In 1932 in Japan, the Japanese movie studio Toho was founded. For those that don’t know what Toho studios is known for, the studio itself is best known as the studio that mainly created and distributed many films from the Kaiju (Japanese for strange beast) genre, the Chouseishin TV Series (a show that would inspire other Japanese superhero shows like Kamen Rider and Power Rangers), and the anime films of Studio Ghibli. However I’m not here to talk about the Chouseishin TV show or the films from Studio Ghibli. Today I’m talking about the history of Toho’s famous creation and global icon Godzilla. The King of the Monsters has appeared in a total of 30 movies becoming a pop culture icon on par with other famous fictional characters from James Bond to Superman. Godzilla has been everything from and allegory of the usage of Nuclear weapons to being the savior of mankind and everything in between. Even when the critics haven’t liked him, Godzilla has a loyal base of fans from all across the world. If anything, it seems that Godzilla is more popular than ever with the release of the 2014 film and the upcoming 2016 movie. So how did Godzilla become this popular in the first place? Well it’s quite a long story and I’m here to tell it.
Now when Toho studios first started out they, the studio themselves were entering in a time were the movie industry was changing all around. During the early 1930’s, this was the time when the film industry was in the middle of stepping out of the silent era of film making and entering the world of sound. Although the studio itself was founded in 1932 and made several films, most of them war movies like many of Akira Kurosawa’s films like Seven Samurai. Sometime around WWII, many of Japan’s movie studios weren’t doing so well financially. Toho getting hit the hardest to the point that they were almost bankrupt. To make things even worse for the studio, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred. Sometime after the bombing, the Japanese government banned the release of any new war films in all of Japan. This looked like it was going to be the final nail in the coffin for the studio since most of the films that the studio specialized in were mainly war movies. One of the members of the studio Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to take a trip to the United States of America in search of a new idea of a movie since the film Eiko-no Kagi-ni (In the Shadow of Glory) was cancelled because of political issues. While on his flight back to Japan, Tanaka peered out the airplane window and gazed towards the dark ocean below, wondering what lay beneath those waves. As soon as he got back to the studio, Tanaka came up with the idea of Gojira aka Godzilla.
In terms of how the idea of Gojira come about there were several evens and elements that came about in creating the nuclear reptile. Two of them being actual real life events with the combination of the bombings of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, during the final stage of World War II. The other incident being the Lucky Dragon 5 Incident which was a Japanese tuna fishing boat, with a crew of 23 men, that was exposed to, and contaminated by, nuclear fallout from the United States’s Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll, on March 1, 1954. Tomoyuki Tanaka figured with bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Lucky Dragon 5 incident still fresh in the Japanese consciousness. He wanted to create a creature that severed as a metaphor for nuclear weapons.
As far as the other elements that came into play in creating Gojira. Remember that trip to America that Tanaka took. Well it plays an important part in the creation of Gojira because of the movies that came out at the time. One of them being a re-release of the 1933 movie “King Kong” since it was quite the popular movie back in the day. The other movie was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was about prehistoric dinosaur called the Rhedosaurus which is released from its frozen, hibernating state by an atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle. The beast begins to wreak a path of destruction as it travels southward, eventually arriving at its ancient spawning grounds, which includes New York City. So you can see how The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms plays an important role in creating a new generation of creature features. It’s basically Godzilla. Without it, I don’t think we would have had the whole giant monster genre. The fact that the movie came out in 1953, a whole year before the release of Gojira really says something about the influence of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
The four inspirations of Gojira:
With the new idea for the movie, the film crew at Toho decided to make a script and started film production of Gojira. With the idea of Gojira being the physical embodiment of nuclear weapons came the task of creating an image to go with it. This is where things took an interesting turn in creating the overall look of Gojira. Even though I said that films like King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms severed as inspirations for Gojira, Tomoyuki Tanaka didn’t necessary have the idea of a giant dinosaur going on a rampage. In terms of how King Kong played a role in creating Gojira, Tanaka was to have a monster that has a name as recognize as King Kong. The name Gojira itself is a combination of “gorilla” and “kujira,” the Japanese word for whale. The name would later get translated into English, “Godzilla.”. As far as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms goes, Tanaka liked the idea of a creature being the result of nuclear testing and going on a rampage from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
