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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Godzilla Is Timeless!

From Voice Without A Face

With the new Godzilla just about 2 months away, comes new fans with an interest in the monster, and hopefully the genre in general. So let’s take a look at how my favorite fictional character has survived and made his mark in our minds, our hearts, and our building structures.  

Making his debut in the 1954 classic simply titled Godzilla. (Gojira in Japan.)   What made  this movie such a hit at it’s time? More then stellar effects. ( I see you uneducated people giving me looks.)   What made it popular is that it hit home with a lot of Japanese just 10 years after the atomic bombs were dropped on two of their cities.   For those who don’t know what the original Godzilla is really about, there’s tons of things you can read, for that, but to put it simply, he was a metaphor for the atomic bomb, the film itself and anti nuke and and anti war film. Creating scenes frightening  similar to those from the real traumatic event, from the country that experienced it first hand.    The rushed sequel, Godzilla Raids Again or Godzilla’s Counter Attack,  can fit into the 50’s b monster genre, however some themes still remain, talk of shelters and a chilling scene  reminiscent  of American fire raids, but for the most part fit into the drive in movie scene, which is exactly where it found itself in the states, re-titled to Gigantis the Fire Monster!(Where do they get this stuff?)

For almost a decade Godzilla would not be scene again, Toho experimenting with other monsters  and genre’s. When the time came to bring Godzilla back to the theater, in color none the less! It was with the unconquerable King Kong!  Both monsters now leaping onto the color screen for a battle of the century.   Now again we find a butchered american version, however the Japanese version Is a clever satire film ,  poking fun at the mass commercialism at the time. This combine with the monster performing wrestling moves, all the rage in Japan back then, choreographed by stuntmen and suit actors Haruo Nakijima(Godzilla) and Shoichi Hirose (KingKong). These elements ended up making King Kong vs Godzilla the highest grossing film of the franchise.    Clearly monster battles where the way to go, next pitting Godzilla against another famous monster from one of Toho’s previous films, Mothra!   This time Godzilla was a little less silly. (Albeit I think he was drunk with all the stumbling.)  However the darker Godzilla proved to carry the film, bringing with it not only a spectacular duel with the insect deity, but a very well put message about greed, corruption and being at peace with your fellow man. While not as big a hit as King Kong vs Godzilla money wise, Mothra vs Godzilla (Godzilla vs The Thing) remains number 1 on a lot of peoples lists, a true display of the golden age of Japanese science fiction at the top of it’s game.

With this new found success, what was next for Godzilla?  The answer in part coming from Eiji Tsuburaya. The special effects director behind Toho’s many science fiction and early war films.   Realizing that kids watch these movies, the idea was made to take Godzilla off his dark path and for the first time fight on the side of humanity alongside Rodan and Mothra, against the mighty King Ghidorah.   In the epic rematch, excluding Mothra because of budget ristrictions   Godzilla would join the  ”Space Race” so to speak. Space travel and study was really starting to become a thing, and so Godzilla’s next battle with Ghidorah took place in space, on the fictional planet of Planet X.  Godzilla even did  the popular dance known as the Shie. Once more keeping with the times, Godzilla became popular with the kids.  Godzilla would continue in this direction for rest of the 60’s with two more island films. Godzilla vs The Sea Monster (1966) And Son of Godzilla (1967) Yes  as you can see with a title like Son of Godzilla, clearly these films were taking their course.  The Kaiju boom had produced a mass of monsters over the years and now the time was right, at least it seemed at the time to put an end to it all, at least at camp Toho.  With Tsuburaya studios now in full swing with the Ultramen shows as well as other science fiction, kids would still have their city stomping action.  And so Destroy All Monsters, came a long in 1968. What could be considered the Avengers movie of the Kaiju genre, as it is a massive crossover made Godzilla and his friends go out with a bang, in what was going to be the last movie.

