Each summer I have written a long, special theme post about a topic. These have varied from Kimi ga Nozomu Eien to the history Original Video Animation. This year I present you Themes of Godzilla in celebration of the theatrical release of Shin Godzilla.
Godzilla is not one monster or theme. Throughout its 62 years run in the movies Godzilla has represented many things from atomic weapons to heroes and Japan itself. The monster is a character that has been fitted into many themes and motifs across the ages. It could be even argued that the original film, despite being the originator, was disregarded at one point in favour of something else, something that fit that particular time. As such, if one argues what Godzilla, either as a character or theme, is based on a selection of media, you can argue otherwise using different selection. After all, we are talking about a franchise that has been running for more than a half a century with almost everything but porn being in the official line up.
Before we dwell into the movies and what they represent, let’s dwell a bit into where Godzilla originates. I will also use the official English name for the character, Godzilla, all the way through the post.
While Godzilla is usually traced to the Second World War, many make the distinction of King Kong and The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms being the film inspirations. King Kong is often seen as the start of the giant-monster genre, thou The Lost World predates it almost by a decade. Nevertheless, it’s the effects and the story that people remember from King Kong, and those two were exactly the things that drove Eiji Tsuburaya into the film industry. The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms comes into play as the movie that inspired Tomoyuki Tanaka to produce a similar movie. The story is that Tanaka was to make a movie in Indonesia that would ease the relations between the countries, but his crew was turned back, denying their visas. While returning to Japan, he was reminded about The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms, and with the S.S. Lucky Dragon #5 incident still fresh in his mind, Tanaka pitched an idea based on these two elements to the producer Iwao Mori. Tanaka grabbed the director Ishiro Honda to direct the film. Despite few pre-existing scripts, one being submitted by Tsuburuya, Honda and a writer named Takeo Murata wrote the final script in three weeks.
A final person between Tanaka, Honda, Tsuburaya and Murata was Akira Ifukube, a classical composer who gave Godzilla its sound and music. Without Ifukube’s compositions, the movie would’ve lacked in sound, as each theme emphasizes doubly whatever was happening on the screen. This is to the extent that both the film and music should always be one and the same and never be seen or listened in Ifukube’s mind.
The S.S. Lucky Dragon #5 incident is what births Godzilla in the original 1954 film. The incident was USA detonating their first hydrogen bomb named Castle Bravo. It was estimated to be about four to eight megatons in yield, but proved to be fifteen megatons due to lithium-5 becoming active in the explosion. This spread the fallout far beyond what the estimates safe zone was, and caused the crew of Lucky Dragon #5, effectively giving them lethal doses of radiation.
The final element Godzilla had is tied to the nuclear weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and probably is the most known aspect about the monster, only second to it fighting another.
Let’s start with the themes in the movies. I want to keep comment on each entry in the franchise short and to the point whenever needed. Each movie would deserve a full-fledged post to dwelve deeper into them, but currently I’m not intending to start multi-year “series” that nobody wants. We’ll leave TV-shows, games and such out from the picture for now, they’re a massive undertaking on their own as is. There is so much history in Godzilla that I can’t touch upon in this one, but maybe in future I will elaborate on certain aspects if there is interest.
Original series / Showa era Godzilla, 1954-1975
The theme of the original Godzilla is one of the most researched when it comes to the franchise. The titular monster himself is a representation of nuclear weapons let loose. Godzilla is the terror of the bomb itself, unstopping hulk that does not only cause death by its physical presence, but also with its radioactive breath that set the Tokyo into fire. Just like the bombs, after the destruction comes all the other problems of radioactive waste and residue. Just like the nuclear bombs, Godzilla causes death long time afterwards wherever he had been.
However, Godzilla is also the rage and pain the people feel about the bombs. Godzilla’s skin is covered in keloid scarring. This scarring was commonly seen on nuclear blast victims and can be very painful and itchy. The scarred tissue has high probability of returning larger if removed. Godzilla also holds his arms in air like a burn victim, close to hits torso but in an angle. Its eyes, while designed to be large so they could be seen on the screen, has widened pupils like those of nuclear cataract.
These design elements would carry into each incarnation of the monster with or without any context. While originally slightly grotesque, Godzilla’s design has been altered throughout the years to look be sleeker or animal like with addition of cat like nose or ears, but in the end the core design has always been the same. Well, almost always.
Outside Godzilla itself, the humanity carries two themes as well. Dr. Serizawa may look like a mad scientist, but he is the response of that era towards scientists who would foolishly let things like Castle Bravo happen. Serizawa’s micro-oxygen would offer world great benefits, but just as the nuclear bombs, it could be used to kill in a large-scale. Serizawa is ultimately the one who uses the Oxygen Destroyer, taking its secrets with him. He carries the responsibility of his findings to the end.
Dr. Yamane is his sort of counterpart, a scientist who opposes destroying Godzilla in order to research it and find whatever secrets may lie within the creature. He does not wish to kill Godzilla, but he conceits to it. Yamane is humane in his approach, letting go of his desires and ambitions for the sake of here and now rather than letting further death and destruction to take place.
