The King (of Monsters) and I: Musings on the 65-year Godzilla legacy…

The King and I.

1974’s “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” sees the legendary monster battle a heavy metal doppelgänger.

The Godzilla (“Gojira”) franchise is one that I’ve been a fan of for literally as long as I can remember. Sitting too close to the 25” cathode ray tube TV, eagerly watching poorly dubbed, pan-and-scanned prints on Saturday afternoon television… ah, childhood! Back then, the Godzilla movies were frothy fun … colorful monsters kicking the crap out of other colorful monsters. They also gave me lots of imagination fuel back when dinosaurs and monsters were a huge part of my life (thank you Forry Ackerman, and “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine!). I remember going through many ink markers trying to draw my own versions of those colorful keiju-eiga creatures I enjoyed. All of those years watching these films as a kid, and it wasn’t until my mid-to-late 20s that I came to understand just how little I really knew about them.

Gojira Revealed.

Godzilla tears through electrical barriers that were supposed to be Tokyo’s last line of defense…

At the tender age of 29, in 1996 (the Americanized Godzilla’s 40th anniversary), I read an article in Cinefantastique magazine about the original Japanese cut of the 1954 film “Gojira”. It was quite a revelation to read that the original “Gojira” didn’t include any footage of Raymond Burr. As a little kid, I’d always assumed Godzilla was a Japanese/American coproduction, like “War of the Gargantuas” or “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”. I was so wrong. CFQ magazine’s article broke down the differences between the 1954 Ishiro Honda-directed “Gojira” and the 1956 recut version known more commonly in the US as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, starring Raymond Burr as reporter “Steve Martin” (a wild and crazy guy…).

“Godzilla 2000” (1999) was the first Godzilla film I’d seen theatrically, after a lifetime of watching G-flicks on television and home video.

It wasn’t until the age of 33 that I’d even seen a Godzilla film theatrically (“Godzilla 2000”). At that point, I hadn’t seen any of the original Japanese cuts of the films either… only the slightly dumbed-down Americanized versions on TV or home video. After “Godzilla 2000” I soon had other opportunities to see Godzilla films theatrically (though it usually involved a sluggish, hour-plus drive into Los Angeles…).

The NuArt Theatre in L.A… where I saw the real Gojira for the first time.

It wasn’t until spring of 2004, the 50th anniversary of “Gojira” (a great year for G-fans like myself) that I went with some G-fan friends of mine to the NuArt Theatre in L.A. where a rare, Japanese-language print of the original film was being shown with English subtitles for the first time in the US.

The monster is revealed on Odo island…

Sitting in the dark, with the booming sounds of Gojira’s off-camera footsteps, and the familiar but eerily pitched-down roar of the monster, I was hooked. Ifubuke’s main title score (the ‘Godzilla march’) boldly opened the picture now. All of the differences I’d read about in the old CFQ article were quite evident. The Raymond Burr footage and flashback structure was mercifully gone, and the story was told in a more linear fashion.

Amiko tries to comfort her father, Professor Yanabe. Amiko is (unfortunately) largely defined by the men in her life.

The original Japanese cut deepened the wrenching love triangle between young Emiko (Momoko Kochi), her tormented, brilliant fiance Dr. Serizawa (Akihito Hirata) and her young Naval officer paramour, Hideto (Akira Takarada). Amiko’s father, Professor Yanabe (Takashi Shimura) also had more material as well.

The tormented Dr. Serizawa; not exactly the social butterfly ‘college roomie’ type reimagined in the American version.

Serizawa is depicted as an “old college friend” of Burr’s Steve Martin in the American version. In the original, the deeply anti-social Serizawa is a more brooding, haunted character; a clear stand-in for the tormented Dr. Robert Oppenheimer. Serizawa is deeply conflicted about his new “oxygen destroyer” weapon that also might be Japan’s sole defense against the unstoppable radioactive nightmare. His eyepatch reflects a man who has seen too much, and has perhaps even paid a physical price for that insight.

Godzilla as walking radioactive nightmare; a far cry from the kiddie-friendly reptilian wrestler I grew up watching on TV.

Most importantly, the original cut also heightens the depiction of the monster as a walking radioactive metaphor for the Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bombs…something that was barely hinted at in the American cut that I grew up watching. There are numerous references to the atomic bombs throughout the film, most are very subtle, such as a widowed mother telling her two frightened children that they’ll be reunited with their father soon. The pure horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was only nine years old at the time of the film’s release, and its scars are all over the film.

