onsdag 23 april 2014

50 years of Godzilla - Part 1. The Showa years.

Godzilla has been a big part of my life for the last thirty years, ever since walking out of the videostore with a vhstape of Rymdmonstren anfaller (Invasion of the astromonsters aka Godzilla vs Monster Zero) and I was hooked instantly. It is now sixty years since the first Godzilla appeared in Japanese cinema and burst forth as a true monster icon. 28 movies has been made so far (I do not count the American edits of Gojira and Gojira 84 or that Emmerich monstrosity) and this seemed like a good time to watch every single one of them in order. So here is the first part, the Showa years.

1. Gojira (1954)

It is truly amazing that the original Godzilla turns sixty this year and still packs quite a punch thanks to its not so subtle Hiroshima and Nagasaki metaphor. Yes, you can bitch and whine how much you want about it being just a silly monstermovie with a goofy puppet and a man in a suit destroying toy buildings but then I'm pretty damn sure you haven't actually seen the original movie, just some of the not so serious movies that followed in the wake of its success. This is dark, bleak stuff with children being terminally radiated and toddlers crying over the loss of their mothers. The scenes of mass destruction still hold up incredibly well and while obvious miniatures they are staged and shot with total perfection. The only flaw that the movie has is the ending. While somber and suitably dark it still comes off a bit anticlimactic, especially after the supreme carnage that came before it. A masterpiece and an iconic monster, it's no wonder it got twenty-seven sequels.

2. Gojira no Gyakushū’aka Godzilla raids again (1955)

Watching this one straight after the wonderful original was not a good thing. It is so much more strangely lightweight and silly, with the overcranked fightscenes not helping at all. With that said I would lie if I told you it was a boring movie, on the contrary. As far as kaiju goes this is a fun flick with a lot of rubbersuited action, its just lacks the superb mood of the original.

3. Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira aka King Kong vs Godzilla (1962)

With King Kong vs Godzilla the series goes into full cheese mode and I really don't see any point opposing that, the entertainment value is enormous. There is a lot of cool footage of nice miniatures being smashed to pieces and the sight of King Kong trying to ram a tree down Godzillas throat is hilarious. You really can't hate this.

And that apesuit? God damn it's ugly. It looks fermented. I bet it smelled like Hákarl, that Icelandic rotten shark dish.

4. Mosura tai Gojira aka Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)

I've always had the opinion that I didn't like Mothra that much. I mean, who wants a "good" monster?! But after rewatching Mothra vs Godzilla I realize that I have been wrong all this time. Mothra is an excellent adversary to Godzilla (back in the days when Godzilla still was a force of destruction) and Mothra vs Godzilla is a damn fine piece of Kaiju. Heck, even the Peanuts are cute and belong in the plot. There is a lot of excellent special effects and the Godzilla suit is at its prime. I'm getting that incarnation as a tattoo as soon as I get around to it, probably never.

5. San Daikaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessen aka Ghidrah the threeheaded monster (1964)

This has always been a favorite of mine, with Ghidrah being a cool foe and the ongoing fight between Godzilla and Rodan pretty damn hilarious. The special effects are top notch and the whole enterprise is just so much fun!

6. Kaijū Daisensō aka Godzilla Vs Monster Zero (1965)

This was the first Godzillamovie I saw, renting it on vhs back in the days and it's no wonder I was hooked, it is truly a scorcher of a kaijumovie. We have everything we need, silly aliens with antennas controlling monsters to take over the earth with tons of great special effects. Actually, there is surprisingly little monsteraction with most of it confined to the last twenty minutes but there is so much fun watching Nick Adams and Akira Takarada hamming it up while the evil Xians try to destroy Earth. Apart from the original, this is the Kaiju you need to see.

7. Gojira, Ebira, Mosura: Nankai no Daikettō aka Godzilla vs the Sea monster (1966)

And here is where everything began to go sour. Jun Fukudas first Godzillamovie is just too plain silly and goofy and taking Godzilla away from Tokyo is a really bad thing. Sure, there is some enjoyment out of watching Godzilla play ball with a giant lobster and the surfmusic on the soundtrack as Big G is attacked by jetplanes is quite an eyeopener but this is so far from the original darkness of the original and the quirky scififantasy of the ones before this that it becomes a chore to watch at times. At least I wasn't bored.

8. Kaijūtō no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko aka Son of Godzilla (1967)

This is just plain awful. Seriously, what the hell were they thinking? Every single scene with Godzilla fathering Minya is just cringeworthy beyond belief and the Godzilla suit looks more like the cookie monster than the mighty being he used to be. The low point of the series.