The atomic allegory is mostly on this incarnation of Godzilla, despite it probably being its most famous theme on itself. It should be noted that despite science and technology is being criticised in creation of the atomic bomb and Godzilla, it is also science that gives the only solution that can wipe Godzilla from the face of the Earth.
Godzilla Raids Again /Godzilla no Gyakushu, 1955
The first sequel to Godzilla was put into action very fast, but in comparison to the original movie, it lacks in many ways. It lacks the difficult themes the first movies raised and concentrates on being more a fun giant-monster action romp. Anguirus is introduced here and would not be seen for some while. Neither monster is tied to any theme nor motif in the movie, and their actions are largely separate from the humans. They act more like forces of nature, downing buildings and causing destruction than being allegorical nuclear weapons.
The main carrying theme in the movie is the friendship between pilots Tsukioka and Kobayashi, and the ultimate sacrifice Kobayashi does in order to bury Godzilla in ice. This is very stereotypical in its own way, and not done in any special fashion.
After this, different Godzilla movies were planned, but never produced. A personal favourite is Bride of Godzilla?, which would have expanded on Godzilla’s and Anguirus’ origins as well as add a giant robot daughter.
The story would’ve involved a scientist named Dr. Shida building this giant sized robot daughter in the image of his foster daughter to fight giant monsters, mainly Godzilla. Dr. Shida had also proposed a theory that the monsters lived deep in the ocean trenches and managed to keep away from the world that way. Turns out the Earth is hollow and there is a whole world filled with Godzillas and Angruiruses among other monsters. Some of these get back to the surface, which the Robot Daughter aptly beats up, and ends up tackling Godzilla head-to-head. Due to her strength, Godzilla falls in love with her. The two return to Godzilla’s stay, only for her to detonate the hydrogen bomb inside her, devastating the whole Inner-Earth ecosystem, killing Godzilla.
This should illustrate well enough that the original movie was treated just like any other with no special treatment given. Theories it had about Godzilla’s origins were just that, and anything could come after it. Despite what I wrote years back, I’ve come to a conclusion that Godzilla has no true nature. The monsters and the movies are vehicles for the directors and writers to explore concepts and themes trough a certain genre, for better or worse success.
King Kong vs Godzilla, 1962
King Kong VS Godzilla is the franchise’s most successful and attended film, mostly because of the two titular monsters. However, its thematics are that of King Kong’s instead of Godzilla’s. The movie is almost a beat-to-beat recreation of the original King Kong with Godzilla thrown in there. You know the deal; a greedy businessman wants his own freak as an attraction and shit goes down from there. As such, the theme in this movie is largely human greed and how we are unable to control nature no matter how hard we try to.
It should be noted that this is the first movie that started with Godzilla humour. It is far from being a serious movie and resorts to slapstick during the fights. It has its serious moments for sure, but they’re mostly there to give the movie its needed weight. Just as with the 1954 movie, the music in this movie gives a very serious, hefty expression. If you watch the fights without any sound from this movie onwards, you’ll notice that they’re much funnier, and not because it’s two guys in a suit.
The humour aspect that would stick with the rest of original series Godzilla movies can be attributed to one Shinichi Sekizawa, but I’m guessing Tsuburaya’s wish to make child friendly movies had a strong influence as well. Sekizawa’s strongest contribution to the franchise is to make monsters more of their own characters separate from the humans. Humans would just react monsters anymore, but both sides would have their own stories. The movies became less about reactions within the movies themselves and more about characters having their own aspirations and goals, and those would cross with the monsters back and forth. This element would only become stronger in the future movies and is something that made Godzilla movies stand out from the rest of the giant-monster movie genre.
Mothra vs Godzilla, 1964
Toho did not just sit on Godzilla when he was on hiatus between 1955 and 1962. Toho had few other monster movies during that period, like Rodan and Mothra. After the success of the previous movie, it was more than clear that Toho could make nice money on continuing pitching Godzilla against their other famous monsters will continuing to produce new ones on the side.
Mothra has always been on the mythical, more hippie side of Toho SF, and Mothra VS Godzilla keeps this up. It is probably the second most hopeful movie in the series as its main theme is that of brotherly unity of all mankind. Infant Island, Mothra’s home island, had been partially devastated by nuclear testing, and the inhabitants dislike all outsiders because of this.
However, despite this Mothra still takes off to help Japan fight Godzilla and this is sort of her saying that everybody should strive to work together rather than keep hate in their hearts. This is further showcased in Mothra sacrificing herself for both humans and her unborn twins, which later then take Godzilla down.
Gidorah, the Three-Headed Monster/ San Daikaijuu: Chikyuu Saidai no Kessen, 1964
Released later the same year as the previous movie, The Three-Headed Monster continues with the thematics of unity, but this time between monsters. In this movie, Godzilla and Rodan fight amongst themselves and do not give rat’s ass about humanity before Mothra larvae comes to scold the two. She manages to convince the two other monsters to put aside their differences and hatred in order to face a greater threat; King Ghidorah. The comedy elements are just as high as previously, and those who want to see Godzilla as some sort of animal or force of nature most likely hated seeing the monsters having human-intellect level discussion.