Amiko is forced to choose between the two men in her life while struggling to tend to the many injured left in Gojira’s wake.

Contrary to earlier rumors, composer Akira Ifubuke’s brilliant Godzilla score was retained in the Americanized cut, though its use was reduced. A shame, since the iconic Godzilla ‘march’ is as well-known to keiju-eiga fans as John Williams shark theme is to “JAWS.” Luckily, “Gojira” uses it to full effect.

Serizawa’s oxygen destroyer weapon reduces to great monster to a pile of bones in the Pacific…for now.

This was a movie I thought I’d seen many times as a kid, but had never truly experienced whole. Most of my life, I’d watched only an American-butchered trailer for a far superior movie. “Gojira” was a true classic, comparable in power to nearly any film of Akira Kurosawa’s in that same period. It was a far deeper horror experience as well. For the first time, I experienced genuine dread at the sight of the creature I’d always grown up seeing as a ‘kid-friendly’ monster. Seeing the uncut original “Gojira” theatrically was revelatory.

Godzilla US Premieres.

My own pic of director Masaaki Tesuka (“Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla” “Tokyo SOS”), visiting Hollywood for the US premiere of “Tokyo SOS.”

At the American Cinemateque (aka the legendary Egyptian Theatre) in Hollywood, my friends and I attended the US premiere of “Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S” (2003), the direct sequel to 2002’s “Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla.” It was there I also had the chance to meet the film’s director Masaaki Tesuka (who directed three films of that cycle), as well as two of the special effects artists who’d worked on the original 1954 “Gojira” and its sequels; Akinori Takagi and Yasuyuki Inoue. Never would my ten-year old self have ever imagined that I’d someday meet the men who’d helped bring Godzilla to life on screen.

Original “Gojira” special effects artists Akinori Takagi and Yasuyuki Inoue autograph for their fans at the US premiere of “Tokyo SOS.”

These three gentlemen flew all the way out from Japan to attend the US premiere of “Tokyo SOS”, and it was a rare privilege to see the film with them. Director Tesuka held an audience Q&A afterward (courtesy of his translator). It was quite an amazing night…

My autographed “Tokyo SOS” calendar…still have it in pristine condition.

In the summer of 2005, after working at an anime convention for my former employer, I met up with a friend of mine after work and we went back to Hollywood to see “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004), the latest and last film of the latest “Millennium” Godzilla cycle released in the US. “Final Wars” was my first real disappointment of this new series (1999-2004). It was little more than an updated version of the campy, sillier Godzilla movies I’d watched as a kid. It was entertaining, yes, but the recent Godzilla films I’d seen both theatrically and on DVD had whetted my appetite for more darker Godzilla movies.

Required Reading.

After seeing the original and newer Godzilla films theatrically, I was determined to get reacquainted with as much of the Godzilla franchise as humanly possible. After seeing “Gojira” at the NuArt, I felt like I barely knew them at all. I wanted to get to know the true Godzilla movies, not the dubbed, heavily-edited versions I grew up with. I needed a guide

To all G-fans: Buy this book! Thank me later…

That guide came in the form of an invaluable book called “The Official Godzilla Compendium” (1998) by J.D. Lees and Marc Cerasini. Well worth seeking out on eBay or Amazon, since it’s out of print. While it doesn’t cover the aforementioned Millennium series of Godzilla movies (1999-2004), nor the later American reboots, the book extensively covers the original Showa series of Godzilla films (1954-1975) as well as the subsequent Heisei series (1984-1995). It also has breakdowns of the key differences between the original Japanese films and their US versions. For fun, it even includes graphs depicting the scale of the monsters, as well as the multitudinous variations of Godzilla suits used from 1954 through 1995’s “Godzilla versus Destroyah.” This book was my bible for revisiting all of the classic G-movies on DVD, and I’d advise any G-fan who wishes a better grasp of the franchise’s early history to get their mitts on a copy, if possible. For the history of early Godzilla lore, it’s invaluable.

Reevaluations.

The early ‘70s were arguably the peak of Godzilla’s child-friendly years; in “Godzilla vs. Gigan” we see a Godzilla amusement park, complete with “Godzilla Tower”, as well as a ‘talking’ Godzilla (at least on the English dub version).

