It may have been 60 years since the world first gazed upon the Lizard King, but none of the awe or the terror associated with it’s reptilian image and colossal roar has been lost. Since first appearing in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original, Godzilla has gone on to star in a long line of Japanese films, as well as a couple of US reimaginings. Awakened by nuclear tests and empowered by its radiation, Godzilla was created as a metaphor for nuclear war, but soon became a cult sensation that continues to define Japanese cinema.
Now, over half a century since he first awoke, the King of Monsters is back. This Friday sees the release of Gareth Edwards’ highly anticipated reboot, which looks set to the right the wrong of Hollywood’s last foray into Godzilla’s universe. From his incredible Japanese debut, to his disastrous US reimagining, what follows is an integral guide of everything you need to know before Godzilla awakens once again.
When Toho Studios first released Godzilla in 1954, it wasn’t just a monster that was awoken. Widely regarded as a metaphor for nuclear weapons, to a country that had experienced their effects first hand, this was a beast with the power to reawaken a nation. To this day Godzilla remains a cinematically defining moment for Japan, widely thought of as one of the first films to address the pain and scars left behind by the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.
The shock and horror of nuclear devastation eerily hangs over Ishiro Honda’s film from the very start. The opening, which sees a fishing trawler spontaneously combust when coming in to contact with nuclear materials, was inspired by true events. ‘Lucky Dragon 5’ was a fishing boat whose crew was diagnosed with radiation sickness following contact with the fallout from US nuclear tests. Japan was gripped by the terror of this new unpredictable weapon and the Godzilla filmmakers harnessed this, using the Nuclear Lizard as a way to channel the fear. The visceral tableau of unparalleled devastation in Tokyo, which occurs after the eponymous monster’s attack on the city, both startlingly and poignantly evokes memories of the devastation caused by the United State’s nuclear attacks on Japan.
Yet what remains so masterful about Honda’s original Godzilla is that it manages to balance these dark themes with the conventions of a classic monster movie. To this day, the lasting power of this Japanese masterpiece continues to reverberate on the screen. The evocative score, tightly woven script and the teasing of the monster’s big reveal, have all become standard tropes within the monster movie genre and many of them were founded here. Like his colossal psychical power, the iconic status and lasting influence of Godzilla has always been clear to see on the screen. As the Americans would later declare, Godzilla truly was the King of the Monsters.
Just hearing Ken Watanabe say those already iconic words in the latest trailer for Gareth Edwards’ reboot is enough to stir monstrous amounts of excitement within any Godzilla fan. The many battles the King faced against Toho Studios’ other Kaiju went on to define the Godzilla series, with some regularly returning to face-off against the Nuclear Lizard. From the colourful beauty of Mothra’s wings to the gargantum power of Mechagodzilla, what follows is a list of the other key monsters that also inhabit Godzilla’s world.
Next to the Lizard King himself, Mothra has had the most cinematic appearances of all the Toho Kaiju. First seen in its own film before facing off with Godzilla in 1964, Mothra vs. Godzilla marked the first time Toho crossed Godzilla over with other franchises. Distinguishable by its iconic colourful design and peaceful nature, Mothra is generally considered to be one the most likeable monsters in Toho’s universe. Regarded as a protector of mankind, Mothra went on to make regular appearances in the Godzilla franchise, both as a friend and enemy to the King of Monsters
Considered to be one of Godzilla’s most feared foes, Ghidorah’s most distinguishing feature is without doubt his three-headed appearance. First materialising in Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster, a film notable for being the first time Godzilla teamed up other monsters (in this case Mothra & Rodan) to defeat a common enemy, this king of the skies would go on to battle the Nuclear Lizard on regular occasions throughout Toho’s different eras.
Rodan Like Mothra, Rodan appeared in his own movie before becoming part of the Godzilla franchise. Recognised as a prehistoric Pterosaur, Rodan would start out as an enemy of the Lizard King’s, before becoming one of his closet allies in later films. One of his most memorable appearances was in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2, in which he helped protect Godzilla’s baby from attack.
The King of Monsters was also reincarnated as Spacegodzilla once, a monster that was more terrible than it was terrifying. Mechagodzilla though, remains one of the scariest foes in Toho’s universe. Furthermore, he also stands as being one of the most powerful, with an inbuilt arsenal of firepower that pushed Godzilla to his very limits and even managed to defeat him on more than one occasion.
No list of Godzilla’s greatest enemies is complete without the one who was responsible for the King of Monsters’ most famous death. Many believed that the 1995 release of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was one of the few films able to capture the visual awe and majesty of Honda’s original, with the final fight between these two colossal foes ending with both of their deaths. The film’s ending suggests the Lizard King’s son was able to harness his father’s strength, which allowed Toho to bring Godzilla back 4 years later in 1999. In the interim however, Godzilla hit the screens in another part of the world, when Roland Emmerich brought him back to American cinemas for his own vision of the King of Monsters.
Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla wasn’t Hollywood’s first attempt at bringing the radioactive lizard to Western shores. In 1956, two years after the Japanese original was released, producer Joseph Levine helped bring it to American screens. Starring Raymond Burr as an American reporter on a stopover in Tokyo, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters implanted Burr’s reporter Steve Martin into the middle of the action from the original film, intercutting new scenes featuring Burr with those from Honda’s original.
Burr’s wooden performance and writer Al C Ward’s melodramatic attempts to infuse the film with a relatable hero caused King Of The Monsters to dispense with the intelligence that makes the original such a classic. In much the same way, Emmerich’s film disregarded many of the elements key to the Godzilla mythology. Upon its release, Emmerich’s Zilla (as it has since been rebranded by Toho) faced hefty criticism from Godzilla fans dismissing it as a soulless Hollywood knockoff.
Looking back at it now, you can certainly see where the film’s main problems lie. Godzilla was designed to be an unstoppable force of nature, a warning to mankind about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Yet here he’s merely a monstrous threat that’s no match for the advance weaponry of the American Military. The depth and detail of the original is callously replaced with flat generic storytelling and uninspired moments of forced slapstick humour.
Most unforgivable though is the film’s third act, which sees Madison Square Garden become overrun with poorly rendered Godzookis. It’s one thing to pay homage to Spielberg, but it’s even worse to just simply try and replicate it. What you’re left with is a final act that stands as a perfect metaphor for the entire film; it’s hollow, insipid and almost entirely devoid of decent ideas.
Few films have been so hotly anticipated this year as Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot. Having made such a remarkable first impression in the film world with his 2010 indie hit Monsters, Edwards was almost immediately considered to be the best man for bringing the Lizard King back to the big screen.
What makes Edwards’ vision so exciting is that he is a man determined to bring Godzilla into the modern-age, while making sure he maintains many of his roots that made him such an astonishing spectacle in Honda’s original. In a recent series of video interviews, Edwards discussed what elements of the original Godzilla film had inspired him when creating his own monster movie. The anticipation surrounding Godzilla has continued to grow since that astonishing first trailer. The masterful advertising campaign has been clever in making sure it gives away as little as possible in terms of both the film’s plot and the great beast’s appearance. Edwards himself comments in the video above about his wish to give the audience goose bumps when watching the film; judging by the trailers, it looks like he may well succeed.