unnecessary Raymond Burr footage added in) quickly gained it’s own individuality as a more grim and visceral giant monster disaster movie. Anybody can draw quick parallels between Godzilla and the horrifying tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Lucky Dragon incident the movie was directly inspired by. Also, unlike the Ray Harryhausen’s “Beast”, this movie used a giant monster costume (since there weren’t many stop-motion specialists in Japan back then) that have since become the staple of the franchise.
And what a franchise it was… and still is. “Godzilla” has 30 Japanese sequels, 2 American remakes (plus — two sequels to a remake) and an anime trilogy. This is officially — the longest-running film franchise in history. James Bond and the MCU still haven’t got close (although, the MCU might be… soon). What’s the secret? “Godzilla” has a very simple formula: Giant monster + Big City = Showtime. However, it’s very first sequel — “Godzilla Raids Again” — introduced a very important component to that formula. And the component is — another monster. Because the only thing that’s more awesome than a giant monster tearing up the landmarks is two (or more) giant monsters duking it out, while demolishing the unfortunate landmarks in the process. Honda quickly realized his core audience (kids and teenagers), so he made the latter movies more silly and light-hearted. Godzilla became colorful, humorous and… dare I say… cute (Remember the “Dancing Godzilla” gif?). The movies were all brightly lit, which did not do any favors to special effects that were often phony-looking. However, “campy” effects actually added charm to the movies: it’s obvious, the monsters were either guys in suits or puppets or (in some cases) — toys. Still, every beast had it’s unique attitude and never felt generic. As for the human characters? Well, the human characters were always changing from one film to another — and quite honestly they were forgettable. “Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster” even had a storyline that could be called “trolling”: the whole intrigue of a private detective protecting a young beauty from the assasins… like who cares — we wanna see Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra larva fight King Ghidorah (who is suspiciously similar to Zmei Gorinitch — the Russian three-headed fairy-tale dragon). Humans always seem puny and insignificant in comparison to monsters.
This was known as the “Showa Era” of the series, and fans argue, that it was the best. The final movie of the era was “Terror Of Mechagodzilla”. By that time the recycled Godzilla costume was beginning to rot away, which was both funny and sad at the same time. Sad, because it was obviously time to lay the King of the monsters to rest… for about 10 years.
In 1985, Godzilla made a comeback. This time — no more silly stuff: the new installment was dark and gritty… even with all those silly coke ads surrounding it. The next 7 movies, however, were more in line with the sillier stuff: those were clear nostalgia trips that even emulated cheesy visual effects of the 1960s series. Crazy storylines, disposable humans and of course — monster fights. Some older monsters (Mothra, King Ghidorah and Mehagodzilla) got fresh treatment, while some new monsters (including my personal favorites — cute little Dorattos) got introduced. Most Americans at the time first saw these movies only on VHS, since there was tension between America and Japan back then. Still — it was a notable and pretty futile period known as the Heisei Era, that ended with a surprisingly sad and epic “Godzilla vs Destroyer” farewell to the legendary monster…
Only for it to return in “Godzilla 2000” after the Hollywood remake bombed spectacularly. This spawned the “Millennium” series ending with the most self-aware Godzilla movie yet — “Godzilla: Final Wars” directed by the legendary Ryuhei Kitamura (”Midnight Meat Train”). It might seem that Godzilla can rest for good this time, but after another Hollywood “Godzilla” reboot, Toho studio decided to remind us they still got some juice for the legendary monster.
“Shin Godzilla” (aka “Godzilla Resurrection”) is the final Japanese live-action Godzilla movie so far… and probably the most controversial one. Not only it prioritizes humans over the giant monster that goes solo this time (which is the opposite of what most fans want), they actually retconned Godzilla, giving the monster some new interesting biological peculiarities that allow for more merch. Fans are still split on this one, claiming it to be either the best (after the 1954 original of course) or the worst Godzilla film. But one thing is for certain — it’s not gonna be the last.
There are also “Kong vs Godzilla” and the Godzilla anime trilogy (which is natural), but the live-action Japanese CANONICAL Godzilla will be back pretty soon. It was the monster that represented atomic disaster, but it grew up to be more than that. It represents national spirit, national pride and national hope for Japan. In 67 years Godzilla was a villain, a hero, a father an environmentalist and a little kid’s fantasy. But in every role, he was proud, strong, relentless and rebelious — a force of nature itself. Godzilla always had an untamed attitude — and that’s what makes him relatable and loved through generations.
And that’s the secret of his longevity — he is still loved after all these years.
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