1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Close The Door, Raymond
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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#301 Post by Close The Door, Raymond » Tue Nov 26, 2019 3:21 am

headacheboy wrote:
Sat Nov 02, 2019 4:29 pm
I picked this up at Barnes today for 50% off (and having a membership card gets an additional $11.25 knocked off for a grand total of $101.25) and I've been going through the discs seeing what bonus features are available. I didn't realize that the bulk of the bonus features are found on Disc 8. The biggest surprise on that Supplements disc was finding the Japanese version of King Kong Vs Godzilla. I hadn't read anywhere that that was making an appearance as a bonus feature.

(And by the way, I've never had that 10% off work when I use their mail-order. The only way it ever seems to work is by going in and physically buying something.)
The B&N membership stopped giving the 10 percent discount for online purchases a few years ago. I wish they would re-consider bringing it back. I used to buy a lot back then.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#302 Post by Calvin » Sat Dec 21, 2019 6:24 pm

As of week ending November 10th, this had sold 41,301 units.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#303 Post by kidc » Thu Dec 26, 2019 7:26 pm

Calvin wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 6:24 pm
As of week ending November 10th, this had sold 41,301 units.
That's interesting. Do we know numbers for other recent releases?

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#304 Post by tenia » Fri Dec 27, 2019 6:53 am

Judging by the weekly charts, it looks like none recently sold more than 6-10 000 BDs in a single week and more than 10-15 000 combined DVDs and BDs in a single week.
It's also always fascinating being reminded of the gap in sales between the top 3 and anything below that.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#305 Post by knives » Thu Jul 23, 2020 3:07 pm

Turns out I hadn't actually seen Son of Godzilla before. This has an absolutely atrocious reputation, but to be honest it's a lot of fun and sort of an ideal of what children's entertainment should be with constant invention, probably the best puppet work in the series, and a lot of relatable for those little ones situations.

Honestly, even the humans were pretty interesting this go around with the female lead in particular just being a fun character.

The film is also interesting from an adult perspective in those human parts because of the difference from the first film and the difference from today it presents. This is a film of real scientific optimism. They have a problem and are working ethically to ensure things go well. Living with Howard Hawks so much lately Fukuda seems to thrive on a candied pop tart version of that professionalism. The movie really does love hard work.

Going back to optimism Godzilla as frustrated single dad as well seems to show a Newfoundland trust in nuclear energy. Eventually for Honda the kaiju became a mystical thing, but Fukuda treats him as a legacy character during his tenure. That legacy involves something about nuclear energy and so is now Toho's savior of the universe.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#306 Post by Big Ben » Thu Jul 23, 2020 3:47 pm

Honda to the best of my knowledge was acutely aware of how batshit insane Godzilla had become at that point and attempted to include elements that would liven the films up or rather, semi-legitimize them artistically as the films because more and more cartoonish. Even what I would argue is the worst Godzilla film ever made, All Monsters Attack includes some commentary on class in Japan. Mind you this film is consists largely of stock footage from other Godzilla films and what little that is actually new in the film is downright atrocious. It's a bad, bad film but it's obvious Honda tried to make the best of it which I would argue counts for something. The films work as a pretty good time capsule of Japan though so there's some worth examining them in a cultural context particularly in the way Godzilla morphs from embodiment of a nation's collective fears to a cultural icon and protector.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#307 Post by knives » Fri Jul 24, 2020 11:55 am

I hated All Monsters Attack (know to me as Godzilla's Revenge) one as a kid, but to be honest watching it for the first time in twenty years its actually pretty great and probably the most thematically compelling film since the original. This is the one I had confused with Son of Godzilla which is part of why I'm posting on it. The other reason is that I found it to be compelling on every level. It's basically like Honda was commissioned to do a Godzilla film and decided to shoot an Ozu childhood drama instead (Honda is very different from Ozu so it's the genre I'm bringing up).

The movie very touchingly deals with childhood anxieties of living up to expectations, fitting in with peers, and fears of violence. The movie's morality is an old school one, no surprise it ends like Rocky V, but handles that idea so well that even the conclusion is a sympathetic one that offers no real answers, at least with the parents, and just tries to provide catharsis.