With this compendium as my guide, I went about the task of getting my hands on as many original-language DVDs of the G-flicks as possible (many at that time still hadn’t been released in the States). In no particular order, they were released whenever Toho and Sony DVD decided they should be released, so I watched them whenever one became available or reissued. Despite minor editing differences, and slightly more sophisticated original-language dialogue, none of the subsequent Godzilla movies were as dramatically different as “Gojira” was from the Americanized “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”. Nevertheless it was very enjoyable to see these movies again in widescreen format, original language (with English subtitles) and in brighter, more colorful prints than the generally scuzzy pan-and-scan versions I’d seen on TV as a kid.

The Showa Series: 1954 to 1975.

The first series of Godzilla films is the one which saw the franchise’s greatest metamorphosis. Godzilla went from a grimly serious allegory of atomic devastation to a happy-go-lucky monster who defends Earth, and even teaches his son how to stop bullies. These were the Godzilla films I grew up with…my gateway drug into the wonderfully weird world of keiju-eiga cinema.

Godzilla teams with “Jet Jaguar” in “Godzilla vs. Megalon” (1973), an entry perhaps best enjoyed in the wildly funny “Mystery Science Theater 3000” version.

This series includes “Gojira” (aka “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, 1954), “Godzilla Raids Again” (aka “Gigantis: The Fire Monster”, 1955), “King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962), “Mothra vs. Godzilla” (1964), “Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster” (1964), “Invasion of Astro-Monster” (aka “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero” (1965), “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” (aka “Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster” 1966), “Son of Godzilla” (1967), “Destroy All Monsters” (1968), “All Monsters Attack” (aka “Godzilla’s Revenge”, 1969), “Godzilla vs. Hedorah” (aka “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster” 1971), “Godzilla vs. Gigan” (aka “Godzilla on Monster Island”, 1972), “Godzilla vs. Megalon” (1973), “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” (aka “Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster” 1974), and “Terror of Mechagodzilla” (aka “Revenge of Mechagodzilla”, 1975).

The Godzilla movies try to return to some of their earlier ecological messaging with 1971’s “Godzilla vs Hedorah” (aka “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster”); a creature literally made from excessive pollution.

While this series quickly devolved into child-friendly silliness, there are still a few gems that hold up well enough for forgiving fans today. I won’t go extensively into all of the films of each series, just a few favorites of mine.

–Showa Series favorites.

“Gojira” (1954).

Gojira (1954). The darkest and still the best. Yes, others in the series offered more spectacle, but the image of the creature as a walking nuclear nightmare was never as potent as it was in the first film.

Still the best of the Godzilla movies. As tonally different from subsequent Godzilla movies as possible. Darker, somber, and very adult. Godzilla would never this menacing again in the Showa series, and arguably all of the subsequent films.

“King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962).

Godzilla and King Kong in a battle worthy of pay-per-view.

Godzilla had already fought another monster (“Barugan”) in the previous movie (“Godzilla Raids Again”), but this one is more fondly remembered due to the pairing of two iconic international monsters (this was the “Alien vs. Predator” of its day). It was also the first color Godzilla movie. Contrary to myth (and the Revell model kit), Godzilla is charcoal gray, not green. The reimagined King Kong looks a bit shabby (especially compared to his superior 1933 stop-motion counterpart), but no matter. Despite some pacing lulls, the monster en monster action is lively enough to make it worthwhile. It also opened the door for future colorful mashups with Mothra (Mosura), King Ghidorah, and so many others…

“Invasion of Astro-Monster” (1965).

Colorful Japanese poster for “Invasion of Astro-Monster”; gotta love those super-padded helmets…

A Toho-American coproduction (one of several around this time, including “Frankenstein Conquers the World” and “War of the Gargantuas”), and the second Toho flick to star the late Nick Adams (“Rebel Without a Cause”). This was also one of the first multi-monster mashups, with a story involving aliens using the monsters for conquest of the Earth. The aliens’ funky headgear and New Wave sunglasses are a riot. Akira Takarada (the original “Gojira” star) plays Adams’ astronaut partner who journeys with him to the mysterious planet (“Planet X”), hidden behind Jupiter. And yes, this is the one where Godzilla does a victorious shay dance. This is the kind of G-movie you invite friends over for to share a few laughs.

“Destroy All Monsters” (1968).

