Kaiju love: why Godzilla still rules

Rob waxes lyrical about his passion for giant Japanese monsters

This weekend I picked up a copy of the Guardian, as, yes, I do read the news on occasion and do not solely consume comics as reading material. Now I usually pick up this paper once or twice in the week for different reasons (jobs, media and such), but I usually give the weekend version a wide birth as I neither have the time or inclination to read stuff like this at the weekend when I could be reading comics, waiting for Doctor Who to start or playing Super Mario Galaxy. And anyway, the weekend versions are usually so big and supplement-filled that even if I do read it, the various components of the paper soon get strewn around the house for the next few weeks. (I am not the most tidy person in the world, as Simon can attest – when I used to work for him, my desk looked like a bombsite.)

However, this weekend I rushed myself off down to WH Smith’s to grab myself half a tree-ful of weekend supplement goodies. Why? Well, the paper came with a free DVD of the original 1954 Godzilla film, and I am a sucker for all things Gojira-based.

This trend of putting free DVDs, albums and such in broadsheets started as a bit of a gimmick, but over the past year we have had Prince’s album (admittedly this was a nifty marketing ploy and nothing else), copies of Highlander, episodes of Only Fools and Horses, Porridge and Alan Partridge. Recently we’ve even had the classic Time Bandits. All of these excellent giveaways have expanded my collection considerably, but giving away Godzilla? Now, that’s just genius.

Having first been introduced to Godzilla as a kid on Saturday mornings, via films such as Ebirah – Horror of the Deep and Destroy All Monsters, my love for monsters and ‘kaiju’ (“strange beast”) films grew; and with Godzilla making his animated debut just after Cheggers Plays Pop on kids TV in the early 80s my passion for the big green guy increased exponentially. Even with the annoying Godzooky, the cartoon still holds a place in my heart as one of the best cartoons ever, thanks to Hanna Barbara.

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Now, of course in the early 80s, when I was but a wee lad, I had no idea that Japan had a whole host of other films, shows and merchandise all based on Godzilla and the style of film. It wasn’t until these films started popping up on obscure video shop shelves that I found there was a whole world (or, country, I suppose) out there, chock-full of giant battling monsters, robots and rampaging radioactive dinosaurs. The likes of Ultraman, Gamera Voltron and Cayman Rider (Masked Rider) were regularly hired by my friends and me.

With the advent of the Internet, this world expanded further and I found out that obscure shows I had hired like Super Sentai were being remade, translated into shows over here like Power Rangers. Additionally, there were other Godzilla films that I had never seen – and the ones I had seen had been heavily edited, changed and sanitised for a Saturday morning audience! Re-watching some of them again I saw that censors had cut up a lot of the fights and that these unedited versions had the monsters biting, scratching, and really pummelling one another – and then really bleeding!

This seemed amazing… and obvious, really, when you think about it (nobody ever dies on Battle of the Planets, even though they obviously did, but 7-Zark 7 said they were robots so that’s okay!). But they could have kept the gore in, or out; it didn’t matter, because as a child you don’t really bother with stories or continuity. All you know is that it has monsters in it, and that’s what matters.

This is also the time that I found that most Kaiju was actually aimed at adults, not kids, and that Godzilla and co had a lot more going for them then just monster-on-monster action.

Everyone knows that Godzilla is rammed full of symbolism, where the character of Godzilla himself represents the potential by-product of untested radioactive testing, with fears of the atomic bomb, nature vs. technology and a very large anti-American message all mixed in; but the art of Kaiju comes from a mix of Japanese theatre, folklore and traditional myths and legends, and that’s why, after over 50 years, these films are still as entertaining and enthralling as they were when they were first shown.

Working on more than one level to entertain a mixed audience, Toho, the studio who produced Godzilla, really hit on a major form of entertainment that would stand the test of time. Kids love them, obviously, for the creatures and over-the-top fights, while adults see these same films as serious bits of film-making, using myth, legend, tradition and very character-driven stories to produce films that make a hearty profit while also inspiring awe in their audiences.

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We, as a western audience, are very hypercritical of the big G, as the idea of seeing a rubber dinosaur waddle its way through a hour and a half of fake toy city seems, well, daft. We ourselves are happy to sit through wafer-thin plotted horrors, Uwe Boll films, bad CG and Bertie Bassett monsters in Doctor Who, but there’s a world of difference: Japanese monster movies actually have a message (albeit one delivered by little girls who live in shells and worship a giant moth).

The sheer amount of imagination that goes into these films is overwhelming. Ultimately, they are fun: pure entertainment and a great watch, which is why I guess I will always love big monster mashups. There will always be a place in my heard for Godzilla in all his forms… well, apart from the US-funded Matthew Broderick abomination from a few years back, but the less said about that the better.

So, thank you to the Guardian for the DVD and the inspiration to write this piece! I have an unexpected afternoon’s entertainment ahead of me… now, when do they get to the bit with the Oxygen Destroyer?