King Ghidorah would become a fan-favourite enemy for Godzilla with its golden scales and three heads. It was an unconventional design that didn’t translate to the silver screen as well as Tsuburaya would have wanted. Ghidora’s effects and suit would be tweaked in the next movie.
Invasion of the Astro-Monster/ Kaiju Daisensou, 1945
King Ghidorah proved to be so popular villain that it was brought back straight away. This is probably the most positive from all of Toho’s movies when it comes to world peace and unity. Nick Adams played co-protagonist role as Glenn with Akira Takarada taking the second lead as Fuji.
Furthermore, humanity is far tighter and harmonious than before, and this is extended in helping aliens called Xiliens to fight against Monster Zero, King Ghidorah. Of course the aliens back stab humanity.
One could also argue that another theme in the movie is that humanity should not leave nature behind their own ambitions and wants, as there is a clear scene where the astronauts look at Godzilla on the surface of the alien planet, seeing it having a resenting look while the men are leaving for home.
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep/ Godzilla, Ebirah, Mothra: Nankai Daikettou, 1966
This movie was originally conceived as an entry to King Kong, but Toho decided to take different direction and use Godzilla for larger revenues. Many of the plot elements reflect this as well, with Godzilla doing stuff that are largely associated with Toho King Kong.
Unlike the previous movie, which mostly handled with the finest humanity had to offer, Ebirah sticks with your everyday street walking people. It starts with our main characters, far from heroes, stealing a yacht. After coming afoul with Ebirah, they are forced to land on Devil’s Island, where a criminal organisation called Red Bamboo has enslaved the tribe from Infant Island for their own ends.
The theme in itself is pretty clear; people will fight against what they see as evil and unjust. Despite the protagonists being essentially criminals, they have a good heart. Despite Red Bamboo being stereotypical evil organisation, the protagonists rise to the occasion to be heroes.
The fact that Godzilla replaced King Kong is telling. Godzilla would be less a driving force in future stories in the original movie series and would become a reactive force instead. Its status as a hero and defender was more or less established, even if he would see further tweaks down the line. Essentially, Godzilla was becoming stereotype of itself.
Son of Godzilla/ Kaijuto no Kessen: Godzilla no Musuko, 1967
Son of Godzilla is a movie that concentrates on the harsher side of relationship between children and their parents. This is what the movie is mostly remembered of, but its secondary theme is that of human meddling with the environment. At this time global warming and other environmental issues had started to hit the news, and the weather controlling technology and how it goes wrong early in the movie are representation of this. Even in the ending, where the island is turned into cold wasteland, is warning the audience about messing with nature too much.
The warning message about messing with nature may be a bit overblown, as it feels more like a generic SF plot than anything else. Its existence is more or less a plot device to get giant sized praying mantises and spiders into the story, and the main theme really seems to be Godzilla teaching its son things. Minilla thou looks absolutely creepy in the original series movies, but the movie does end in one of the most heart breaking scenes relating to giant monsters.
Destroy All Monsters/ Kaiju Soushingeki, 1968
Godzilla’s fame was waning as was the money the movies were bringing in. Destroy All Monsters was supposed to be the last Godzilla movie and was set in the future beyond all other entries in the franchise. It used stock footage far more heavily than previously and tried to use as many monsters as possible. It even brought back Anguirus after its long absence since Godzilla Raids Again.
As such, the movie’s main theme really is as the title says; march of the monsters. It’s a celebration movie that would have ended the Godzilla franchise in a bang. While not the first time multiple monsters appeared in the same movie, it nevertheless was the first one that almost all the monsters. A giant monster mash.
And ‘lo and behold the movie was a level of success because of its all-monsters nature and convinced Toho that the franchise still had legs to go with.
All Monsters Attack/ Godzilla, Minilla, Gabara; All Kaiju Daishingeki, 1969
While Godzilla movies had tonal shifts from one side to another in relatively small terms, All Monsters Attack was the first one to have a straight up child protagonist. Godzilla had not been serious like the first 1954 movie for a long time, and with Son of Godzilla it had taken step towards catering towards children. All Monsters Attack takes this to another degree, mirroring the main character Ichiro Miki’s fight against bullies (and mobsters later) to Minilla fights his own bully and, both named Gabara.
The movie’s themes are contrasted between Ichiro and Minilla, who both need to learn that they need to be courageous. Even children have to fight their own fights without resorting to parents. The question just is whether or not Ichiro sees Minilla fighting Gabara in his imagination, or does that fight actually take place separately.
By this time, there had been a shift in the staff. While the original creators worked on the series on and off, there is notable difference in how the movies and their world was built. Ishiro Honda treated his Japan and characters as an analogue to the rest of the world. This is why most of early Godzilla and Toho SF movies can resonate across the world, less so with these later original series movies.
