Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Brief History of the Godzilla Film Series

The following article was done as research notes for producer Dawn Green of High Noon Entertainment, and television personality Elyse Luray, for an upcoming series dealing with collectors of pop culture swag, and their related collections.

Now at the time of this blog post, however, the title for this new series has yet to be finalized, with the original working title being "Collection Intervention". But now it appears to have been changed to "Amazing Collectibles".

What you're about to read is a VERY basic introduction to the Godzilla film series, and in turn, giant Japanese movie monsters (Daikaiju) in general.

Now this will not be groundbreaking to veteran Godzilla nerds, but this would be a great link to send to people who are interested getting into the fandom, or just wanting a nonsensical introduction to it.

-Raf AKA Enshohma


A Brief History of the Godzilla Film Series

Inspired heavily by the recent box office successes of the 1952 re-release of "King Kong", and Warner Brothers' "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (1953), producer Tomoyuki Tanaka convinced his superiors at Toho Company Ltd. that a Japanese monster movie would be a great high profile project to do - especially after a previously planned co-production with Indonesia had fallen through.

There was also the recent real-life incident involving a fishing boat dubbed Lucky Dragon no. 5, which it and its crew were accidentally exposed to America's Castle Bravo nuclear bomb tests on March 1st, 1954. The tragedy brought back harsh memories of the atomic bombings towards the end of World War II, and Tomoyuki, along with mindful director Ishiro Honda and imaginative special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, teamed up to create a monster movie with some serious dramatic overtones. And to act as an allegory to the fears of an atomic Armageddon, which was on everyone's mind during the Cold War era.

Although not the first Japanese movie to feature fantasy elements (let alone monsters), "Gojira" (also known as "Godzilla") was a success with Japanese audiences, and herald an new age of science fiction and fantasy cinema in that country.

Toho decided to rush out a sequel, "Godzilla Raids Again", less then six months later in 1955. However, that sequel lacked the strength of its predecessor, and it looked like the character of Godzilla wouldn't make it to a third film.

Fortunately, Toho continued to make other science fiction and monster movies, which included the likes of "Rodan" (1956), "Mothra" (1961), "The Mysterians" (1957), "Battle In Outer Space" (1959), and "The H-Man" (1958). And all of which with the same creative team and extended crew behind the original 1954 Godzilla.

In the spring of 1956, TransWorld Releasing Corp bought the American distribution rights to "Gojira", and edited together a new version, featuring sequences with then unknown actor Raymond Burr. This new edit, entitled "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" stayed fairly faithful to the original story-line, though with Mister Burr inserted as an visiting news reporter, caught up in the spectacular events.

The idea behind this was to create a story that would appeal to mainstream American audiences of the time, of whom Japanese films were still a relatively alien concept, especially ones released with subtitles, like the otherwise well received "Rashomon" from 1950. The gamble paid off, and "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" became a sleeper hit that year, while cementing Godzilla's status as a prominent movie monster and pop culture icon.

But it wouldn't be until 1962's "King Kong vs. Godzilla" did the film franchise really get going. And taking a cue from that film's crossover success, Toho continued the trend by having their rediscovered star Godzilla, face off against other giant monsters equal to him in either power or marketable popularity, as they did the 1964 follow-up "Mothra vs. Godzilla" (released state side as "Godzilla vs. The Thing").

The decade of the 1960's is considered the 'Golden Age' of Japanese movie monsters, or Kaiju Eiga as they're referred to in Japan. Toho was not only producing a Godzilla film a year, but also many other high-end productions in and out of the sciences fiction genre, though it would be their monster films that would be the big money makers overseas.

Other Japanese studios and even television companies tried to do their own giant monsters, in order to ape Godzilla's fame, but very few of these ever truly succeeded. The most notable winners in this regard included Daiei Film's Gamera; a giant fire-breathing turtle that was a brief, but steady box office rival to Godzilla. And the title superhero of of the TV series "Ultraman"; a silver alien giant on the side of humanity, created by Godzilla effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, for the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS).

And very much like Godzilla, both Ultraman and Gamera spawned franchises that continue to this day, despite some multi-year long resting lulls between projects.