The success of Destroy All Monsters proved something though.  Godzilla can always come back. Though he certainly came back in some strange ways. Stock footage clip show All Monsters Attack, (Godzilla’s Revenge, or Japanese Home Alone as I call it) certainly shows us how times where in Japan at that time, parents working  as the economy continues to grow, leaving kids to their imaginations  of larger than life creatures.   Now we enter the 70’s.  Starting us off is a real odd movie that’s tone is all over the place. With the rising concern of industrial growth and pollution, Godzilla once more  follows the trends of the time, literally fighting   against pollution in Godzilla vs Hedorah ( Godzilla vs The Smog Monster.)   Just a year later the outlandish creation of Gigan, and another year following Megalon hit the scene, the trend of more strange looking monsters was becoming the thing, and the Godzilla films of the 70’s weren’t an exception.  By the time of Godzilla vs Megalon in 1973, Godzilla had made the full U-turn into kids super hero. And ya know what? As much as G-fans, myself included would’ve liked this to never happen,  it once more showed Godzilla could change with the times, after all he had too. Like evolution in the natural world you change to compete and win. Gamera’s more kid targeted films threatened to take Godzilla off his throne.  Now as I said, Superheroes were  all the rage, Ultraman and things like Spectreman  were to thank.  Originally Godzilla was not the star of Godzilla vs Megalon. To be hop on the super hero craze Toho selected a superhero out of various kids submissions. What we got was Jet Jaguar! The robot with a permanent grin on his face.  Add in Godzilla as an after thought to aid ol Jet against Megalon and Gigan, add in a Godzilla version of the Rider Kick and you have what is the most ridiculous yet fun movie of the franchise. Yes it was all fun and games for Godzilla, despite an ever dwindling audience. Still riding the superhero genre  Godzilla, along with Gigan and King Ghidorah would appear in several episodes of Zone Fighter! A 70’s giant hero show similar but not quite as good as the Ultraman shows.  Still Godzilla was struggling to stay relevant despite so many changes to keep with the times.

As we reach the end of the Showa era we see the final two movies starring Mechagodzilla, featured some of the ever popular aspects of the action spy thrillers coming out. Interpol agents combined with the popular space monkey villain theme, combine with an attempt by original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda to being Godzilla back to a more dark and aggressive monster was sure to help the king up right?!  Sadly, it was not meant to be, it seemed Godzilla’s reign was finally over. Maybe not so timeless right? WRONG Godzilla still survived in the smaller mediums of cartoons and comics. An american made cartoon produced by  Hannah Barberra (Scooby Doo, Jabber Jaw,) as well as a run in the Marvel comic’s Titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Named after the americanized version of the original film but even that died down and soon all was quiet for the monster idol.

Fast forward to the 80’s! Everyone loves 80’s flicks. Cheesey one liners, awesome action and amazing animatronic effects! The time to bring Godzilla back came in 1984, with a bigger budget revival to bring Godzilla back to his roots and make him the star of asian cinema once more.  Only two movies were made in the 80’s  The Return of Godzilla (Godzilla 1984/5) and Godzilla vs Biollante 1989.  Loaded with with all the things I said make a good 80’s film, the cheesey dialogue mostly coming from the english dubs, Godzilla had once more kept with the current popular trends and pulled himself out of obscurity.  Even if Biollante had under performed, it still was enough to spawn a sequel, and is today fondly looked at as one of the better entries.

Now how to keep going? Well for that we look at why Biollante didn’t do so hot, mainly, the audience at the time wasn’t like the ones in the 50’s and 60’s. No longer wanting new, creative idea’s, instead craving the nostalgic and familiar.  And so yet again to cater to the audience Godzilla was put up against old foes Like King Ghidorah, Mothra and Mechagodzilla, all updated with newest effects, with new forms, transformations and clones.  Despite a staleness to these entries of the 90’s this proved to work well as they all performed moderately well, Godzilla vs Mothra (Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth.) doing the best. Which is even more proof! The movie is basically a remake of Mothra with Battra and Godzilla thrown in.  For the 90’s rehashing meant success.  A shame really.   With workings of an American Godzilla picture in the works Toho still had to keep Godzilla in the public light.  Godzilla vs Spacegodzilla was released to lukewarm reception, the lowest of the Heisei movies.  Could we chalk that up to no nostalgia factor? Spacegodzilla certainly sounds like something that would’ve done better in the 70’s then the 90’s.  Either way, the time had come to finish Godzilla off. 1995’s Godzilla vs Destoryah  had an original monster, but to stick with the nostalgic theme, this beast was born from the Oxygen Destroyer, the weapon that killed the first Godzilla, all the way back in 54.   Godzilla went out in another blaze of glory for a short time.

