Wednesday, January 11, 2017

King of the Monsters; The Godzilla Essentials

With a 62-year career of smashing, punching, and blasting, movie-mogul Toho's star Godzilla has become an international icon of both fun and destruction. However, despite being a household name, few have seen the films that made him the monster he is today.

31 movies can be quite the daunting number, however; and besides, how should the unfamiliar viewer decide which are worth the time, and which to throw back in the dollar bin? Being a massive fan of the Kaiju (Japanese for 'strange monster') genre, I've chosen five essential films which describe the series as a whole, in no particular order except release date.


The classic, the favorite; the first, and to many, best installment. 1954's Gojira pushes uniquely dark and socially relevant ideas for such a basic genre, particularly for the B-Movie adoring era it was made in. 

As many know, the film creates a metaphor for the horrific nuclear attacks which onced wiped out various Japanese cities via Godzilla himself, making a basic simile prove in and of itself how devastating the damage truly was. 

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki-esque visuals can be strikingly powerful, and the questions asked concerning progress versus humanity remain relevant to this very day. 

Full of great directing, a morally gripping story, and lots of food for thought, Gojira is an absolute for any newcomer to the series. 

Godzilla Vs. MechaGodzilla & Terror of MechaGodzilla

The MechaGodzilla duology brought a close to the twenty-one year long original era of Godzilla films (spanning from 1954 to 1975), pitting the nuclear monster against his greatest foe yet; himself. The two movies shine a light on both sides of this era; the dark, thoughtful side of films such as the aforementioned Gojira, and the 'cheesy' family features made infamous by late-night moviethons. Due to the films  being directly connected, I am discussing both in one entry.

Vs. tells the story of horror-turned-antihero Godzilla and local deity King Ceasar against the unnatural impersonator MechaGodzilla, created by a league of apelike invaders (no doubt inspired by Planet of the Apes) dead set upon the destruction of Japan. The movie has a generally light feel, with plenty of colors and a simple, yet enjoyable cast. Though not exactly a great film on it's own merits, it does a good job summarizing 'heroic' Godzilla.

Terror, taking place immediately after Vs., pits Godzilla again against his metallic counterpart, whom is now joined by fishlike beast Titanosaurus (likewise controlled by the Invaders). The plot is much more focused on the cast, however. A tragic love, a tortured scientist, feelings of entrapment and defeat; though not intended as a finale, it serves extremely well as one, crushing near all shreds of hope and raising the stakes to new highs.

Fundamentally different, the two movies give a solid brief insight into the variety that was the earlier run of Godzilla's career. Not only do they offer plenty of mega-monster fun, but some genuinely well-done filmmaking that will leave you impressed. 

Godzilla Vs. Biollante

Nominated as Japan's all-time favorite Godzilla film in a recent poll, Biollante is often regarded as one of the finest modern installments to the series. Being the second in an all-new continuity of Biollante cemented a darker, more realistic take on the famous creature.

Following a complex series of international complications, military attacks, industrial espionage, and oddball scientific discoveries, this movie takes on far more than perhaps any previous Godzilla. The film is loaded to the brim with plotlines and characters, but hardly grows confusing or uninteresting - in fact, it's really quite the opposite, with some truly compelling beats and concepts. 

Among all this, there's actually a very heavy focus on Godzilla and rose-based atrocity Biollante (a creature mutated from Godzilla himself via some literal mad science). The monsters' scenes are divided neatly between classic Godzilla destruction and one-on-one brawls, giving a little taste of both ends of the spectrum.

The effects are particularly impressive (which may come as a surprise to the unfamiliar viewer), lookings particularly realistic and demanding onscreen. Godzilla is expressive and menacing, and Biollante - a massive and intricate Little Shop of Horrors style puppet - is a marvel of practical effects. 

Biollante, not unlike the MechaGodzilla films, gives one a feel for the various styles within the second series of Godzilla movies. Along with this, it's extremely well-done technically, being a strong thrill-ride all the way through. Looks like the entirety of Japan may have been right, after all.

Giant Monsters All-Out Attack

The era of films between 1984 and 1995 followed a relatively strict, solid reality, barring any especially new concepts from being considered. Toho's next run of Godzilla adventures, made between 1999 and 2004, specifically opted out of this confining build, going instead for an anthology of similar, yet totally unrelated movies.

Though the final results were not as varied as likely intended, a shining example of the new era's potential came in 2001's Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. Directed by Kaiju superstar Shusuke Kaneko, the film served as a strong, yet totally new direct sequel to Gojira, taking on it's own array of metaphors alongside excellently conducted filmmaking.

Angered by Japan's modern state of self-pride and arrogance, spirits of those lost to the horrors of World War Two infest Godzilla's remains, rebirthing the now long-forgotten creature and using his incredible power to take vengeance against their peoples for bashing the traditions of old. However, three of Earth's Guardian Monsters - Baragon, Mothra, and Ghidorah - are released from an ancient slumber to attempt to quell the unholy giant. Following a filmmaker determined to prove her worth, a military stunned by an array of unbeatable foes, and a cast of colorful, yet strong characters, the movie is perhaps one of the closest times a Godzilla venture has come to resembling any typical American action feature.

Though packaged as a Hollywood style monster mash, Monsters is filled to the brim with subtle metaphors concerning Japan's denial and hiding of it's sometimes troubled past, and society's growing distaste for the wise words of our elders. The film feels both classic and modern, combining unique elements of mysticism to a world awestruck by such terrible creatures. It's one of the few entries that feels like a truly filly-realized production - with messages that are all relevant, effects that rival even the newest installments, an unforgettable array of characters, and some of the best action the series has ever seen.

These selections are only some of what the long, varied series has to offer; providing a small taste of what each movie's avenues have to offer. With near limitless creativity and unique intent, the Godzilla films have a little something for everyone; even if that something is the thrill of smashing and bashing.

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