The renowned monster from Japan, Godzilla, is making a comeback on the big screen in Takashi Yamazaki’s new film “Godzilla Minus One.” While we wait for its release, let’s take a moment to appreciate the lasting impact of Godzilla. Originally symbolizing the horrors of nuclear warfare, this kaiju has undergone various interpretations. However, its significance in cinema history goes beyond appearances, as it represents thought-provoking concepts. Despite the franchise’s occasional ups and downs, there are numerous great and even exceptional films within it. Let’s explore some of Godzilla’s greatest successes over the years.
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1. Godzilla (1954)
The original movie that started it all. “Godzilla” remains a masterpiece even after all these years. Ishiro Honda creates a simple yet impactful story that contains deep metaphors, depicting the atrocities of nuclear warfare through the eyes of a country still recovering from its aftermath. The film’s anti-war message is still as relevant and impactful today. The strong performances from an exceptional cast, particularly Akihiko Hirata and Takashi Shimura, add to the heavy experience. The special effects, directed by Eiji Tsuburaya, may not be perfect but are still impressive for their time and hold up well even now. Akira Ifukube’s incredible musical score adds an extra layer of emotional intensity to the film.
In his review, Rouven Linnarz discusses the nightmarish imagery portrayed in the film.
The aftermath of the creature’s destruction contains significant references to the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as noted by one of the characters. This further complicates the dilemma faced by the scientists. (Rouven Linnarz)
The battle between King Kong and Godzilla took place in 1962.
In “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” two of the most famous monsters in cinema fight each other in a groundbreaking film. This movie is quite different from its predecessors, as it has a more lighthearted tone and noticeable budget cuts. However, it is still an enjoyable film with its campy nature, simplistic monster designs, and thrilling finale. Beyond its silliness, the movie also cleverly satirizes the rise of television in Japan at the time, highlighting the influence of commercialism on viewership. Ironically, the film predicts the significant impact of TV on the Japanese film industry in the future, leading to compromised production values and declining box office success.
Thor brings up an intriguing piece of information about the making of the film in his critique.
Honda initially planned to create the film using stop motion animation. However, due to limited funds, this proved to be unfeasible. As a result, they resorted to an alternative plan: actors in costumes interacting and crushing models. Interestingly, this approach became the benchmark for numerous future creature films. (Thor)
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3. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
The original film “Mothra” is considered a classic and its sequel, “Mothra vs. Godzilla,” only adds to the popularity and lasting impact of the two title monsters on cinema. This movie provides a highly entertaining and creative experience, with the return of the Shobojin, portrayed by twin sisters Emi and Yumi Ito, who were also part of the popular music group The Peanuts. Along with its captivating fantasy elements, the film also offers thought-provoking commentary on capitalism and humanity’s destructive impact on the environment. Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects are notably impressive for its time and Akira Ifukube’s musical score is exceptional.
The movie Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was released in 1964.
This movie represents a significant shift in Godzilla’s character, as he evolves from a villain to an anti-hero. It also includes the introduction of King Ghidorah, one of the franchise’s most well-known adversaries. Mothra makes a return, while Rodan also makes an appearance. Rodan is a kaiju who had previously starred in their own film. “Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster” is more lighthearted than its predecessor, blending science fiction elements with a crime plot in an entertaining way. Fortunately, these two storylines do not clash and are well-blended. While many later films struggled with utilizing Ghidorah effectively, here he is portrayed as a formidable antagonist, resembling a malevolent and unstoppable yokai from Japanese mythology. The presence of multiple monsters teaming up adds to the sense of threat that Ghidorah possesses.
5. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
The 1960s sci-fi film “Invasion of Astro-Monster” is a highly enjoyable piece of entertainment, featuring impressive sets, thrilling action sequences, and unforgettable characters. The concept of an alien invasion would become a recurring theme throughout the Showa era, but few were able to capture the same magic as this film. This is largely due to the exceptional cast, which includes the charming Nick Adams, clever Akira Takarada, captivating Kumi Mizuno, and delightfully sinister Yoshio Tsuchiya. Notably, the film also includes Godzilla’s iconic victory dance, inspired by a comical pose from the manga series “Osomatsu-kun.”
6. Son of Godzilla (1967)
Despite its silly and comedic nature, the movie “Son of Godzilla” also has a strong emotional core, with the ending being one of the most heartwarming moments in the franchise. The concept of the titular monster taking on a parental role could have been uninteresting, but Jun Fukuda’s skilled direction creates an enjoyable dynamic between Godzilla and Minilla. The island setting also allows for the human characters to have a significant role in the story. Although the villains, Kamacuras and Kumonga, are more traditional enemies, they are still memorable and brought to life through impressive special effects for its time.
7. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
Yoshimitsu Banno’s “Godzilla vs. Hedorah” has divided opinions. Its unconventional approach and bold direction may not be everyone’s taste, but this film also has a strong appeal. It effectively depicts Japan’s deep-seated fear of environmental destruction caused by human actions and the prevalent drug culture of the 1970s, delivering a message that, while not subtle, holds a lot of truth. Adding to the tension and fear is the perspective of a child, played by Hiroyuki Kawase, who may be familiar to fans of Japanese cinema for his role as the beggar’s son in Akira Kurosawa’s “Dodes’ka-den.” The movie is highly enjoyable, with humorous moments of Godzilla’s unexpected transformation into a hero and plenty of chilling scenes, including Hedorah, one of the most terrifying kaiju in the franchise.
8. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Jun Fukuda’s last addition to the franchise may not be a thought-provoking film, but the fast-paced action of “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” ensures an enjoyable experience. Fully embracing its campy nature and featuring thrilling kaiju battles, this movie serves as a memorable introduction for one of the franchise’s beloved characters, Mechagodzilla. King Caesar also adds to the chaotic fun of the film, skillfully incorporating Okinawa’s setting into the plot. Masaru Sato’s music score adds a vibrant touch to the often colorful visuals of the movie.
9. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
“Terror of Mechagodzilla” is not just a fun sequel, it is also a well-crafted and compelling final film directed by Ishiro Honda. With a darker tone and a focus on human drama, this movie serves as a gripping conclusion to the classic Showa era of the franchise. It successfully maintains the energy of its predecessor while also incorporating emotional moments, thanks to stellar performances by Akihiko Hirata and Tomoko Ai. The special effects by Teruyoshi Nakano are impressive, and the kaiju Titanosaurus deserves more recognition for its appearance in this film.
10. The Return of Godzilla (1984)
The beginning of the Heisei series is marked by “The Return of Godzilla”, although it is technically the last Showa film in the franchise. After years of lighter films aimed at a younger audience, Koji Hashimoto returns the series to its dark symbolic roots as a reflection of the devastating effects of nuclear warfare. This reboot is heavily influenced by the tense climate of the Cold War. The special effects, crafted by Teruyoshi Nakano, are exceptional and the musical score, composed by Reijiro Koroku, is both ominous and beautiful. Beyond the impressive technical aspects of the film, the human drama is equally compelling. Keiju Kobayashi delivers a standout performance as the Japanese prime minister. Godzilla reprises its role as a villainous monster, but also evokes feelings of sadness as a mutated creature struggling to survive.
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