Even the monster footage is used in a really impressive way. In story it provides a creative outlet to make the internal processes of thought explicit so that our lead can work through his issues by playing them out and directing them to see what works. That would be well and good by itself, but what takes this technique one step further is how Honda connects the stock footage to this device. Our little boy doesn't start out the most creative tyke and he just plays out the scenes from the movies he loves with little rhyme or reason. Only once he discovers a therapeutic use for his dreams does creativity begin. First he downgrades Minila to have a partner to narrate the action and give it story. Next he begins the provide new ideas in the form of new footage. It starts small the way a child would have it first with a new monster then with an old scene played out with new footage (the famous tail stomping), before finally having it come together in a climatic fashion with all new footage.

In ripping off Gamera that movie does that series a million times better and provides a truly great feature. If this was called The Never Ending Story or Little Ichiro in Monsterland I imagine this would be much more warmly received. (this is all just my way of getting Domino to watch a movie I think he might like)

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#308 Post by YnEoS » Mon Jul 27, 2020 2:48 pm

Earlier this year I ended up going through most of the Godzilla series with some friends, we didn't watch every single film, but we did end up watching most of them. I've had a bunch of thoughts on the series floating around my head for a while and figure this would be a good place to leave some of my thoughts. Wasn't really planning on doing a big write up, so I'll only comment on films where I have something to say.

Since this will be a long post anyways, I'll offer some quick background on my history with the series and expectations, but feel free to skip down to my thoughts on individual films. I started watching these movies dubbed in English when I was very young. Later when the videogames came out, I was curious to see the movies with all the monsters I hadn't heard of, and ended up seeking out the films more actively and looking for subtitled copies. However I haven't really revisited the series since taking a more sincere interest in film history, so this was my first time sort of seriously looking at them in their historical context and having a benchmark of other kinds of genre films from this era to compare them too.

I used the Kalat book for additional background, and don't consider myself especially versed in this era of Japanese studio filmmaking, though I've seen plenty of the major films. I also had a friend who had re-watched the series himself not long ago and he kind of helped set some of my expectations. A big blindspot for me was the first batch of Showa era films, since as a kid I was more interested in the kaiju I thought looked the coolest, so I'd skipped a few of the earlier films outside of the original 1954 film, and only knew the later 60s and 70s Showa era with kaiju like Ghidorah, Gigan, and Mechagodzilla.

Since Kalat and my friend had mentioned that the earlier films had bigger budgets and were more polished I was most excited to see how these compared to the cheaper Showa fair I was more familiar with. And while I always loved the scores as a kid, I didn't know too much about Ifukube, or the involvement of The Peanuts on the early Mothra films, so I was especially interested in the musical component this time. I also appreciated what Kalat mentioned about the greater detail of the miniature sets that using guys in suits allowed as opposed to the smaller stop-motion animation sets. My expectation for the pacing and fight choreography weren't too high from similar films I've seen from this era, but I like the characters so I was hoping to appreciate some of the unique features of the genre and find some good films in there.

King Kong vs. Godzilla I think was my biggest dissapointment of this whole set of viewings, mostly since Kalat and my friend had hyped this one up as sort of the high benchmark of the Showa era with the most resources behind it and the best score. I don't remember all my specific complaints, but I found the pacing pretty uneven and awkard and the effects not impressive enough to compensate. The score is nice, but I found that while Ifukube composed some great themes during this era, it felt like the technical side of the process probably hindered him from really integrating the music fully with the action.

Mothra vs. Godzilla fortunately was much better, and easily my favorite Honda directed film from the Vs era. Even if this didn't have the same budgetary resources as Kong, I felt like the technical experience the crew had gained was huge and this overall felt like the most polished efforts of the Showa era. The egg and the Mothra faeries help make the human sections a lot more interesting, and I loved that there was music playing whenever The Peanuts were on screen. Also unlike the standalone Mothra film they let the Peanuts sing their songs in their entirety without feeling like they needed to drop exposition dialog over it. Some really inspired moment of monster suit acting in the final battle.

Spoilery thoughts about Mothra's roles over the entire Franchise:
Reading some comments on some of the youtube videos of the Mothra score for the more recent American film, I've been a bit put off how the enthusiasm some fans have around Mothra getting killed off and laying an egg and how its become the normal expectation for her story arc. It feels like because she's the kaiju that's most associated with having kids she's seen as expendable once she's made sure the next Mothra will come along. It started in this film, but it didn't really start becoming the norm until every millenium era film did it. I generally prefer when Mothra gets to lead a healthy long life. It works okay in this first film, when she's the main character and her children get revenge, but it feels extra insulting when she's more of an expendable side-kick and she's just expected to show up, use the scales and lay an egg before dying off.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster, and Destroy All Monsters all felt rather interchangeable to me, and in general I think Ghidorah is a really boring opponent in terms of fight choreography. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was probably my favorite overall because it has the Mothra faeries and the interaction between the kaiju. The goofy sci-fi elements of the other 2 films weren't really enough to make them worthwhile for me, but they have their appeal. Destroy All Monsters definitely has the best Ifukube theme, although its just repeated at various big moments rather than evolving.