9. Kaijū Sōshingeki aka Destroy all monsters (1968)

Destroy all monsters should be so much better than it is. Sure, it is one hell of a movie compared to the previous one, the awful Son of Godzilla but it had so much potential, especially since it was directed by the master: Ishiro Honda. The problem is not with the story, it has aliens and monsters galore in a classic Evil aliens wants to take over earth using Godzilla which worked so wonderful in Godzilla vs Monster Zero. There is nary a shot without some kind of model or monster suit. And here is the problem. All the special effects and scenes of mass destruction aren't shot particulary well, you almost get the feeling that it's leftovers from a cheapo Ultraman ripoff. The cinematography is dull and everyone is dressed in yellow or silver, like someone is channeling Mario Bava on heroin and it looks just bad. The tone of the movie is pretty strange too, one second a narrator is overexplaining the plot as if telling it to a five year old and moments later someone is shot in the head. And then there is Minya. I hate Minya.

With all of that said, I don't hate the movie. There is plenty of monsters and mass destruction and the plot moves like a steamtrain, never a dull moment. There are far worse Godzillamovies, it's just that this one had so much potential.

10. Gojira, Minira, Gabara: Ōru Kaijū Daishingeki aka Godzilla's revenge (1969)

Things I learned from this movie:

Don't worry if you are bullied, dad will beat the crap out of the bully.

To gain respect you must beat the crap out of the bully

As a Kaiju flick this is pretty awful, most of it is stockfootage from earlier Godzillas apart from the silly scenes with Minya facing up to his bully, Gabara. I hate Minya. The rest of it though isn't actually that bad as a kids movie with a little kid dreaming of going to Monster island as he is by himself when his parents are working overtime. It does end on a strange note with the kid saying to his mom that they should work as much as possible so they can have a good life. Yeah kid, that helped you a lot when those criminals came around when you were by yourself. In another movie your mutilated corpse would have been dumped in a hole in that abandoned factory you like to play in all the time.

An oddity for sure but it sure as hell is about a million times better than Son of Godzilla.

11. Gojira tai Hedora aka Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)

This is just one big incoherent lsd-trip full of Kaiju, melting people, ecological messages and strange animated interludes. I love it.

12. Chikyū Kogeki Meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan aka Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)

Godzilla vs Gigan looks nice on paper, an alien race trying to conquer earth using Ghidrah and a new and fairly cool/silly monster, Gigan. Unfortunately it just isn't much fun. A lot of the mass destruction is footage from earlier movies, something that is pretty easy to spot since there us a big difference in quality, the footage shot for this movie is not as detailed and shot mostly in closeups. It takes forever to get to the action and when you finally get there you've already grown tired of the annoying cast and the fact that Godzilla and Angillus speak to each other using speech bubbles (though it's even worse in the english dub where they actually have voices). It's not a completely worthless movie, there is some fun to be had watching the final fight and it doesn't have Minya but it's still one of the lesser Big G movies.

13. Gojira tai Megaro aka Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)

This was actually much better than I remembered it, G vs Megalon might not be that good but it's pretty damn entertaining. The plot is cheesy as hell as the people of Seatopia wants to destroy humanity using Megalon and the incredibly silly looking Jet Jaguar but of course Godzilla comes to the rescue when there is seventeen minutes left of the movie. There is a lot of stock footage (though not as much as in Godzilla vs Gigan) but the long fight in the end is fun in a pro wrestling kinda way. It's all simple fun with a funky typical seventies score and garish clothes.

I remember having some sort o discussion about Terror of mechagodzilla being the only Godzillamovie to feature nudity but G vs Megalon actually has that too, in the form of a pinup in the back of a truck. Ah, the seventies...

14. Gojira tai Mekagojira aka Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974)

Jun Fukudas final Godzillamovie is his best, no doubt about that. It suffers a bit from the same syndrome as most of his movies - never really having any major mass destruction taking place in a city and it focuses too much on Godzilla as a slightly goofy force of good bit other than that it is a fine piece of kaiju. The special effects are excellent, it seems a little more money than usual was spent on them and Mecha Godzilla is one of the best baddies ever made from the series. And King Seesar? Well, maybe the idea was better than its goofy execution but he still works. Good, clean kaiju fun.

15. Mekagojira no Gyakushū aka Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Ishiro Hondas final Gojira is a solid piece of kaiju when you consider that Godzilla vs Megalon was just a few years earlier. It is also surprisingly violent and is the only Gojiramovie to feature nudity. A cool and silly plot along with a lot of mass destruction makes this a must watch for kaiju fans.

So, in short, the Showa era is filled with excellent kaiju madness though it also has some of the worst of the series. It is the most inconsistent period (the later got a lot more even, for good and bad) but also has some of the possibly best ones. Tune in for the Heisei period in the near future.

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