Hello again everyone, and welcome back to my three part series on the history of kaiju films. This series is exploring how the genre has transformed over the past 60 years, and how we have come to this point. So when we last left off, we were at the end of the 1960s, peace and love were in the air, the Beatles were the rage, and a little boy hung out with Minilla, who taught him how to fight off crooks. Wait, what? Read on….
Fall Of The Kaiju Genre
In 1971, Godzilla battled a new foe, in the spectacular and interesting film Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Followed afterwards by Godzilla vs. Gigan, and Godzilla vs. Megalon. These films were quite weaker than the rest of the series had been, and back to harken the beginning of the end. Godzilla had a slight return to form with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in 74’ and Terror Of Mechagodzilla in 75’, but it was not enough to continue the series. Godzilla was retired. Gamera continued to fight creatures and save children, until he too was retired in the very poorly made Gamera: Super Monster, which was mainly composed of stock footage from previous films. And in 1977, King Kong was remade, featuring Jeff Bridges and this time Kong was portrayed by a man in a suit. The late 70s moved away from Kaiju films, as movies such as Jaws and Alien took over the monster genre.
Toho did not let Godzilla rest for long, and in 1985 he returned in fierce some new form. The film was a strong enough success in Japan to warrant a sequel, and in 1989 came what is regarded by some to be one of the best films of the series Godzilla vs. Biollante. This film featured some pretty impressive effects for the time, but it did not fare well at the box office. It would lead to a string of sequels, bringing back old Godzilla foes such as King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla. This era is called the Heisei era of films, and is considered by some to be the best series of Godzilla films. This era ended with Godzilla vs. Destroyer in 1995, which led the way for a sony produced American remake of Godzilla which released in 1998. The film was a debacle, having been made by the dynamic duo that gave us Independence Day and was nothing like the original Godzilla. This would cause Toho to resurrect Godzilla with Godzilla 2000, which was an attempt to cleanse our minds of the mess we were given. A new series continued afterwards, culminating in another debacle, Godzilla Final Wars. This film was meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the big G, and was filled with monsters, crazy effects, and MMA superstars. Yet, it was also poorly paced, all over the place, and Godzilla wasn’t really in it. The film’s lack of success caused Toho to put Godzilla to sleep for a few years. Toho had briefly brought Mothra back after 1995, for a mothra trilogy that was aimed mainly at kids but did feature King Ghidorah looking pretty awesome. But this series was just for kids programming and was not able to capture an older audience. The films themselves are not well rated and are generally weaker films in the kaiju genre.
Meanwhile, at the former Daiei pictures now known as Kadokawa Pictures, the fire breathing turtle was being reborn. In 1995, they released Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe. The film was a success, and was able to modernize Gamera in many ways that Toho could not even modernize their own famous star. The film spawned two sequels, and the series as a whole is widely acclaimed in the kaiju genre. The series features great spfx, good monster designs, interesting characters, and a very dark tone. The director, Kaneko, would go on to direct Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah in 2001. The last Gamera film was released in 1999, at the turn of the century.
From the 1980s onwards, kaiju films as a whole had diminished in popularity. They became kitschy, and were not taken seriously at a whole. And most American audiences had little exposure to Godzilla outside of reruns of Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. Hedorah. It’s no wonder that Godzilla 1998 came out the way it did, because people did not take Godzilla seriously. And the millennium Godzilla films were not able to get people excited about the big G. On the other hand, Gamera was able to successful, and to show there was still merit in giant monster films. After Godzilla: Final Wars was released, many fans wondered how long it would be until the king would return. Read on to part three of my series….