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep was imperfect in some ways, but overall one of the most fun films of the Showa era, and I would highlight it as the best Fukuda directed film. As much as I like the Ifukube scores, Masaru Sato also does a really good job here, and I just love the surf-rock inspired themes here. We also get some of the sillier kaiju fights and lots of spy film shennigans to keep everything running along. And as Kalat points out the moment where the young folks stumble upon the sleeping Godzilla is one of his best introductions. I also won't ever be upset about a Mothra appearance even if she has relatively little to do here, and we get the second rate mothra faeries rather than the Peanuts. I do however agree with Fukuda's own criticisms that its trying to be two films and doesn't get to do either of them as successfully as it might've, and as much as I love the score, its still poorly integrated at times and sometimes drops out when it would've been better if it kept playing.

Son of Godzilla is not a film I'd generally recommend, but I found myself enjoying it quite a lot. Its definitely some of the worst suits of the series, but I still find them charming, and I'm generally pro Godzilla being a Dad, even when his kid is Minilla and he's a bit of an abusive/absent father. But there's a surprisingly lot of kaiju action here despite its more casual pace, with some of Fukuda's great rock throwing montages complete with over detailed eye reaction shots. I also enjoy seeing more of the kaiju/miniatures just hanging out and not always wrecking cities or fighting, and the Masaru Sato score is a great compliment to this mood. The ending also feels kind of like a weird morbid Christmas movie. Its definitely a mess, but there's a lot of fun things here.

We skipped over All Monsters Attack I know it has its proponents, but I remember the themes of the ending theme being completely non-sensical when I originally watched it, and I enjoy the two early Fukuda films so much that I didn't really care to see the footage re-purposed here.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah as I'm sure fans already know is crazy and brilliant. The effects hold up read well considering its a really low budget effort in the film. I don't have too many specifics to add but I'm fully behind Yoshimitsu Banno's wacky concept and the Riichiro Manabe score fits perfectly.

Godzila vs. Gigan is not great, but it does some things worth appreciating. The weird meta-commentary following a failed kaiju concept-artist the same time the series pulls out its own craziest kaiju design. This also has the first big nighttime finale which sets a nice mood, and I appreciate some of the tag team battle strategies (mostly just because Anguirus was my favorite as a kid). The lack of budget does hold it back from being completely enjoyable though.

Godzilla vs. Megalon definitely the best so-bad-its-good Godzilla to have a laugh at, as is well known, so I don't have too much to add. Riichiro Manabe's score doesn't suit a normal Godzilla film at all though.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla starts out really strong by frontloading all its budget for big kaiju battles. The middle is still a slog, and the final battle rushed, but its passable sci-fi fun.

Terror of Mechagodzilla I did apprecaite for its gothic atmosphere, but as intersting as it is, the kaiju segments are still too few and far between and unnecessary to make it really work together. Another intersting, but middling experiment.

I guess the rest of the series would be abit off topic for this thread, but I'll leave some quick thoughts, and I can move them elsewhere if its inappropriate for here.
The Heisei era I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to, and I think its where Ifukube really gets to let his scores reach their full potential.

Godzilla vs. Mothra is probably the best Mothra film after the original. I know some fans don't like the pacing, and its not perfect, but I really enjoyed it still.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II has the best score and pacing overall from the Heisei era, and the goofy pteranodon expert makes for the best human protagonist.

Godzilla vs. Destroyah I agree with Kalat is better than the sum of its parts, its clunky in the beginning, but the score is great and if you are attached to the Godzilla character its hard not to get teary eyed.

Rebirth of Mothra 3 was the only decent film of that franchise. Its plotline is pretty goofy, but I'll take any passable Mothra focused film they'll give me, and it was nice to more of the storyline from the perspective of the Mothra faeries.

The Millenium era I found mostly unwatchable outside of Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus could be a fun movie if anyone ever re-did the CGI and re-edited it so the human parts don't completely kill the pacing during the well choreographed fight scenes.