The gang’s all here in “Destroy All Monsters”; one of the most entertaining and monster-filled of the Showa series.

Arguably the best of the later Showa series, with a colorful assortment of monsters (old & new), a colorful ‘future’ setting of 1999, a moonbase (shades of 1975’s later “Space: 1999”), an alien conspiracy, and the first G-film to feature “Monster Island”, which would return in a few subsequent entries. Several actors from previous G-movies return in new roles as well. “Destroy All Monsters” was the Marvel “Avengers” of the Showa Godzilla movies.

“All Monsters Attack” (1969).

Godzilla teaches his kid a lesson in how to deal with bullies.

One of the first G-movies I remember seeing as a kid, and a perfect gateway Godzilla for little children. A bullied schoolboy is abducted by gangsters, and dreams of being on Monster Island, where he befriends Godzilla’s similarly bullied son, Miniya. The two of them muster the courage to fight off their bullies, and the boy later escapes. Pure silliness, yes, but it works like a charm on little children. In fact, I once showed it to a friend’s daughter whom I was babysitting at the time, and she just ate it up. Lots of stock footage from previous G-movies make up the bulk of the creature action, but who cares? It works, and kids love it.

“Terror of Mechagodzilla” (1975).

Godzilla tackles both Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla…

My favorite of the two Showa Mechagodzilla movies, with greater use of Mechagodzilla itself (which was created and used by “Simeon” aliens in the Showa series). Eschewing the silly, lion-esque “King Cesar” monster of the previous movie, the sequel introduces the long-necked bipedal oceanic dinosaur “Titanosaurus.” I remember quite a few misspent hours of my childhood trying to draw Titanosaurus… for some reason, I really loved that design. There are those who prefer the previous “Mechagodzilla” movie, and I can appreciate that choice, but this is my favorite of the two because…well, better monster.

The Heisei series: 1984-1995.

Godzilla would battle a giant monster made from a flower and Godzilla’s own DNA in “Godzilla vs. Biollante” (1989); an interesting if unevenly paced entry in the Heisei series.

While “Godzilla: 1985” (aka “The Return of Godzilla” & “Godzilla 1984”) was released theatrically when I was in high school, I never found a local showing, thus I wound up seeing it only on television (yet again). Later films in the Heisei series really found their stride, upping their overall action quotients, and eventually culminating in one of the best entries in the entire Godzilla canon.

“Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla” (1994) sees yet another adversary born of Godzilla’s DNA and a growing ‘Baby.’

The Heisei series includes “The Return of Godzilla” (aka “Godzilla 1984” “Godzilla 1985”), “Godzilla vs. Biollante” (1989), “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” (1991), “Godzilla vs. Mothra” (1992), “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II” (aka “Godzilla vs. SuperMechagodzilla”, 1993), “Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla” (1994) and “Godzilla vs. Destroyah” (1995).

–Personal Heisei Favorites.

“The Return of Godzilla” (1984).

For some perverse reason, the American distributors of “The Return of Godzilla” (1984) decided to bring back Raymond Burr as reporter “Steve Martin” in a strange bit of ‘continuity’ with the original’s fate.

A sequel and quasi-remake of the original 1954 movie, ignoring continuity with the rest of the Showa series. Godzilla is once again the sole menace of the movie, as he hungrily treks across Japan in search of nuclear energy to feed on. There is a Cold War subplot involving Russian and American ships ‘aiding’ Japan, and nearly triggering World War 3 in the process. A flying fighting vehicle, Super X, proves an ineffective countermeasure. The Americanized version (“Godzilla 1985”) once again adds footage of an aged, bearded Raymond Burr returning as reporter “Steve Martin” (with no irony whatsoever). The new Godzilla suit and highly detailed miniature cityscapes are some of the best seen in 20th century-made Godzilla flicks.

“Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” (1991).

Godzilla’s humble beginnings as a lone dinosaur on a strange little island in the World War 2 Pacific…

An interesting mix of sequel and prequel, with time-traveling Americans, their humanoid robot (directly inspired by “The Terminator”) and an unwitting Japanese woman named Emmy, who unwittingly aids the time travelers in their dastardly plan to undo Godzilla’s origin, create King Ghidorah, and prevent Japan becoming the most powerful nation of the 23rd century.