Tsuburaya also had left Toho and had put up his own special effects studio, Tsuburaya Productions, but there was a large overlap between the two. Tsuburaya Productions had started to make special effects for television, as Tsuburaya had seen the small screen taking over homes and beating movies on his global trips. In 1966, a small piece called Ultra Q was aired, which would lead into Tsuburaya Production’s most famous and long lasting franchise in in the same year, Ultraman. Eiji Tsuburaya would die in 1970, after realising his dream to make a special effects show for children he cared for so much.
Godzilla vs Hedorah, 1971
Eiji Tsuburaya had said that his Godzilla would not bleed. After his death, Godzilla took a darker turn, starting with Vs Hedorah.
The movie is full of late 1960’s/ early 1970’s psychedelic drug culture. Out of all Godzilla movies, it is the most environmental with Hedorah being quite literally a monster made of industrial waste. At this point Godzilla had finalised his role as a hero that exists simply to fight other monsters.
There is also a running plot about solidarity of the people in a rather hippie way in a small community, and one of the protagonists is a child who ultimately figures out the key to Hedorah’s destruction. This kid, Ken, also names Hedorah.
Godzilla vs Hedorah is a weird movie that has themes that don’t really matter, but it is a more comment on then-current culture if few ways. The whole waste monster is a backdrop to educate people through cartoons.
This movie is also known for fish masked people dancing in a club and Godzilla flying.
Godzilla vs Gigan, 1972
Much like in the previous movie, Godzilla has no real role in this one, and the movie is one of those that don’t really have a clear theme unlike the previous ones. The one that I could manage to pick up is that sentient creatures strive for peace on their own way, as the invaders from Space Hunter Nebula M want to bring peace to Earth with an iron grip through using giant monsters. It’s another alien invasion movie, but this time the aliens are cockroaches in human suits. Not even kidding with this one.
This movie also has an infamous scene, where Godzilla and Anguirus cross the ocean and talk to each other. Speech bubbles in Japanese version, dubbed in English. It’s absurd and the monsters enter the scene because Godzilla thinks that Something funny is going on. Guess that giant monster solidarity Mothra preached had kicked in at full force.
This is also the first time Godzilla bleeds on-screen. It’s a visceral scene, where Gigan stabs its hook straight into Godzilla’s scene and proceeds to use its stomach buzz saw to attack. Though it’s Anguirus that gets the worse deal.
Godzilla vs Megalon, 1973
Gone is the global optimism of the 1960’s. As Japan’s industry began to turn to a higher gear with post-war economy, nationalism saw a new rise in Japan. Godzilla Vs Megalon is a movie that doesn’t really have any other theme than invaders below the surface wanting to take over the surface in revenge of their world being destroyed by atomic testing. The thing is, the leader of Seatopians was portrayed by a Western actor named Robert Dunham. However, this is typical for its era, especially when Space Battleship Yamato would roll out just year later.
This movie also tapped to the rising mecha genre with Jet Jaguar, an android that reprograms itself to grow into giant size like Ultraman. The design was a result of a competition, but Toho though the movie couldn’t stand on its own and put Godzilla again for the marquee value. Godzilla adds very little to the movie outside the usual monster fight, as Gigan makes return from the previous movie. As such, the theme of the movie surrounds Jet Jaguar gaining sentience, though the movie does not discuss the issue very much, it’s just something for the child protagonist to marvel at. Well, you have that rising nationalism, but that’s something that will become a relative mainstay in the franchise.
Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, 1974
As a 30th anniversary movie, Godzilla Vs MechaGodzilla wanted to see the return of a Godzilla that would be seen as the villain. This contrast in hero vs villain versions of Godzilla is one of the driving force in the movie, mainly because a robot version of Godzilla taps to the 1970’s mecha craze just fine. MechaGodzilla is shown at his most brutal early on when in disguise it almost rips Anguirus’ jaws apart, causing to them visibly bleed.
Another theme is of legends, as King Ceaser (mistransliteration of King Shisa) is tied to Okinawa and serves as the secondary hero monster in the film. Previously most myths and legends in Godzilla had been mainly from outside Japan, but as discussed, the nationalistic sensibilities would only rise with the series.
Terror of MechaGodzilla/ MechaGodzilla no Gyakushu, 1975
Ishiro Honda returned to direct the last movie in the original series Godzilla movies. While this movies uses MechaGodzilla and Titanosaurus as its backdrop, the main theme of the movie is the two types of scientists; the marine biologist Akira Ichinose and his opposite Shinzo Mafune, who would rather see the world destroyed.
The movie seems to argue that scientists, while responsible of their own findings, are often influenced and mislead by outside forces. In this case, Mafune works with the aliens from the Third Planet from the Black Hole. Ichinose on the other hand is more peaceful and does his deeds mostly out of love towards Mafune’s daughter, Katsura. Unfortunately for him, Katsura turns out to be an android and causes trouble to Interpol when the rebuild MechaGodzilla and Mafune’s Titanosaur are let loose. Despite her creator intention, Katsura sacrifices herself to end the alien control over the conquering monsters.
Without a doubt it was Honda that managed to put more humane thematics into this movie, as that was his signature of sorts. That doesn’t really raise the movie’s overall quality, and its low ticket sales would mean that Godzilla would go to sleep for a time.