I have to say when I finished revisiting the series, I remembered as a kid I mostly wanted to enjoy these movies more than I actually did. Reading the Kalat about how the films kept losing money whenever they rebooted the series, but then toy sales prompted them to give it another go, it made me wonder if people actually enjoy all these movies themselves, as opposed to enjoying the characters and hoping the movies will do them justice. Overall I think there are much more fun genre films than the majority of these, and even in the "silly bad" ones there's better things to watch out there.

But there are some nice aspects to the series that aren't available in other kinds of films, and it did manage to build on its characters over the decades where other kaiju series haven't come close to having as good a run. I wouldn't heavily recommend these over other genre films, but here's the lineup I generally suggest for anyone curious to dip into the series.

Godzilla (1954)
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
The Return of Godzilla (1984)
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)
Rebirth of Mothra 3 (1998)
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Shin Godzilla (2016)

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#309 Post by knives » Mon Jul 27, 2020 3:32 pm

Darwined! That's what I get for waiting to post.

Seriously though those are some touching thoughts and it's great to hear an honest look at these films after the toxic reception some gave the set. In particular I want to second the discomfort you express at some of the fans conception of Mothra which is reason eight billion of why I don't particularly like them. Honda has a significant humanism and his increased empathy with the monsters is really important so those who just want the monsters to kill each other and fit prescribed roles seem to actually be fighting against the message of the series.

Also since you brought up the later films I want to throw a good word in for Godzilla 2000 which remains the only Japanese Godzilla film I've seen in theaters.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#310 Post by Big Ben » Mon Jul 27, 2020 3:43 pm

One might be forgiven for not knowing what a radical piece of cinema the original Godzilla was in it's time period if you've only seen Godzilla's insanely campy sixties outings. Godzilla isn't a superhero in a shitty costume in that film and it's been overshadowed due to the immense popularity of the other titles in the series. I think much of Honda's personal touches are overshadowed by the films reception all over. Critiques of things like capitalism/consumerism, nuclear weapons and Honda's explicit and avowed pacifism are often overlooked because he made films with giant monsters in them. Even the kaiju films he made that didn't feature Godzilla have these same touches and I hope Criterion releases films like Matango and War of the Gargantuas one day.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#311 Post by knives » Mon Jul 27, 2020 3:48 pm

I think it is entirely possible to watch the films without thinking camp and just taking them as what they are intended to be.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#312 Post by YnEoS » Mon Jul 27, 2020 5:04 pm

knives wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 3:32 pm
Darwined! That's what I get for waiting to post.
Would love to read some other perspectives on the whole series, so looking forward to your post, whenever you're able to get around to it.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#313 Post by knives » Tue Jul 28, 2020 10:24 am

I’m really glad that Criterion put out this set if for nothing else to have all of the Showa films in one home. I also hope this means that people will get exposed to these truly amazing and wondrous movies so that an honest reassessment of them can begin. Unfortunately Criterion’s work does a bad job of building context for the series and offers nothing in the way of individualized support for each film. They didn’t even bring on some of the commentaries that have been recorded for these films by some incredible critics and historians such as Stuart Galbraith. Even just going over the differences between versions would help newcomers a lot because there were a lot of subtle edits in all the films which changed the thematic and political appearance of the series sometimes even introducing the silly or campy elements that the series is often associated with although a lot of respect should be given to the dubbers. Hopefully this post can supplement Criterion’s dropping the ball a little by providing context for each film and a strong defense of this series. One big theme that is going to come out is that most Godzilla fans are not good judges of film merit and it's best to ignore them and instead come in with an open mind that you will have a wide variety of film types represented under the banner of kaiju (the term for giant monster movies in Japan).

Before I do that I figure I’ll give a TL;DR guide on an order to watch the films, given how I’m sure some don’t want to suffer through my terrible writing. If you do suffer through it you can write to Toho and blame them for making me a film fan in the first place without developing my skills as a writer.

Godzilla; the original movie

Godzilla vs. Mothra
King Ghidorah
Invasion of the Astro Monster

Godzilla vs. Mechgodzilla
Terror of Mechagodzilla
Godzilla vs. Hedorah
The rest in any order you want
Destroy All Monsters

Now for the movie by movie breakdown

I won’t spend much time on the original since Criterion’s release has done the hard work for me contextualizing the film and highlighting its importance. Instead I’ll focus on how this needs to be seen as a movie in isolation from the rest of the series. The series continues to call back to it, but in terms of story and genre it’s unique in the development of kaiju cinema. It takes heavily from American monster cinema and fits well with those genre markings. As I’ll explain in a second quite quickly Toho decided a more effective and radically different way of sustaining these characters across multiple films.