So now Godzilla had run it’s course once more, the series ending before it got TO ridiculous. However once more Godzilla prevailed in smaller mediums. Once more a comic book run, this time with Dark Horse comics, which included a bizarre crossover  over with famous Basketball star  Charles Barkely.  This when we finally got out big American Godzilla movie! ….Or did we?  The character we had watched through the ages now seemed like it was trying to ride the popularity of Jurassic Park and those terrible disaster movies.  Indeed trying to stay with times, the movie domestically did  pretty well, merch was huge and Godzilla’s name was everywhere. But the problem was nothing the name represented was brought along with it, and while the spin off cartoon series certainly did what it could to bring some of the Godzilla spirit to the new creature, ultimately Godzilla was sent back to Japan, where Toho would try yet another update.

So how would Toho keep Godzilla relevant for   the new generation?  Well an updated look, still maintaining his classic look while adding some changes to make him appear more wild. A good look in my opinion.  Though this was the trial and error period. The idea was to let  different directors take Godzilla in their own direction, and continue  with the most popular outcome, a smart idea it would seem. While Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs Megaguirus seemed to harken back to the showa era style, it didn’t quite hit it with modern audiences.   If Godzilla was going to keep going in the new millenium he would need some good help. That help would come from director Shusuke Kaneko. Known for the popular Gamera Trilogy that had brought Gamera  out of retirement and recreated him for the new generation, could he do the same with Godzilla?  The movie speaks for itself, being the highest grossing Godzilla movie  in the 2000’s. Partly  in part because of that sense of safety, with big names like Mothra and King Ghidorah attached to the title. Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack. (or GMK for short) was a step up, once more bringing Godzilla back to his roots, most likely the closest he’s ever been to the destroyer he originally once was!  So why did the movies not keep going in this direction? Well to put it simply Kaneko didn’t want to do another one, happy with making his own entry in the series.   And so calling back   Megagirus director Masaaki Tezuka.  Godzilla was again reinvented, but what popular name could be attached?    Mechagodzilla of course! Updated with a new look, the most popular to date, and with a new twist! It was made with the bones and DNA of the original Godzilla!  Godzilla against Mechagodzilla, did good enough for a sequel, now throwing Mothra in the mix, sure to attract more safe fans.  And here we see what could be a remake of Mothra vs Godzilla, now with Mechagodzilla thrown in. While a fan favorite Tokyo SOS didn’t do to well. Perhaps people were tired of rehashed plots by now?  Well to end the Godzilla series again Toho got a director who wasn’t a fan of the series. An outside to bring something fresh, however what we got as hardly fresh, a remake of destroy all monsters with matrix X-men and more outdated action cliches than ever 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars  literally seemed like the final nail in Godzilla’s super sized  coffin.

This brings us to where we are now.  It’s the age of reboots and remakes here in America, I guess we really don’t get tired of the same old things.  Bringing things back from the grave and updating for better or worse…usually worse  if you’re a horror/SciFi fan like me.  And now Godzilla is following suit.   However, unlike a lot of reboots that don’t need to be made, it’s about time we get a Godzilla movie that brings him back to his former glory again.  It’s been since 2001’s GMK which I consider the most recent movie to do this.  The time is right!  Not only did mega monster movie Pacific Rim make giant monsters and robots cool again, but Godzilla once again kicking it in the comic medium is doing well too, current title Godzilla :Rulers of Earth is the best Godzilla comic yet, capturing the fun style of the showa era while giving the monsters a more respectable touch, the most impressive being the renditions of Megalon and King Ceaser, never have those monsters looked so fierce. So yes, once more following the trend Godzilla is coming back, in which looks to be his next big ride in the spotlight. See you in May G-fans!
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