VS series / Heisei era Godzilla, 1984 – 1996
Technically speaking, Showa era in Japan ended in 1989. However, because this particular line of Godzilla movies extended into the 1990’s, these movies are usually lumped into Heisei period. Personally I prefer the nomenclature VS series, as it is more apt description of the titles and doesn’t mess with the eras.
In this point in time the original 1954 movie had become legendary on its own rights. It was seen as the true Godzilla by some, darker and more serious in comparison the the rest that followed. Its status as an untouchable masterpiece had led many people to see Godzilla being led into wrong direction with its sequels, and Toho’s staff at the time wanted to make something that would ring true to the original movie and remove all the slapstick and comedy the franchise had become. As such, the VS series is a direct sequel to the 1954 movie, disregarding all others in favour of more serious theme.
The Return of Godzilla/ Godzilla, 1984
As the 40th anniversary movie, Godzilla sees the return of as the only monster. The themes are laid out straight; take Godzilla as a serious threat and treat Japan as the best nation in the world. I wish I was joking with the last bit.
The movie is not terribly complex otherwise, retreading some anti-nuclear weapon themes that the original did, but this time in a more Cold War way. The US and Soviets are ready to nuke Godzilla, but it is the Japanese prime minister that convinces both superpowers to stand down.
Not only that, but Japan has Super-X1, the most advanced super weapon in the world. Of course, things go awry as Godzilla damages Soviet sub and causes their missile to launch. The US military manages to intercept with their own above Tokyo, and the fallout from the missiles falls unto the city. Godzilla absorbs this radiation, leaving the city cleaner, which sort of adds to the theme of nature taking care of the shit humans do in a mistake.
Each VS series movie essentially has one line that hammers the message in. It makes easy to recognize the theme of the movie. One thing that should be noted about these post-original series movies is that they are far more serious and trying to root themselves to reality in some way. They are also rather different from Honda’s works, where humanity became more and more united. If anything else, Godzilla movies became more about the national pride and paints a less optimistic view on the world’s nations.
Another thing that Godzilla sets up and what is kept constant the rest of the VS series is that Godzilla is an animal. The nuclear analogue is downplayed unless relevant to the plots of the movies, and his animal side is emphasised further. No longer is it a hero character or the defender of Earth, but an animal that just wants to defend its territory. It doesn’t fight for the sake of Earth or humans, but for the sake of being the top predator. Unlike the original series’ Godzilla, this one would not evolve into a hero character with each incarnation.
Godzilla VS Biollante, 1989
There’s two themes; one being the rising genetics and the other being OPEC nations being awful to Japan.
VS Biollante is all about genetic tampering. The titular enemy, Biollante, is a cross between a rose, Godzilla’s and Genshiro Shirigami’s daughter’s cells to keep her soul alive. The movie is very direct about criticising scientist on tampering with the core blocks of living beings to the point of literally screaming it at the screen.
The OPEC nation theme comes from the spy-subplot, which is about an agent from the Republic of Saradia infiltrating Shirigami’s lab to steal his anti-nuclear bacteria created from Godzilla’s cells. During the latter 1980’s OPEC nations and Japan had somewhat tense relations overall, not just because of the oil glut. It didn’t help that the Japanese nationalism was in sort of all-time height with the Economy Bubble making new ways and Japanese corporations taking over worldwide. However, the following movie would take all that to another level.
This movie also introduced Saegusa Miki, who more or less is the main character of the VS series movies. She’s a psychic, and this sort of spiritual element exists to balance the raw, naked genetic superscience the movie has.
Godzilla VS King Ghidorah, 1991
This movie came out just as the Economy Bubble burst in Japan. In this movie, a group of people come from the future to remove Godzilla from history to prevent Japan’s destruction. In reality, they’re there to prevent Japan from becoming a world-wide superpower with the best economy, science and everything. Whoops.
The other theme is very much the reason why the US stopped importing Godzilla movies in VS Biollante.
Nationalism was a theme that was usually weaved into something else before this point, and now it’s just at its barest in the franchise. In VS King Ghidorah, pre-mutation Godzilla is presented to cover heroic Japanese soldiers on the Pacific, scaring American soldiers away. The depiction is as romantic view on the war as Japanese could get away, and wouldn’t fly anywhere else in the world.
With the Japanese economy bubble bursting in the 1991, this movie is probably the most mainstream example of failed expectations and hopes. Its themes were laughable at the time, as everyone knew what they were seeing on the screen was bullshit. It’s an enjoyable film, but sadly Hariken Ryu would only suitact in one more Godzilla work after this.
Godzilla VS Mothra, 1992
The reason why Mothra was brought back is because VS King Ghidorah sold well. Toho had banked on the most popular of Godzilla’s enemy, and wanted to repeat that success with bringing in their second most popular hero monster. However, Toho introduced a 90’s extreme take on Mothra, Battra. The theme is, of course, don’t fuck with nature. Otherwise it’ll strike back. Somehow, someday. Maybe with a meteor.
