Now that I’ve finally had the chance to watch all 28 Godzilla movies (and a few other classic Toho films) I can reflect on how the King of the Monsters and his career have effected me. Ever since childhood I watched Godzilla’s 70’s movies on television. I liked the movies but for years I didn’t really understand what Godzilla meant or anything about the context in which the monster’s stories were told.
I continued my interest in Japan and learned many things about the history, culture and mindset of the Land of the Rising Sun. I watched a lot of anime and read manga. It wasn’t until many years had passed that I finally decided to take another look at Godzilla and see if there was anything in those movies that would hold my attention. Watching the original cut of the first Godzilla movie (1954) with English subtitles blew my mind. I had no idea monster movies could have such depth. It appealed to me on many levels and set me on a quest to learn more about the radioactive reptile that had ruled the big screen for 50 years.
Most English speakers think all Godzilla movies are like the ones made in the 70’s. Godzilla vs. Megalon and one or two other movies from that period have been played repeatedly on American television for years. The bad dubbing, added to the fact that Godzilla vs. Megalon was the nadir of Godzilla’s film career lead many people to think Godzilla movies are nothing but junk. Godzilla movies are actually divided into three series. The original series ran from 1954 to 1975. This era, called the Showa Series (getting its name from Japan’s emperor) started out serious and slowly became more light-hearted. By the mid 70’s Godzilla movies were a lot like comic super hero stories. The Heisei Series lasted from 1984 to 1995 and was a return to serious storytelling. The Millennium Series was from 1999 to 2004. This most recent series was mostly unconnected stories that introduced modern special effects techniques.
I started collecting Godzilla’s movies, whether by purchase or rental, in their original form with subtitles so I could be sure I wasn’t missing anything. Books like A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series and Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters filled in gaps in my knowledge and helped me get a better picture of the films’ context. I was genuinely surprised by how much enjoyment I found in these movies. Even when the series reached the 70’s and started getting less serious and more goofy I had grown to like the elements of Godzilla movies so much that my enthusiasm didn’t diminish. In the 90’s when the Heisei Series began and the storytelling shifted into a more serious mode I was amazed again at what I found. I was relieved when the Millennium Series added the higher quality special effects to the movies that had been lacking for so long.
The Godzilla series is rich in not only action, thrills and fun but also engaging storytelling and deeper themes like the responsibilities of using our technology well and holding ourselves accountable for what our society does to the environment and its citizens. Even movies that at first seem like low spots in Godzilla’s career, like All Monsters Attack (1969), reveal mature themes such as the importance of father-son relationships and the affects of a nation’s industrialization on families.
After 28 movies what is the main lesson we can take away? Don’t mess with Godzilla. It may seem like a good idea at the time but it just never is. No scientist, no nation, no army, no alien civilization has ever succeeded in pushing Godzilla around. It’s best to just get out of this monster’s way.
What is the essence of Godzilla? What is his defining characteristic? Tenacity, determination, perseverance – Godzilla never quits, never gives up and never says die. The king of the monsters possesses a determination that is primal and impossible for mere humans to understand. Whether he’s menacing society or defending it, you can’t help but admire him.
It wasn’t easy gathering all the Godzilla movies. I had to purchase 18 of the 28 movies just to watch faithful versions. However, the time and the money I put into my project payed off handsomely. My two sons and I enjoyed the movies immensely and have spent a lot of time talking about them. The mature themes discussed in so many of the movies have given me pause for thought on many occasions. The heart and soul poured into these movies by so many Japanese people, people like Eiji Tsuburaya, Ishiro Honda, Koichi Kawakita and many others, shows through on many levels and has been rewarding viewers for fifty years. If you haven’t seen any Godzilla movies than you should at least sample a few. I recommend starting with the first, Godzilla from 1954.