Monday, April 14, 2014

The Litany of Godzilla: Introduction

There’s a new Godzilla film coming for his sixtieth anniversary after a decade hiatus…WOO!
[Edit 5-19-2014...that "Woo" was a tad premature]

For most of my life, I’ve been unofficially in charge of explaining and defending these Japanese giant monster movies to people. 

This dates back to my childhood when my uncle would insist he saw the pipe blowing smoke out of Godzilla’s mouth.

I would patiently explain (again) how he must have seen Gamera: the giant, saber toothed, flying, fire breathing turtle, also known as “Friend to All Children.”

There are some cultural differences between us and Japan that I refuse to get into at this time.

A co-worker used to refer to me as “Godzilla Jeff” to differentiate from other Jeff’s she knew.  In fact, the ice sculpture at our wedding assured her she had found the right location.

I’ve even had my “expertise” quoted to visiting Japanese sales and marketing folks, and passed their inspection.

In discussions past and present, it has come to my attention that most people have virtually no idea how many Kaiju films have been made by Toho studios over the years. 

It has come even more strongly to my attention that most people don’t care either, but I need content for this blog.

The key areas I’ve noticed a lack of knowledge in, aside from the sheer volume of these films is:
1)  The fact that there is a semblance of flow from one to the next in many cases.
2)  The fact that Toho restarted up their monster machine ten years after the classic series that everyone remembers for increasingly cheesy effects, and pumped out some impressive looking mega monster movie.

It is therefore in the interest of public readiness for the sixtieth anniversary of Godzilla film that I present a pile of short summaries of all previous outings, plucked from my bucket like memory.

A few definitions/conventions before we begin the fun.

A)  Kaiju is Japanese for “strange creature.”  It predates Pacific Rim by forever, and is the name of the genre of suitimation monster movies made by Toho and others. Daikaiju is also used…it means “honking big strange creature.”

B)  Oh yeah…Suitimation:  Exactly what it sounds like: the monster is a guy in a suit.

C)  The titles I list first will be literal translations of the Japanese title each time.  I realize using Toho's official English title, or even the US release title would be more accurate, but literal translations are always funnier.
D)  The awesome and cute teeny twins who sing for Mothra are officially called “Shobijin” in the classic era. 
This means “Small Beauties.”

 Instead of using a translation that makes sense, and because the studio held no hope of American audiences being able to pronounce Shobijin, they were known by the name of the twin actresses’ (Emi and Yumi Ito) singing group:  The Peanuts. 
This means “Small Protein and Salt Filled Snack found on a Bar” which is why I will refer to them as Shobijin.

In the second series of films, they were called Cosmos (when they were still mind linked twins) or Elias (when they were not.)  Try not to think too hard about that ahead of time.

E) There are three main periods of past Japanese Godzilla films, the first two are based on Japanese Emperor Names…I think.
Honestly, I’m much better with fictional histories of radioactive dinosaurs than real world events.

Showa: (or “classic”) – Fifteen Godzilla films from 1954 to 1974.  Godzilla starts as a symbol of the genuine horror of nuclear war, then somehow transforms into a super hero who fought against more and stranger alien controlled Kaiju.

Heisei:  (or “they made new ones?”) – Seven Godzilla films from 1984 to 1995.  There is a continuous storyline through these that links back to the 1954 original.  They are more serious in tone, Godzilla is bigger, and a dangerous force of nature throughout, though he still saves the planet occasionally from larger and more dangerous force of natury things.

Millennium:  (or “Toho changes its mind about stopping after seeing US made Godzilla 1998”) - Six Godzilla films from 1999 to 2004. These are mostly unconnected stories, some with classic plots, some with new twists, all with giant beasties breaking stuff in awesome ways.

Yes, I own all twenty-eight of them, plus some extra Kaiju films in between.

[Edit September 2019]  And now I own some more:

Reiwa: (or, we'll see soon)  Legendary in the U.S. and Toho with standard and animated in Japan are cranking out some new Kaiju films with varying degrees of awesome.

Enough with the introductions and explanations…bring on the Litany of Godzilla.

Click Here for the full Godzilla Index

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