Both Mothra and Battra are creations of Gaia in this continuity, made to protect the Earth. However, as an ancient civilisation abused Earth, Gaia formed Battra as its violent weapon. In the movie, Battra wakes up to mess with people, but later turns out his mission was to defend Earth from an incoming meteor. Well, Mothra promises to take that task from him and the two beat Godzilla, creature made flesh by human ambition and foolishness.
Hariken Ryu acted Battra’s larvae form, and then vanished from the franchise. He still acted in other productions, some of which are stranger than you’d expect.
Godzilla VS MechaGodzilla, 1993
Third’s the charm, they say. While VS Mothra was relatively lacking in Japanese nationalism, it raises its head in VS MechaGodzilla, named VS MechaGodzilla 2 in some places, but giving it a number is just silly. It’s the Japanese superscience that yields them Mecha King Ghidorah’s remains into MechaGodzilla, and the rest of the world is left with remains. It’s not that the science or level of tech even gets an up-grade in the series after this. In addition to MechaGodzilla, Toho decided to introduce Rodan to the VS series in this entry to up the ante few notches. At this point, Toho was playing with nostalgia than anything else.
Cybernetics was popular topic again in SF circles at the time, and VS MechaGodzilla had a clearly defined theme and message related to the topic.
Godzilla VS Space Godzilla, 1994
The 40th anniversary of Godzilla repeated the same notes as it had two decades earlier; pitching a Godzilla against his evil clone. The main issue with this movie is that this is the second movie in row where Godzilla fights his copy, and it didn’t help that Biollante tied its origins to Godzilla as well. During the 1980’s and 1990’s there was a weird wish to pitch Godzilla against himself or his clone. VS Space Godzilla splits opinions and is probably the best example of direction degradation in the series, resulting in more beam spamming fights than ever before. The movie has a very simple and straightforward theme.
Yeah, there’s nothing much else to it. Maybe something about nature of mortality and how humans need to work together with nature to achieve far higher goals and state of harmony, otherwise freaks like Space Godzilla will appear. That’s stretching it though.
Godzilla VS Destroyah, 1995
This film was originally supposed to be Godzilla VS Ghost Godzilla, but it was shot down. God thank for that, the VS series already had enough Godzilla clones as is.
The marketing for this movie emphasized on one thing; Godzilla Dies. It wasn’t a secret or a spoiler, it was the selling point. Like Destroy All Monsters, it was supposed to be the final entry in the Godzilla franchise until the Americans would continue from there. The themes are just a tad more fulfilling in this movie.
First one is that the past we put behind will caught up on us if we just ignore it, and that we should not repeat those mistakes. The Oxygen Destroyer and the research into micro-oxygen echoes the choices Dr. Serizawa did in the 1954 Godzilla, and the scientists in this movie have to wrestle with their decisions about their research. Destoroyah is a more direct link, as it was awoken with the use of the Oxygen Destroyer, where it gets its names, and was further mutated. Essentially, the creature is Oxygen Destroyer given flesh, and just like in the 1954 movie, only human science can destroy what human science has created.
Death and rebirth is the last theme in the movie, with Godzilla Jr. absorbing the radioactive remains of its dead parent, becoming a full grown Godzilla on its own.
The long road to American Godzilla started in the 1980’s, I recommend reading this if you’re interested in it.
Disregarding the fact that it’s not terribly good film, it doesn’t exactly go against anything that Godzilla already was. To many it disregarded all that made Godzilla what it is, but as we’ve seen thus far, Godzilla isn’t one thing. Its movies have wide variety of themes and the monster is fit to those themes. This Godzilla, in a sense, is closer to the original 1954 combined with the animal elements from VS series. Emmerich’s Godzilla was not a super being and was tied to realism to an extent, something that many saw the first and probably the last final misstep.
This Godzilla vulnerable, but the main reason perhaps was because this Godzilla was not representation of the atomic bomb, but its victim. The whole atomic element is just as present as in later Godzilla movies, but the overall perception didn’t accept it. Mostly because the movie itself was not all that good, and the design was more along the lines of Raptors or T-Rex from Jurassic Park. Zilla, as it the monster would be later named by Toho, would be the monster that deviated the most from its source material in design, and would end up being a comparison point to many in not what to do.
Nevertheless, the movie’s theme is anti-nuclear weapon, concentrating on the French trying to correct their mistake and removing Godzilla from existence. Godzilla’s end in the hands of the military is seen as the final misstep by many, but one could argue that it is fitting for this creature. Zilla, who already was a victim on its own rights, was more or less an innocent creature that did not ask to exist, and just like it was born from a weapon, weapons took it down.
However, the reception of 1998 GODZILLA was less than stellar, and so Toho quickly kickstarted a new era of Godzilla movies.
X series / Millennium Series, 1999 – 2014
Back when Godzilla 2000: Millennium was announced, the Western fandom had no name for this new series. As the new movies in this era came out, names like X series was thrown out alongside Shinsei, a corruption of shin (meaning new) and Heisei, and the last one that Toho themselves seem to use is the Millennium series. It should be noted that the X in the movie titles is pronounced as Cross. This is yet another way Japanese started to denote sort of cross overs and versus producuts in the very late 1990’s. This is something that grew in size and spread to wider use. Project X Zone is an example of this, where people still mispronounce that X as eks instead.