First, though, Toho needed to capitalize on its newfound capital. Raids Again has all of the hallmarks of a bad cash in sequel. Ishiro Honda was off making some of his last non-monster movies as a director and so producer Tanaka replaced him with a random company director, the script commits the common sequel problem of doing the same thing with less nuance and more more with the more in this case being another monster, and worst of all Godzilla Godfather Eiji Tsuburaya is hampered with less time to do the effects and a significantly reduced budget. I could imagine some giving up on the series right here if this is the expectation that is set. The film isn’t without its charms, but it mostly serves as a hint of a much less interesting path the genre could have taken.

A lot would happen in the genre and in particular with director Honda before the next Godzilla film would come about. This time period from 1955-1962 is where I really wish Criterion had shot a small conversation with Ryfle, who does provide notes in the book, and Ed Godziszewski who literally wrote the book on the director. After five years of nothing but monster movies Honda was running on fumes and was looking for an out. Two films would revitalize Honda’s interest in genre pictures and provide him a new form of expression. The first is The Mysterians, a sci-fi extravaganza which predates Ikarie XB-1, Star Trek, and a whole host of others which would give Honda definition to his style of colour and widescreen as well as a sense of utopianism which would come to be the defining traits of Honda’s films for the rest of his career. The second film would be Mothra. Mothra was written by Shin'ichi Sekizawa who would become the default writer of these films for Toho. He had no interest in science fiction and especially horror. Instead he viewed Kaiju cinema as a cabbage patch for fairy tales and parables on man’s follies. His scripts, including a Toshiro Mifune starring Sinbad esque film, are notable for their light tone and gentle sense of philosophy.

During this time as well Tsuburaya would be developing a concept of Japanese special effects completely divorced from the values of western cinema that are still carried by Japanese filmmakers to this day. In the US special effects tend to try for realism or at least an immersion of belief. Those are actual skeletons Jason interacts with for Harryhausen for example. Tsuburaya came upon the fairly different idea that the effects are there to make for an unbelief. It’s not quite Bretchian since immersion is still the goal, but the immersion is that you are seeing a myth on display providing a sense of what could be. For a funny anecdote illustrating this philosophy Toho collaborated with an American studio on a movie called Manster, I quite like it, where this cultural clash became a serious issue as the Americans wanted the effects to be believable whereas the Japanese didn’t. Naturally as these things go the group with the most money won out and you can see it with fairly realistic effects.

This concept of realism is especially important. If you solely want the original Godzilla you will not like any other film in that set. The films no longer intend to immerse you through fright, but instead through wonderment. They should cause one to ponder the themes of each individual film with mouth agape. These are fun films with a sense of playfulness and a good amount of humour. It is a cold war born philosophy covered in a layer of hopefulness. That is what makes it an understandable tragedy that these two films are not included in the set. For those who want a more full understanding of the subsequent films I heartily recommend watching Mothra and The Mysterians. The DVD of Mothra in particular has a useful commentary by Ryfle and Godziszewski that is full of information.

Anyway King Kong vs. Godzilla is a goofy introduction of colour and widescreen for the big G. It works almost exclusively as an entertainment with Honda and his team seeing if these characters work in the context of a comedy of the slapstick variety. The resulting movie is a bit of a mess as Honda’s strengths aren’t as a purely comedic director. The big themes here are mostly a carry over of ones that can be found in King Kong as filtered through ‘60s Japanese sensibilities. That basically means we have a light touching on colonialism, something that was also discussed in Mothra, and the problem with the satellite country approach the cold war was taking. For Japanese audiences this would be a particularly close theme given the feelings for the US occupation during this time. Just a few years earlier, for example, student protests would keep Eisenhower from visiting which is an event that was utilized in the first draft of Mothra. The story never goes heavy on the themes, but they provide a helpful throughline on the human story which in some of these films could seem like after thoughts. Not here though.

Although this introduction of Godzilla to the fantasia of ‘60s Kaiju is a messy half successful film there is a lot that can be gathered from it as a building block for the genre. I think a useful lens is that it serves the character in working out the kinks of this method in the same way Major Dundee did for Peckinpah with the upcoming trilogy of films being Godzilla’s and Honda’s The Wild Bunch.

The next three films are the apex of Honda’s ‘60s style and when taken for what they are should be considered the highlight of the set. Taking a second to further delve into Honda’s mind is important. As mentioned before, Honda with Sekizawa’s influence was increasingly interested in these characters for their fairy tale qualities and the utopian implications they could bring out. This led to giving them more and more personality. This trilogy is really where the idea of kaiju as characters with personalities began. A viewer should begin to look at them as superheroes and villains rather than monsters.

