Hello everyone, Julien here. I’m glad to see quite a few of you are enjoying the blog, and I apologize for the large span of time between updates. I’m currently attending film school, and working on my senior project, so I’m quite busy. Anyways, I’ve mainly posted items about movies made or upcoming, but I wanted to post something that’s more opinionated to just share my thoughts.
So since this blog is about indie kaiju films, I wanted to explore the history of the genre and how we got to this point. So I will be dividing this article into three posts, exploring the different stages as I see them: Rise Of The Kaiju Genre, The Fall Of The Genre, and The Resurgence. I will stipulate ahead of time that these are all based on my observations and perspective, so if you disagree please feel free to comment! So, let’s get started!
Rise Of The Kaiju Genre
Let’s start at the very beginning. To 1933. Not the year you were expecting? Or maybe you were. Well this was the year the very first King Kong film was released by RKO Pictures. Featuring stop-motion dinosaurs, flying lizards, and a giant ape loose in New York City, this film was the originator of the monster film as we now know it. The film would go on to spawn a sequel “Son Of Kong” which was never well received. Fast forward 20 years, to 1953, to The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. The story of a creature, released from ice by nuclear testing, and later on rampages through a city. It also featured stop-motion for the creature, the Rhedosaurus. This film was the spawn of several 1950s monster films, including Them! and The Deadly Mantis. There several “B-Movies” in America in this time period.
Across the pacific, Japan was reconstructing in the aftermath of World War 2, and living through the scars of two nuclear bombings. In March 1954, the fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5 was contaminated and the crew became sick, having been exposed to fallout from the Castle Bravo Nuclear Tests. Toho Studios in Tokyo was looking for their next big project and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was inspired by Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and brought on Ishiro Honda as director. Together with SPFX artist Eij Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube, they created the motion picture Gojira. The film was a huge success, because the people of the Japan had lived through the nuclear attacks. Toho then began to spit out giant monster movies, beginning with Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Rodan (1956), Varan The Unbelievable (1958). These movies feature men in suits, instead of stop motion, and feature massive city destruction and usually an inability by military forces to destroy these creatures. Also usually awakened or influenced by nuclear testing in some way. The biggest differences between these movies, now called “Kaiju” films, and the American B-Movies, was that the monsters were larger, more destructive, and portrayed by men in suits.
As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, the monster movies began to fade away in America. In Japan, they continued in full force. Adding another monster to their roster, in 1961 they released Mothra, the giant butterfly accompanied by the twins. 1962, Toho bought the rights to the monster that started It all King Kong, and pitted him against their creation Godzilla. King Kong vs Godzilla was another huge success, and secured Godzilla as an icon. The series continued, when in 1963 Godzilla was pitted against Mothra. In 1964, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster was released. Featuring Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, and introducing King Ghidorah, Godzilla’s most famous adversary, the film was a tour de force. Godzilla had come a long way, and was now becoming a hero to Japan. While Godzilla was Toho’s most famous creation, they continued to make over kaiju films. 1965 saw the release of Frankenstein Conquers The World, and War Of The Gargantuas was released in 1966. King Kong returned again in King Kong Escapes, fighting his mechanical double.
While King Kong and now Godzilla, were staples of the monster genre and Toho was king, other studios in Japan and across the world were attempting their own giant monsters. In the UK, in 1962, the film Gorgo was released. The film was very much inspired by King Kong and Godzilla, and featured a mother creature seeking her young child taken to England to de displayed. In South Korea, in 1967, the film Yonggary was released, which featured a fire breathing monster that drinks oil. Back in Japan, several studios created their own monsters, which included The X From Outer Space (1967). Daiei Studios in 1965 created their own rival to Godzilla, the flying and flame breathing turtle Gamera. Gamera tells the story of a giant monster awakened from the ice by a nuclear explosion (sound familiar?). Gamera would go onto to have several sequels leading into the 1970s.
The 1960s is now called the Golden Age of Kaiju films. In 1966, Eiji Tsuburaya started the show Ultraman, which featured the hero fighting giant monsters in every episode and began a long running series. Toho was king, but there were imitators and rivals everywhere. Godzilla was the icon, the example. But as with all things, times change, and as the 1970s rolled the golden age would begin to end….
Read on to part two of my series on Kaiju History.