Another notable aspect is that all movies par two are treated as reboots, only using the 1954 as their originator. Godzilla X MechaGodzilla and Tokyo SOS are the only titles that share the same continuity. This is theme on its own to these movies, where an overbearing respect towards the 1954 kept these movies to stand on their own, resorting to repeat the same thing as the 1984 Godzilla did.
Godzilla 2000: Millennium, 1999
It’s hard to argue that this movie was supposed to be Toho showing Americans how it’s done. Godzilla is the movie’s theme on itself, taking elements from previous incarnations and putting it all together. A child protagonist standing next to a scientist who has involvement with Godzilla, strange alien creature and of course, the fighting. The scientist, Yuji Shinoda, is more akin to a modern take on Yamane from the 1954 movie in that he wishes to study and preserve Godzilla.
Godzilla itself is treated like a force of nature that Shinoda tracks down and predicts where it will land, like it was a never stopping tornado. Environmental destruction and how easily things fall apart when Godzilla approaches is just one element people seem to have missed in the 1998 movie, which had more or less your usual monster movie devastation instead of massive all-out destruction. It also had a lot fish.
The enemy monster in this movie, Orga, carries a theme as well. At first it is in UFO form, and like all UFOs, it represents the unknown. However, this UFO also showcases the trust people put into modern computing technology and how easily those falter, something we experience almost every day in our lives to some extent.
But really, at its core the movie is a big Fuck You to 1998 GODZILLA.
Godzilla X Megaguirus / Godzilla X Megaguirus: G Shoumetsu Sakusen, 2000
Despite Toho kickstarting Godzilla again, the very second movie in their new series ran short. Much like how previous movies’ themes always had something about scientists’ responsibilities, X Megaguirus seems to take things up to eleven and warn humans not to mess with the fabric of reality with black hole generating machines. While the Large Hadron Collider wasn’t a thing at the time, this movie gets its ideas from old pulp fiction stories. It’s the same old Godzilla story of scientist invention going wrong and releasing something bad Godzilla to fight. Man screws up, nature cleans up. Rinse and repeat. People die because of misuse of technology.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that while we’ve seen a weather control device during the original series’ run, a dimensional gate is something different and could’ve offered better story possibilities. Hell, in this one Godzilla even destroys a micro-black hole. Despite the movie ending with the seeming end of Godzilla, his roar is heard as earthquake hits Tokyo, giving the final theme to the movie that you can’t kill Godzilla/ erase nature. Both of them will come back no matter how much humanity pushes them away.
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack / Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorahn, Daikaiju Soukougeki, 2001
GMK, as its know for short, was the most successful Godzilla movie in years. It’s easy to see why, as it brings back the monster mash format and has an all-star monster cast plus Baragon. Poor Baragon, it didn’t even make the title and doesn’t get much screentime.
The theme of this movie is rather harsh for the Japanese.
Japan has a culture of forgetting and ignoring. They are masters of turning away from what happens outside the window. GMK‘s theme is the Second World War and what happened in it. Despite how Japanese education system portrays the war, global information sharing does penetrate the surface. The Japanese war crimes is a topic on its own that I won’t touch upon, as this blog isn’t really about those. I recommend reading this introduction essay on the subject, if you’re interested.
As such, Godzilla in GMK is made to represent this theme. He is the amalgamation of dead soldiers from the Pacific, coming back to seek revenge on the wrong they’ve seen. While the movie uses some time to criticise Japan and war, it also has a nationalistic approach in the Guardian Deities of Yamato, which turn out to be Baragon, Mothra and King Ghidorah. The two more famous monsters were chosen solely because of marquee value.
While it retcons few things in regards the original movie and remakes Godzilla as an honest to God evil being for the first time, it manages to hold its themes tightly together.
Godzilla X MechaGodzilla, 2002
We’ve tread this region many times with previous entries; what man makes must be hold in tight control, otherwise it may lose control. This incarnation of MechaGodzilla, named Kiryu, is a cyborg build around the bones of the original Godzilla. This is a retcon, as the Oxygen Destroyer dissolved all of Godzilla in the 1954 movie, leaving nothing behind.
Nature tends to always strike back, and somehow the memory of that original Godzilla manages to take over the new cybernetic body, breaking its coding and goes downtown.
This movie is largely the first part of a two-part story, and as such its theme is more or less to show the setting to Tokyo SOS, where the themes come together better.
Tokyo SOS / Mothra X Godzilla X MechaGodzilla: TOKYO SOS, 2003
With Mothra’s involvement, we can guess the themes; does humanity have the right to meddle with the nature, are cybernetics ultimately anything positive and do we repeat the same mistakes always? These issues are largely discussed in few scenes and never given much weight outside the obvious, but this is a giant-monster film and not a Mamoru Oshii’s lecture.