A partly-cybernetic King Ghidorah returns for Round Two, and seems to have Godzilla all tied up…

The time travelers (and their cyborg companion) are utterly hilarious … wearing clothes that look like they were bought from a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fire sale. We see Godzilla’s origin as a lone dinosaur stranded on an occupied island near the end of World War 2 (listen up for a reference to Major Spielberg). King Ghidorah’s origin story is reimagined as an innocent, silly-looking trio of “Dorat” creatures are later mutated (via radiation) into the titular three-headed monster in a plot point right out of Joe Dante’s “Gremlins.” This one really packs a LOT of story into a fast-paced, if derivative, G-flick.

“Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II” (1993).

Mechagodzilla returns, reimagined as a human built, remote-piloted robot countermeasure against the real Godzilla in “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II” (1993).

A very enjoyable entry, which follows continuity from previous entries with the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center (UNGCC) building a new anti-Godzilla weapon following the failure of Moguera (their previous flying fighter craft). The new weapon is a human-piloted “Mechagodzilla” (changing Mechagodzilla’s origins as well). There is also a subplot involving “Fire Rodan” guarding a giant egg…which hatches a human-sized “Baby” Godzilla. Some goofy-moments include the scientists flying a hover-scooter around the newborn Godzilla, but the monster action is top notch.

“Godzilla vs. Destroyah” (1995).

Easily the best of the Heisei series, and one of the best G-films period. A surprisingly emotional farewell to a 40 year old monster legacy, while birthing another…

Easily the best of the Heisei series, and arguably one of the best Godzilla movies ever made. A sequel to the 1954 original, with Momoko Kochi reprising her role as Amiko (now a middle-aged widow). We also see deadly longterm consequences of the oxygen-destroyer weapon of the original film, which has given birth to a batch of creatures which eventually create a single giant deadly organism (“Destroyah”). Godzilla is now nearing death, glowing freakishly bright from within as his atomic heart nears thermonuclear meltdown, bringing back some of the radioactive horror of the original. Destroyah is defeated, but Godzilla melts down in a fiery radioactive death….with all of his radiation being absorbed safely into his son, who is seen as fully grown in the final frames of the movie. Godzilla’s death is surprisingly moving.

The Ugly American.

“Godzilla” (1998).

Welcome to NYC! Enjoy the all-you-can-eat seafood platter…

I would say this was the ‘first’ Godzilla movie I saw in theaters (my wife and I saw it during our courtship), but since it bears no relation to any of the Japanese Godzilla movies, I don’t consider it to be a true Godzilla film. Later movies in the Millennium Godzilla series reference it, but they don’t refer to the creature as the true ‘Godzilla’. The tone and feel of G1998 is more like “Jurassic Park Takes Manhattan.” You half-expect to see Jeff Goldblum telling a taxi driver that he “must go faster.” “Independence Day” directing/writing team Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin make it all about spectacle and Yankee humor, but little else. If it weren’t called “Godzilla”, it might have gone down a lot easier. Matthew Broderick (“Ferris Bueller” himself), Jean Reno (“Leon”), Hank Azaria (“The Simpsons”) and many others offer decent, if not particularly memorable support.

The Millennium Series (1999-2004).

Godzilla fights off both Barugan and a swarm of mutant insects in “Godzilla vs. Megaguirus” (2000), a colorful if not particularly memorable entry in the Millennium series.

With the exception of “Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla” and “Tokyo SOS” (both directed by Masaaki Tesuka), the Millennium series of Godzilla movies are almost entirely standalone features, discontinuous with previous entries that usually reference only the 1954 original for continuity. Some even attempt to reinvent the monster mythology altogether, giving it a supernatural vibe as well. While the miniature and CGI effects work in this series is some of the best to come out of Japanese keiju-eiga cinema, there is a wonderfully stubborn insistence on using actors in rubber monster suits (suit-mation), just as it was done in 1954 and the decades that followed. This series offers an intriguing blend of traditional and modern stylings.

“Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004) a hyperkinetic camp fest that entertains, but arguably destroys one’s attention span as Godzilla fights EVERY SINGLE MONSTER in the Godzilla canon…even the 1998 American version!

The Millennium series includes “Godzilla Millennium” (aka Godzilla 2000”/1999), “Godzilla vs. Megaguirus” (2000), “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” (2001), “Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla” (2002), “Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S” (2003) and “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004).

–Personal Millennium Favorites.

“Godzilla 2000” (aka “Godzilla Millennium”).