In this real life would play a role for Honda on two fronts. The most obvious one and one which haunts all of Honda’s films is the cold war. The cold war not only seems to have genuinely disturbed Honda, but also disappointed him. With the mystical Mothra he found a muse so to speak to funnel that disappointment whereas the science born Godzilla is the disturbed figure. How these two figures interact becomes an all too real working out of the different sides of Honda. Honda also uses the cold war as a way to be introspective of Japan who have become subservient to the games of Russia and the US while also having to confront their own legacy of colonialism often represented by the Polynisian like Infant Island. Here is a very subtle connection between Honda and Imamura. I don’t think Honda fantasizes about the primitive cultures to the same degree, but he definitely sees them as a group Japan could learn a lot from in order to turn away from their dangerous and always prone to failure militarism.

The second way real life plays an increasing role for these films is Honda’s own upbringing. Honda was the son of a monk and had a very old fashioned Japanese upbringing. I wouldn’t go as far as to say these upcoming films are primarily Buddhist, but they definitely are using Buddhist ideas and storytelling techniques to accomplish their goals. Characters even are drawn from many old Japanese stories including the symbol of pure evil in the Toho universe: King Ghidorah who is plainly based on Orochi. In this sense, and where once again Criterion drops the ball, for these next three films the more you know about Japan, its history, and its culture the more you will be able to get out of Honda’s films beyond the universal elements.

Now it’s time for Mothra vs. Godzilla. As the name implies Mothra is the hero of the film while Godzilla is the bad guy for the last time in his career. Godzilla is also the least interesting part of the movie perhaps because of where his metaphor lies. Ultimately this is a film about capitalist greed and Godzilla largely is representative of that ideology with city bound scenes and a direct connection to the human villains. To put it a bit into Buddhists terms at this stage there’s a complete separation between Yin and Yang that in the next entries will become blurred for the better. Many of the narrative points here as well suggest Godzilla as an outsider. This is more plainly a sequel to Mothra then to any of Godzilla’s adventures with several characters, locations, and narrative points carried over from that film whereas Godzilla is more of an intrusion. That leaves him as something of an anonymous enigma while Mothra is a full fledged character who an audience member, such as myself, can develop real emotions for even crying during a particular closeup of her fuzzy head.

Even more interesting is the human story about a trio of youths, a scientist and two reporters, who discover the nuclear devastation and the villainous intentions of a company that presents itself to the public as all about happiness. The trio would actually become a major story element for Honda. He viewed complexity of character interaction was best played out with three differing characters as the core of the audience viewpoint. This three temper ensemble would later be picked up in its most delineated fashion in Star Trek which owes a lot to Honda. This also serves for a lot of comedy. The opening scene is a great example of this as a local politician tries to prop himself up after a violent storm destroys some beach front. This character is completely oblivious to the damage and just wants to make himself look good.

The conservationist theme would be a continuous one throughout the rest of the series and the implications here would eventually come to a head with the smog monster. In short by representing our salvation as a giant monster the film mixes into its overall light tone the idea that if we don’t act the solution to our folly will need to be destructive. This is really where Honda the utopian mixes with Honda the skeptic as he really does believe that humans have the possibility to achieve peace even if we have to overcome baser temptations like self interest. I suppose the film is best described as an optimistic realism for how Japan needed to handle industrialization and demilitarization.

Tanaka would encourage Honda to follow up this film’s massive success with what would become the apex of the trilogy introducing Toho’s most popular villain in the process. King Ghidorah takes the successful elements of the previous movie and expands them in comic book like fashion to make clear that the problems that the Kaijus represent aren’t limited to Japan, but also the international audience Toho now had. The movie also features the first example of a narrative inclusion of elements from The Mysterians. Until this point all of the kaiju films took place in a relatively familiar Japan with modern technology for the most part. Here though starts the idea that all of these monsters have lead to an accelerated technological advancement. More notable in this film is Ghidorah’s origins as a space alien of pure destruction. Every bad thing Honda can imagine Ghidorah represents, but is also reflected in the human cast which this time around features an international cast of characters and a plot line straight from Fail-Safe. I guess 1964 was the year of mutually assured destruction’s reckoning. Like many middle entries in trilogies this is the dark one full of espionage and failure by the heroes. Though at this point Tanaka wanted too much pure entertainment and Honda and Sekizawa too invested in optimism to leave the audience with bad feelings as the audience gets a happy ending though with the implication that trouble is just around the corner if we can’t figure out a solution immediately.