Further more, one can compare the Godzilla films to that of the James Bond series, in the sense that they have both gone through their respective ups and downs, as well as rebooting the characters and related story concepts over the years. And like any successful film franchise, there has been spin-off material, like animated television shows, video games, comic books, toys, and many others.

The Showa-Era Series

This is the term used to describe the cycle of Godzilla films made from 1954-to-1975, and were more or less connected to one another, however loosely through each film's continuity, back when film audiences were probably less aware of such things.

As previously mentioned, the films from the 1960's are considered some of the best Toho Studios had to offer, with the following 1970's considered lesser in quality, and totally going into children's fair with Godzilla becoming a quasi-superhero. With that said, there was an earnest attempt to end the Showa-era with some dignity, with the more straight faced entry "Terror of MechaGodzilla" (1975).


The Heisei-Era Series

Refers to the Godzilla films made from 1984-to-1995. In order to return the character to his darker, more villainous origins, the first film in this cycle, "The Return of Godzilla", totally reboots the franchise, and ignores all the films made right after the 1954 original. The Heisei films are also much tighter in continuity between each film, despite some questionable plot holes brought up by the time-traveling centric entry "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" (1991).

The last film in the Heisei saga was "Godzilla vs. Destroyah" (1995), where Godzilla suffers an internal meltdown and even permanently dies, but not before taking on the title villain beast one last time.


The American Godzilla Film of 1998

One of the main reasons the Heisei era ended was because Toho wanted to accommodate Sony Pictures, who planned to restart the franchise as a big-budget American property. After many false starts and incomplete attempts, Sony finally made "Godzilla" in 1998, to good financial success, but mixed-to-negative reactions from audiences and critics alike.

And strangely enough, the weakened portrayal of Godzilla in the 1998 movie, made people yearned for the more powerful, fantastical creature of the original Japanese films. And thus, gave the Godzilla of the past films a brand new appreciation that had previously alluded him. There was an attempt to make a sequel to the 1998 "Godzilla", but nothing came of it, and Sony eventually lost the rights to the Godzilla property.


The Millennium Series

After the 1998 debacle, Toho began a third cycle of Godzilla movies, starting with 1999's "Godzilla 2000". The deliberate concept behind the Millennium series was to have each film totally separate from one another, and essentially creating a 'Godzilla anthology', with only two of these said films ending up as direct sequels to one another. Those two movies being "Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla" (2002) and "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." (2003).

The final film in the Millennium era, as well as the last Godzilla film to date, was 2004's "Godzilla: Final Wars" which was a big budget extravaganza featuring multiple monsters from the past, and was made to celebrate the franchises' 50th anniversary. A virtual birthday bash for the King of the Monsters basically.


Legendary Pictures' Godzilla For 2014

It was confirmed at this year's San Diego Comic Con, that Legendary Pictures, the Hollywood company behind the recent trilogy of Chris Nolan's Batman films, among other successful hits, will be doing a new American Godzilla for 2014.

This time around however, they hope to remain true to the original spirit of the classic character. A proof-of-concept teaser was shown at Comic Con, and as a far cry from the more lighthearted 1998 film, the 'Legendary Godzilla' is presented as a nightmarish beast, hoarding over a devastated city, littered with humans victims and fallen enemy monsters alike.

Legendary Pictures will also be releasing another giant monster related epic, "Pacific Rim", before then in summer of 2013, though this film, and their future Godzilla remake, are otherwise unconnected.


Character Bullet Points:

Mecha-Godzilla (AKA Kiryu) is a giant robot made in the image / likeness of Godzilla himself, and has been portrayed as both an extraterrestrial villain, AND as a man-made weapon for good, throughout its various film appearances. Despite the varying story incarnations however, Mechagodzilla has largely remained an adversary to Godzilla.

Mothra (Moth-Rah) is a giant moth from Infant Island, and unlike most movie monsters, she is a magical agent for justice, born of equally mystical origins. Often accompanied by the twin fairies dubbed The Shobijin (Sho-Be-Jin, literally means 'Tiny Beauties'), who serve as her ambassadors, Mothra helps mankind against more menacing monsters (including Godzilla on occasion), while also sometimes uniting the monsters of Earth (Godzilla too) for a greater good, like defending their world against alien invasion.

Both Mechagodzilla and Mothra are hugely marketable characters, and have made numerous film appearances within and without the Godzilla film series.