The human characters look on as Godzilla returns to wreak havoc for a new millennium…

This one has the distinction of being the first ‘real’ Godzilla movie I’d ever seen theatrically. It was a dubbed version (this was shortly before my obsession with locating original language versions began), but the dubbing was not too offensive. The characters (a Godzilla ‘storm chaser’, his daughter, a wily reporter and an evil corporate suit) are nicely drawn and memorable. Scenes of Godzilla’s rampages are filled with appropriate menace and gravitas, as the movie strikes a balance between portraying the monster as destructive force and later salvation from an even worse menace from an undersea UFO. A nice way to kick things off for a new series of G-films.

“Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” (2001).

A white-eyed Godzilla returns as the big bad as the other monsters of the world become the ‘good guys’…

GMK is one of the boldest of the Millennium series, reimagining the Godzilla mythos to include a bit of the supernatural. A white-eyed Godzilla returns, as is more terrifying than ever. When his immense tail destroys a hospital, we see it from the perspective of a patient in traction! The monsters of the world, or ‘guardians’ as legends refer to them, are the familiar Mothra (Mosura), Barugan and later King Ghidorah, who are awakened to save the world from a more hostile and downright evil Godzilla than we’ve seen in awhile. The monster action is simply phenomenal; we see monsters actually die in this film! Godzilla, too, is defeated…leaving only a beating heart on the ocean floor. The combining of both supernatural and horror elements works very well here. Listen up for a nice jab taken at the 1998 American Godzilla from students at a Naval Academy early in the film.

From what I’ve seen of the trailers, the newest Godzilla movie, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) borrows heavily from GMK and its ‘guardian monsters’ legend premise. We’ll know for certain in a week or so, when it premieres on May 31st.

“Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.” (2003).

Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, aka “Kiryu”, a human-piloted defense against the King of Monsters…

Some may accuse me of bias on this one, having attended the US premiere and meeting the director, but that’s not the case. Masaaki Tesuka’s previous entries in the Millennium series, “Godzilla vs. Megaguirus” and “Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla” were perfectly okay films in the franchise, but his “Tokyo SOS” really stands out. On the human side, we have the return of Mothra’s Shobijin ’fairy twins’, as well as the original star of 1964’s “Godzilla vs. Mothra” Hiroshi Koizumi, reprising his role as an elderly, retired Dr. Chujo.

Mothra serves up a major ass-whooping to Godzilla…

The bulk of Godzilla’s rampaging action takes place over a single night, with a human-piloted Mechagodzilla (aka Kiryu) providing the first wave of the offensive against the king of monsters. Resurrecting Mothra (Mosura) and her larvae (Mosu & Lara) in a desperate attempt to stop Godzilla, the benevolent giant moth (yes, I know how hilarious that sentence sounds) gives her all for both her larvae and the human race. The final fight takes place over the Pacific and is a stunner.


The Reiwa Series (2016 -?).

Yes, that is Godzilla, folks…an earlier form, anyway, from 2016’s “Shin Godzilla.”

As of 2016, there is only one live-action Godzilla film in the current Reiwa cycle, and that is “Shin Godzilla”, a film that was actually one of my very first reviews for this site almost two and a half years ago ( https://musingsofamiddleagedgeek.blog/2016/12/08/shin-godzilla-2016-re-awakens-a-sleeping-giant-of-japanese-cinema/).

An animated king of the monsters in “Godzilla: The Planet Eater” (2018).

The other three films in the Reiwa series are animated features, and I regret that I have not yet seen any of them. These films (to date) include “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters” (2017), “Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle” (2018) and “Godzilla: The Planet Eater” (2018). If any readers have seen these films and would like to comment? Please login and feel free to tell me all about them in the comments sections below. I’m both eager and curious to read firsthand accounts of these movies.

“Shin Godzilla” (2016).

The fully evolved Godzilla, as it finally appears midway or so through “Shin Godzilla” (2016).

My wife and I saw “Shin Godzilla” theatrically almost three years ago, and while it’s not as accessible as previous Godzilla movies, it does feature some truly stunning monster action, with an invisible blurring of practical and CGI FX. Going back to the roots of “Gojira,” there is also direct commentary within the film on the 2011 Fukushima disaster, when a monstrous tsunami devastated a nuclear power plant and released dangerous radiation into the flood waters. The Fukushima disaster (like the film’s politicos dealing with the ravaging monster) was aggravated by bureaucracy… something that is lampooned repeatedly ad nauseam in the film, leading to both uneven pacing and tonal issues. Godzilla’s origin is also reimagined, with the creature first appearing ashore as a wild-eyed serpentine dragon, slowly evolving into the more familiar bipedal monster fans expected. “Shin Godzilla” gets a bit mired in its own excesses, and is not an easy film to love, despite its great technical prowess.