This singular story comes to a head with what has regularly been argued as the most fun entry in the series: Invasion of the Astro Monster. The movie is the first time a Godzilla movie hasn’t been a Godzilla movie, a move which would become more and more common. Honda is on the record of preferring the Mysterians type films that Toho wanted him to do. I suspect that mixed with the sense that Honda would be taking a break from Godzilla gave a license to make Godzilla the B story here with the alien fight for unity as the A story. Honda also allows the themes to get as large and explicit as they can possibly go. Early on a team of astronauts plant a flag. On it are the Japanese and American banners, but at the utmost top is the flag of the UN. It’s a small moment, but one that fundamentally explains why Honda continued with these films. He could play pretend that humanity would be united.

Of course this being a popular entertainment like Star Trek would later do the film must engage with man’s darker side to create drama. Some of that is light fluff more about Japan in transition such as the jokey love plot with the inventor and Astronaut’s sister. This plot is pretty great with Akira Kubo, most famous here for roles in Throne of Blood and Kill!, playing slightly against type as a complete dweeb. It’s probably my favorite performance in a Honda film as he plays as a comedic version of the Honda idea of technology being a tool of good when developed without self interest. The bulk of the run time is with the heavier stuff (I was going to say dark, but Honda doesn’t have that quality any longer). I’m not at all joking when I’ve been comparing this movie to Star Trek as the alien civilization here and the way the humans interact with it is something Gene Roddenberry would be putting on the small screen each week fairly soon after this movie premiered. The aliens become a fairly blatant metaphor for how humans act when the survival instinct turns on.

Another element, this time from the story, that I love which slips into the background is how used to kaiju the world has gotten to now. American actor Nick Adams looks nonchalantly at a bubbling sea at one point and asks if this means we are going to see Godzilla recognizing it as a fairly ordinary occurrence by this point. It seems like another Sekizawa joke that fits into his overall concept of just accepting what’s on screen.

After that series of definitive statements on the character Honda needed a break working in a different sandbox and even one making a non-genre flick before he would take up the mantle again. That left Tanaka in a pickle for his easiest money maker. The answer became Jun Fukuda who would take on the next two Godzilla films in Honda’s absence. Fukuda is the second best represented director on the set and so deserves a little bit of career context. Fukuda was one of the studio’s hip, young directors specializing in swinging James Bond parodies akin to the Matt Helm series in America. Two of his spy films are available on the Criterion Channel if you want that added context. Whereas Honda was an idealist and political artist Fukuda was a man of pure entertainment. There are no lofty ideas to his films and while some themes emerge his movies are driven by a need to be fun. This change in style shows up in a lot of different ways. The human stories cycle through a variety of genres united by a pop art colour scheme and future tech design. Practically any set in his films could have been used in CQ. He has a lesser interest in the monster stuff leaving them to the background often. The kaiju have their fun as well since either he or somebody on the effects team were really big sports fans. All of the Fukuda films have the monster sequences shot like sports events. Wrestling is the obvious point of reference connecting them all with tag team battles and a bunch of other wrestling things, I’m not an expert in that mode of entertainment, being common features. Other sports pop up from time to time as well, especially soccer. Now that you know Fukuda let’s talk films.

Fukuda’s first Godzilla film shouldn’t even feature the character. After King Kong was such a success internationally Tanaka was looking hard for follow ups featuring the character. Ebirah was originally developed as such a story and famously has certain hallmarks from Kong’s previous appearance. Godzilla playing the Kong role is unquestionably heroic for the first time, has a crush on the female lead, and electricity powers (themselves borrowed for Kong from Toho’s Frankenstein series) while his enemies like the giant octopus of the previous film are giant versions of animals. Ebirah, as the name implies, is a giant giant shrimp while Godzilla also gets a small scene with a condor.

These are minor things though and the film Ebirah should be seen as primarily an extension of Fukuda’s James Bond movies with the Kaiju as more cameo creatures for some added fun and at least in the case of Mothra (in her last role as an adult during the Showa series) just a deus ex machina. As a fun spy film it’s pretty great and much easier on western sensibilities then the Honda films had become. The story is of a young man looking for his brother. He steals a boat with a thief and two hepcats onboard for what at first looks to be a Jules Verne journey. They crash land on an abandoned island, seemingly for budgetary reasons as you don’t have to make miniatures if you are shooting on a deserted island. This also was chosen to deal with the ethical issues of using humans as collateral. It’s been a big joke with American action and disaster movies that they don’t care about the humans inside the buildings. Well, this film has discovered a cheap way to ensure there’s no risk of that.