The overall design of Gojira actually had several ideas that ranged from a creature whose head looked like a mushroom to simply having a design that was just a giant octopus. In terms of how Gojira got his iconic design, one of the concept artists took a series of children’s books about dinosaurs and decided to combine the following three dinosaurs. The first one being a T-Rex for the overall body structure, the iguanodon for the arms, and finally the plates of a stegosaurus. When it came to making the suits, Gojira went through several suits since the material that the costume was made from made it hard for the person in the suit to move in. At this point the film crew used several filming techniques and parts of the costume to convey Gojira’s size and movement in the film. Why the studio decided to use suits instead of something like stop motion was that the film crew realized that if the film did use stop motion it would have taken seven years to complete the movie. While it took only about three days to film one scene with the costume, although some parts of the movie there is some usage of stop motion. This is were the Toho came up with the term suitmation in which allows actor to put on the creature costumes. The suit actor, often moving through scale model scenery to give the impression of large size, is filmed at a higher framerate to make them appear slower. This style of effects is what Toho and other japanese movie studios would for tv shows like Ultraman or Godzilla knocks off such as Daiei Film Studios Gamera movie series for several decades.
After 51 days of filming the movie. Gojira was finally completed and got released on November 3, 1954. At first the film (the Japanese version) didn’t do too well since the film was panned by film critics saying that the film was to Hollywood-esque and that the idea of the film was too silly to be taken seriously. So the film was not only was panned by film critics, it was also considered a box office flop. Years later the film would get an American release in 1956 now dubbed Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The Americanized release of the film featured new scenes with American actor Raymond Burr playing as Steve Martin an American reporter who happens to be in Japan while Godzilla goes on a rampage. Even though the film cut about 16 minutes of footage from the original film, what the American version of the film does with the new footage is actually tries to in cooperate the Steve Martin character into the story unlike later Japanese monster movies that randomly insert Americans talking about the events of the film which really added noting to the overall story. The American release of the movie did really well in America that it became the first movie to open the doorways of other Japanese cinema.
With the American release of the film doing well, Toho decided to make a follow up to the original movie with Godzilla Raids Again. The film is a direct sequel to the 1954 film that was quickly put into production to capitalize on the film’s box office success. This was the first film in the franchise to feature a “monster vs. monster” scenario, as it introduced Godzilla’s first foe, Anguirus a mutant Ankylosaurus/spike lizard. This scenario of Godzilla battling other giant monsters would become a staple for the rest of the franchise and genre. But like the first film, the movie wasn’t well liked by the critics. So it was time to put Godzilla on ice, both literally and metaphorically speaking. In the context of the movie, the climax of the film has the Japanese military trapping Godzilla in an avalanche on an icy island. In the metaphorical sense the usage of the Godzilla character wouldn’t be used for several years and would reappear in 1962 (but that is a story for another time).
At this point in time the people over at Toho studios would start expanding the Daikaiju (giant beast) genre starting with the 1956 film Rodan. Rodan is a film about a giant pair of pteranodons that go on a rampage after being awaken from their slumber. Rodan both the character and the film became big hits with both Japanese and American audiences. This only opened more doors for Toho. From there on out the studio made several other giant monster movies from Varan the Unbelievable, Mothra, Atragon, Space Amoeba, and Dogora just to name a few other giant monster movies that Toho made.
Other Toho Non-Godzilla Movies:
After creating a variety of other giant monster movies, Toho created other science fiction movies that weren’t related to giant monsters movie like The H-Man and The Human Vapor. Out of the non giant mosnter films that Toho made. The studio wanted to make a sequel to The Human Vapor. The plot of The Human Vapor was about man who gains superpowers of transforming into a gaseous state. While in this gaseous state, the Human Vapor can wrap around people’s heads and asphyxiate them. With his new found powers, the Human Vapor starts robbing banks to support his girlfriend. At the end of the film, both the Human Vapor and his lover die in the films climax. The ideas for the follow up films would invole the Human Vapor surviving the climax of the first film and goes to find a doctor who brought Frankenstein’s monster to back to life, in hopes of finding a way to bring back his dead girlfriend. This would eventually lead into a battle between the both the Human Vapor and the Frankenstein’s Monster. Plans for the movie got scrapped but TOHO didn’t give up on the idea of featuring Frankenstein’s Monster in one of their films.