American Godzilla Redux.

Two new American Godzilla movies seem to have rectified some of the mistakes of the 1998 American dud. The first reboot, simply titled “Godzilla” (2014), will be followed by a sequel at the end of this month called “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019). Interestingly, the second film’s title is also the title of the Americanized version of the original “Gojira” when it came to US shores in 1956 (eviscerated, and stuffed with Raymond Burr footage).

“Godzilla” (2014).

2014’s American “Godzilla” learned a lot from the 1998 “Godzilla” misfire, but also made a few mistakes of its own…

2014 was the 60th anniversary of “Gojira” and we G-fans got an interesting anniversary present, courtesy of “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards and screenplay writer Max Borenstein. The trailers heavily featured “Breaking Bad” superstar Bryan Cranston as “Joe Brody”, though his character is not in the entire movie. Instead, we have the blandly cast team of Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, playing Cranston’s soldier son “Ford” and nurse daughter-in-law “Elle”, respectively.

Cranston and Johnson appear to be looking for a new lab to make meth…

In the tradition of lesser developed characters in some of the Japanese Godzilla films, they spend a lot of time staring agape at the monsters. Interestingly, the two young lead actors played siblings in the Marvel movie “Age of Ultron”. Cranston has a lot of fire in his belly, as does Ken Watanabe, playing a reimagining of the original Gojira‘s Dr. Serizawa (reimagined here as a nuclear energy expert, sans eyepatch). Too bad they weren’t the leads of this particular Godzilla movie. You almost get the feeling Cranston has enough piss-and-vinegar in him to take on Godzilla by himself (“I am the danger!”).

Elizabeth Olsen is a fine actress, but her character in “Godzilla” is very underwritten and winds up doing a lot of this… ^

Godzilla tackles two giant “MUTOs”, which are giant twin creatures evolved from a Japanese nuclear power plant accident years before that claimed Joe Brody’s wife. The MUTOs make their way from Japan to a final showdown in San Francisco, giving the film some international scope. Director Edwards makes interesting use of Gyorgi Ligeti’s eerie “Requiem” music (aka the ‘monolith theme’ from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) for a military HALO drop directly into the monster combat area. Many good decisions are made in this movie, but the two lead characters of Ford and Elle are simply too uninteresting to hold the screen as effortlessly and effectively as Bryan Cranston’s Joe.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019).

The trailer for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019), with a complete lack of Raymond Burr this time!

Can’t say much about this one, except that it is directed by Michael Dougherty (of 2009’s very underrated “Trick ‘R Treat”) and has a solid cast, including Millie Bobbie Brown (“Stranger Things”), Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel”), Sally Hawkins (“Shape Of Water”) and a returning Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa (nice that the character of Dr. Serizawa lives in this cycle of movies). The story, as gleaned from the trailers, appears to revolve around the ‘guardian monster’ concept seen in 2001’s “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.” The trailer also makes a curious use of the “Wizard of Oz” song, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Looking forward to seeing if this will be the movie to keep the Godzilla franchise going into the next decade…


Summing it all up.

This is a movie franchise that has shadowed me throughout my life, from watching faded, badly dubbed prints on TV as a kid, to going to the US premiere of one of the films in Hollywood 30-odd years later. While I’ve had many other movie/TV show interests throughout my lifetime, “Godzilla” has always been a constant. Many of the films are admittedly cheesy and laughable (see: Mystery Science Theater 3000’s brilliant skewering of “Godzilla vs. Megalon”), but even those films still possess a goofy charm about them that is hard to deny. But when Godzilla eschews some of the campiness, it is capable of becoming powerful entertainment, symbolizing anything from ecological imbalance to the horrors of nuclear war. Maybe that’s what has kept it in the public consciousness for so long… its ability to become whatever it needs to be; metaphor, monster, guardian, savior and icon. Godzilla has been all of these things at one time or another, often within the same film.

Long live the king!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rick says:

    Great write up. I can relate to so much of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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