Before we get this show on the road, check out this video and tell me it doesn’t get you just a little bit excited for the new Godzilla filming coming in just 3 weeks! 3 WEEKS!
[pulledquote]Historical commentary and political analogy are replaced by two dimensional characters and willfully translucent story-telling[/pulledquote]So, last week, if you’re just tuning in now, I covered Godzilla’s stomping 1954 début and why it’s such an influential, monumental film. It truly is and by the way you should absolutely watch it the next chance you get. This week, the journey continues as everyone’s favourite city destroyer enters the first of its many, many sequels and, arguably more importantly, the beginning of a trend that would go on to shape and justify the moniker of ‘King of the Monsters’.
After Godzilla in 1954, Japan was hungry for a sequel. The film was a box office success, capitalizing on its budget almost a full 100% – despite being derided at the time for the obvious reactionary connotations to World War II. A second movie was swiftly penned and put into production by Toho for a release in 1955; Godzilla Raids Again. Much of the original crew returned to make the film with Haruo Nakajima playing Godzilla in the suit and Eiji Tsuburaya as the effects supervisor, but director Ishiro Honda was busy with other productions at the time (which included the Godzilla rival Rodan) so the director’s chair was filled by Motoyoshi Oda, a relatively well-known horror director in Japan at the time who directed dozens of films over the course of his career but whose works never made it out of Japan bar this Godzilla sequel.
Godzilla Raids Again proved to be a huge success in the box office. To date, the film remains the third most attended Godzilla film in the Japanese box-office, with the original taking the top spot and the second… Well, more on that a little later. The film introduced several aspects of Godzilla’s character and continuation that would remain for most of its career to date – there was a distinct change in tone from the horror of the first to a more action-oriented narrative, Godzilla’s origin and explanation would get more and more loose, to the point of sheer comedy and, the most famous and entertaining aspect of all, Godzilla would be constantly fighting other kaiju for supremacy.
Anguirus was introduced as Godzilla’s first opponent of many as the two would fight for control over Osaka. Being awakened by the same hydrogen bomb that brought forth the city destroyer, Anguirus is a four-legged creature more akin to that of a crocodile and stegosaurus and whose attacks are entirely close-range, something which is utilized to much comic effect throughout the monster’s appearances. In the film, both Anguirus and Godzilla are found mid-fight, before they take the fight into the ocean and the human characters begin to panic at the return of the monstrous threat, now twice as large and twice as nasty. The story is much more light-hearted as liberties are taken to fill plot-holes and allow for Godzilla to be restrained once again, this time he’s frozen in an avalanche.
Historical commentary and political analogy are replaced by two dimensional characters and willfully translucent story-telling as Godzilla Raids Again flopped in the box office, causing the subsequent downfall of the lizard king and its recoil from the public eye. Six years later, the film was released in America as Gigantis, the Fire Monster, a poor attempt at re-tooling the sequel as being that of a second monster. It failed, unsurprisingly, and Godzilla remained the brand name from then on. It would be 7 years on from Godzilla Raids Again in Japan before anyone would see Gojira in a film again, but the return to the big screen would be truly momentous. King Kong vs. Godzilla arrived in 1962, in color and widescreen. This is the second highest-grossing Godzilla film in the Japanese box-office, and remains the most commercially-successful overall. Getting the old band back together with Haruo Nakajima, Eiji Tsuburaya and returning director Ishiro Honda, this is a landmark film in the big monster genre.
Solidifying the ridiculous nature of the ‘versus’ movies Godzilla would spear-head, King Kong vs. Godzilla goes a long way to explain how and why they can be so effective as entertaining films while affirming that kaiju films from then on would be continuously more absurd and no longer quite the cultural metaphor that they were in their inception. Beginning with Kong’s capture from his island home, including an utterly comical scene involving berry juice and the giant ape’s intoxication, the plot is basically one long winding path to the pivotal battle where Godzilla and King Kong meet on the summit of Mt. Fuji for a fight to the death. Let me tell you, this is a fight worth watching, so I’ll save you the details for when you watch the film, but the result isn’t quite the one you may want or expect.
Following on down through the sixties, which in itself feels incredible to write in the second part of ANYTHING’S history, Godzilla’s outings become increasingly preposterous as more monsters are introduced for the destroyer to face, and ultimately ally with for even greater foes. When I re-watched all these films for the purposes of this column, I found that the lizard king’s portrayal was actually quite nuanced and the character undergoes quite a development over the course of the subsequent six or so films in which the other major kaiju players are introduced and Godzilla faces each competitor as they come. It was actually conducive to binging a very old but highly produced television show, which I imagine sounds almost as nonsensical as it feels to write it, but it’s the truth! Anyway, with the introduction of Mothra in Mothra vs. Godzilla we’re introduced to the shobijin – a pair of fairies who accompany and can communicate with Mothra and who allow us to see what the monsters are saying to each other when they fight. This narrative device, used in the following film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, creates the character Godzilla, moving away from the hulking, soulless Godzilla seen previously.
In the films that follow, Godzilla’s character sees an ebb and flow as different factors are introduced to spice up the formula including aliens, sea monsters and a son, whose flagship film Son of Godzilla features daddy ‘zilla bodyslamming an ant and teaching his newborn how to breathe fire. Jun Fukuda takes over the directing for both Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster as we see a shift from antagonistic force to protagonistic anti-hero with some depth and whose presence on screen is reactionary to the cheers it would garner from its dedicated fans.
The end of the sixties, with Ishiro Honda’s return in 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, would see the action taken to a whole new level and Godzilla face its greatest challenge yet.
Alas, you’ll have to wait until next week for that history lesson as things go from ridiculous to mecha-ridiculous for our favorite lizard. See y’all next week!