A surprising element that pops up in the movie is that Mothra promises to protect Japan if they return Godzilla’s bones to the sea, where they belong. This could be seen as a sort of suggestion of letting go of technology, as we tend to abuse it and nature, and embrace a level of spirituality that seems to be lost to us. Of course, if they don’t, Mothra will enact war against humanity, which sorta adds a more violent element to the whole spiritual thing. Angry gods and all that jazz.
The movie ends in showing a set of DNA from other monsters, similar to what was made to create MechaGodzilla, giving the last theme of humanity never learning from their mistakes, and world history rhyming in its destruction.
Godzilla: Final Wars, 2004
50th anniversary movie. Loads of monsters, loads of fighting. Final Wars is a divisive flick that some love and others hate. It can’t be denied that it follows Destroy All Monsters‘ path of putting pretty much all of Toho’s monsters thus far, including Zilla, into the movie and having a full blown brawl. If the name Ryuhei Kitamura says anything to you, then you know what sort of action to wait. Kitamura’s Final Wars is perhaps the most fantastical of all Godzilla movies in that it introduces human mutants that fight monsters and defend humanity.
Turns out that gene that made these mutants is a heritage from X aliens.
Final Wars being a love letter to the whole franchise, it takes a lot of cues from the original series’ battles and humour while still keeping with the seriousness of the VS series combined with the modern take of the Millennium series. Celebration is its main theme, with humanity being able to choose its own path no matter the obstacles a close second.
It also has Super Mario wielding a katana and captaining the Gotengo.
Unlike in previous movies since 1984, Final Wars holds that optimistic view on humanity. Japan isn’t really treated on its own like in the rest of the Millennium series movies, but as a representatives. Don Frye as Captain Douglas Gordon is pretty much the only Western in the movie outside some stereotypical as hell scenes, but he steals every scene he is in. It’s a far more global movie than you’d expect.
With this, Toho put Godzilla back into ice for ten years. In 2012, the plans to resurrect the franchise was put into action while still giving SONY the option to make their own movie. Currently, SONY owns the global license to Godzilla through Legendary Pictures, while Toho keeps everything in Japan for themselves.
Meanwhile, few different version of Godzilla was supposed to be out, Godzilla 3D being the most famous. Nothing came out of these, until in 2009 Legendary had discussions with Toho only announce a Godzilla reboot in 2010. Lots of 1998 movie bashing was about, but was the movie any better thematically?
Visually speaking, Godzilla resembles how people see King of the Monsters in their heads. However, Godzilla in this film is neither the atomic bomb analogue nor its victim. Instead, Godzilla is an ancient creature that feeds on radioactivity. This raises a lot of questions about Godzilla’s biology, but that has never really made any sense.
Despite the creators claiming that this monster is closer to the 1954 version, this isn’t the case. While the scarring on it was the result of constant nuclear tests (which according to side material were made in order to try killing the monster), there’s really nothing against nuclear weapons in itself. Rather, the main carrying theme is human stupidity in repeated use of said weapons and reliance on them. This is because modern population barely has any connection to nuclear weapons and the horror they’ve spread. Japan has that stigma from it sure, but nuclear weapons are barely acknowledged as a threat nowadays. Instead, they’re a plot device.
Not to mention how dark the movie is, you can barely see anything. It’s like they were ashamed to show Godzilla in its full glory, and this scene were we first see it fully is about an hour into the movie. Then its cuts away
While human relations are a constant theme in each Godzilla movie to the point that I’m not even pointing them out outside Godzilla Raids Again, this movie emphasizes the Brody family’s broken relationship and encourages the viewer to reconsider their bad family relations, because you never know when it’s too late. Joe Brody’s obsession and death early in the movie carry to his son, and we have a theme of continuation.
The family as a theme also applies to the M.U.T.O. creatures, as they are intend to create a family that’d take over the world. Of course, Godzilla steps in and rips them a new one. Why? The M.U.T.O. are natural enemies to Godzilla’s species and fight because Shut Up this is Godzilla and Godzilla fights other giant monsters. That is a theme; the perceived status of Godzilla in the American eyes. It’s a sort of throwback to original series’ heroic Godzilla with a dash of VS series’ animalistic anti-hero.
Shin Godzilla / Godzilla Resurgence, 2016
I feel that I can’t comment on the themes of this movie without seeing it first. However, from the spoilers from those who have seen it in the theatres we can deduce few things. First is that the movie criticises Japanese politics. The 1954 Godzilla was a political movie as well, but it was about mending the wounds from the war. In this era, where the Fukushima Incident is not a far off memory, we have seen Japanese governmental officials barely lifting a finger and rolling around. Just like in GMK, where Japan was reminded to remember the war, it would seem Anno has written a script that reminds human powerlessness in face of natural disasters. We can only react. Human ingenuity and cooperation is the only way to solve these situation, not turning away from them.
The design of Godzilla in this movie harkens back to the original design. Its face are blown and burnt with dot eyes sitting in its head. Its skin is covered what resembles keloid scarring and ichtyosis. Its arms are scrawny, and posed in similar position to the original 1954 design. It is a terrifying behemoth, but what it holds will be left as an open question until I’ve sat down and watched the movie.