This idea would be Frankenstein vs. Godzilla in which the Frankenstein monster gets exposed to radiation and grows to Godzilla size feeding on live stock. This would lead to the Japanese Military believing that Frankenstein would become a great threat to Japan and decide that it was time to free Godzilla from is icy tomb believing that Godzilla was the lesser of two evils. I find this to be weird since Godzilla has killed thousands of people in the two films before this. While production of this movie was going on, the American movie studio Universal had the idea of making a movie featuring the return of King Kong who would battle against their own version of Frankenstein’s Monster that was made up of different animals. Universal sent the script to Toho and the Japanese studio decided to make a movie that featured two of cinemas greatest monsters: King Kong vs. Godzilla.
The Battle Between Cinemas Greatest Movie Monsters!
In the year 1962, King Kong vs. Godzilla had come out. It was the east vs. the west, the American monster vs. the Japanese monster.The King of the Jungle vs. the King of the Monsters. Not only was this the first time these monsters were featured in a movie together, it was also the first time that either of the monsters appeared in color together as well. This changed everything for Toho since it put their giant monster on the map. Before this, only the Japanese and Americans knew who Godzilla was. However the world itself, not so much because between the two monsters. King Kong was the more famous movie monster worldwide than Godzilla. Also there are some elements that you could tell were meant for the Frankenstein Monster since King Kong has some weird ability to regain his strength after absorbing electricity from nearby lightning storms or power lines. So what ended up happening to Toho’s attempt of having Frankenstein in one of their own movies? Several years after King Kong vs. Godzilla and having Godzilla and King Kong appear in their own movies, Toho in 1965 finally created Frankenstein Conquers the World and its sequel The War of the Gargantuas.
Speaking of King Kong, He has had an interesting history with various Japanese studios who wanted to create their own version of King Kong both before and after King Kong vs. Godzilla. Granted the character itself was only related in name only with one of the films being about a man who decides to dress up as the character for a vaudeville theater to make money for his girlfriend. The other Japanese film to include King Kong called King Kong Appears in Edo. Again the King Kong in the film is just a pet ape who goes by the name of King Kong and is just regular size ape. Over time the two films with these depictions of King Kong have been considered lost films since the studios that were involved with each film have either burned down or simply disappeared. These films were made during the 1930’s. After the release of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Toho teamed up with the American movie company Rankin/Bass (known for the stop motion animated Christmas specials.) to create King Kong Escapes which centered on King Kong getting kidnapped by a mad scientists called Doctor Who (not to be confused with the Doctor from the British TV show) and escapes while getting chased by a robotic double called Mechani-Kong (that would later inspire Mechagodzilla). King Kong Escapes was the second and final Japanese-made film featuring the King Kong character because they rights for TOHO to use the character ended. Even though the studio had one more film lined up for him which turned in to Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster seeing how Godzilla in that film is attracted to a human female for one scene and gets awaken by lightning bolts hitting his dorsal fins. Even though Toho didn’t have rights to the charater anymore. Toho would try to remake King Kong vs. Godzilla in the early 1990’s, but that is a story for another time.
After the release of King Kong vs. Godzilla proving to be succeful, Toho decided to make another crossover film in which Godzilla fought against another monster. This time however it would be from their own library of giant monsters. But the question was which one? The studio created a lot of their own giant monster movies that the direction of the next movie could have gone anywhere. Toho decided that the next film in the Godzilla film series would feature the king of the monsters battling against fan favorite: the divine moth Mothra. When TOHO was making giant monster movies without the usage of Godzilla, Mothra happen to be the most popular of the non-Godzilla films that Toho created. Mothra wasn’t only just liked by critics and fans, the film also did well at the box office by making more money than the first two Godzilla films put together. So natural when the film came out, that was when Godzilla forever left his mark on cinema history. Not many people know this but if it wasn’t for the popularity of Mothra, I don’t think Godzilla would be as popular as he is today in my opinion. Also in the same year when Godzilla vs. Mothra came out, Toho decided to make another film within the same year as Godzilla vs. Mothra called Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. What makes this film so special is that not only did was it the second film to feature Godzilla and Mothra. It was the first time Rodan makes an appearance in a Godzilla film outside his own movie and the first appearance of Godzilla’s arch-rival the intergalactic planet destroying dragon King Ghidorah. This marked a turning point for both Godzilla and Toho because not only did this film feature its first giant monster battle royal since the films before this only had one on one battles. At this point in the Showa series of movies because not only did the original dark tone of the first film was gone, Godzilla would start becoming more of a good guy for the remainder of the Showa era of Toho and the Godzilla films would only get more campier.
For the remainder of the Showa series of Godzilla films, most of them revolved around alien forces trying to take over the world by controlling various giant monsters from the monsters that came from both earth and space starting with the 1965 film Invasion of Astro-Monster which was the first time aliens appeared in a Godzilla movie. It was the first and only time Godzilla and Rodan fought against King Ghidorah or any monster on another planet. Granted not all of the reminding Showa era Godzilla film involved alien invasions like Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla, and Godzilla’s Revenge but a good majority of them did. Most of the films in the late 60’s to the mid 70’s were aimed more towards children. Even though some of them were questionable since some of the films had a lot of either really strange moments or contained a surprising amount of blood. Also two sufficient films came out during the later Showa era of films. The first one being the 1968 classic creature feature Destroy All Monsters in order to celebrate the 20th Kaiju film that Toho had made. Originally this was supposed to be the last film to feature Godzilla and what way to go out than to bring in all the other monsters that Toho created. This film was a big deal at the time since not only did it feature monsters (with the expection of King Kong) from the other Godzilla movies like Mothra, Anguirus, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Kumonga, and Godzilla’s Son. Destory All Monsters also included monsters from non-Godzilla movies from Gorosaurus (King Kong Escapes), Manda (Atragon), Varan (Varan the Unbelievable), and Baragon (Frankenstein Conquers the World). However like any of the other Godzilla movies, the film did really well at the box office and Toho continued to make more Godzilla movies.
After the success of Destroy All Monsters, Toho continued to make more Godzilla movie for the first half of the 70’s. However at this point in both Toho and Godzilla’s career started to lose some steam with each film not only making moderate money at the box office. Movie going audiences were starting to tired of Godzilla in general. In so in 1974, Toho decided to celebrate Godzilla’s 20th anniversary by releasing Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. This was the first time Godzilla’s robotic counterpart appeared on screen and like King Ghidorah has become a staple in Godzilla’s rouge gallery. Out of the films in the Godzilla movies that came out in the 70’s, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla made more money than some of the other Godzilla films that came out during the 70’s just not as much as the 60’s films. This film also had a higher budget out of the Godzilla films during the mid-70’s since it was the 20th anniversary. In 1975 Terror of Mechagodzilla came which was the not only the reappearance of both Godzilla and Mechagodzilla, a new giant monster appeared called in the form of the aquatic dinosaur Titanosaurus (not to be confused with an actual dinosaur called Titanosaurus). Why I make this an important fact was mainly for three reasons. The first reason was that out of the new giant monsters that appeared during the 70’s run of Godzilla films, Titanosaurs was a throwback to many of the dinosaur themed monsters that mainly appeared during the 50’s and 60’s. This was also one of the few new monsters that didn’t come from outer space like Hedorah, Gigan, Megalon, and Mechagodzilla. Titanosaurs was also the last original monster to be created since many new monsters that appeared during the Heisei and Millennium series of films where either variations of already popular monsters or Toho would reuse popular monsters like King Ghidorah or Mothra. After the release of Terror of Mechagodzilla, Toho decided to finally retire the Godzilla character because of decline in attendance for monster-movies for a short while.