The bulk of Ebirah is not in the Verne mode though as our intrepid heroes, in particular the retrofitted as a thief bond character, deal with an evil syndicate that is using people from Infant Island, home to Mothra, as slave labour. This introduces the generic Fukuda female lead who is a strong woman, smarter and more capable then most of the men, and source of the real drama in the story. The story for her here is that she is an escaped slave who is trying to remove the syndicate from the region. One of the smarter moves of the film if you wish to read into its cold war politics at a more than surface level is having the Japanese characters accomplish nothing with the Infant Islanders successfully removing the colonial power and showing an ability to function as their own entity.

The next film in the set is often regarded as when the series took a nosedive and while the seams are showing I’d argue that it’s a good movie that excels because it’s not trying to fit the mold. I wrote up a little bit above on the charms of Son of Godzilla, but it’s so good a movie I might as well write some more. The movie and the character of Minilla, the son of the title, was an attempt at capturing a younger and more female audience. All of Toho’s Kaiju and related films were beginning to sour at the box office and Tanaka’s first instinct was to try to broaden their support using their most popular character in an appealing way. Appealing in this case means making, basically, a giant monster version of Hatari as the story is a charming idiot reporter hangs out with scientists and gets rescued regularly by an Amazonian. There’s not much of a real plot with all of the fun coming from cool hang out vibes making this perhaps the most purely entertaining film in the series.

That last throw of relevance failed with a lower box office then ever so with a shrug and a sigh Tanaka decided to give his beloved kaiju one last hurrah before fading into the sunset. For this he decided to get the original crew back together somehow winning over Honda, Tsuburaya on his last film working on Godzilla (he would be credited out of respect on the next film), and composer Akira Ifukube. Bringing 11 monsters together Destroy All Monsters was to be a final show of what kaiju could. After a strong start though the film collapses under its own boredom though. Everyone is working on autopilot and the budget couldn’t be thinner. As a fan there’s a part of me that just enjoys the basic beats, but in truth this is reheated Astromonster from a group of people who just couldn’t care less by this point.

As a side note in the guide above I put this last because chronologically it is. The movie takes place in 1999 while all other Showa films are set in their dates of release following an alternative timeline which allows for futuristic technological advances. This is something that Godzilla fans make fun of the film for, but I think that shows a good internal logic and highlights how even at low points the series was trying to deliver good movies. While I’m on the subject though, another element against the fans' favour is that they think of this as the best later Showa film entirely on the basis of having so many monsters which is an argument not worth the time it takes to spell out.

Despite or maybe because of being bland as bland could be Destroy All Monsters was a relative success and made Tanaka hungry to repeat it. The series, contrary to American reputation, had been in the A pictures all this time which is what put Tanaka and Toho ahead of rival studios such as Daiei’s Gamera series. This would change from here on out. They just couldn’t muster up that A quality money so Tanaka had to resort to Gamera’s trick of reusing footage for All Monsters Attack, a film that has often been called a clipshow. I wrote up my relationship and newfound appreciation for the film above and so will only add that Honda moved to television after this.

Godzilla’s real return to the A list however briefly would come next with the highly influential Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Tanaka was set to go to the hospital for a short while and so put first time director Yoshimitsu Banno in charge of the next movie which was supposed to be environmentally themed. When he got back Tanaka found a weird, dark, gruesome, and plain unmarketable film in his own eyes. Tanaka was so mad he effectively blacklisted Banno who would never make another feature again. That’s a damning series of events against Tanaka given that Banno delivered arguably the best Kaiju fantasy film and that quite literally all of the film from the Heisei and Millenium series would copy from the blueprint of this film which Roger Ebert would call his favorite Godzilla movie.

It’s even hard to know where to begin the praise for the film. I suppose I’ll start with the effects which are the best of any kaiju film up to this point and arguably ever. One problem the series has had since the move away from horror is how to film scenes without it just looking like two guys in a suit fighting. Banno develops a rather ingenious set of solutions. First, he redesigned Godzilla to focus on his creepier features. He’s the hero here, but that’s no excuse for laziness. Instead we have a thin genuinely reptilian looking fellow coloured in very dark green. Hedorah is a more freely designed monster using its premise as a smog monster to cover up the human element until it's unrecognizable as a man in a suite. Compare Hedorah to Anguirus who fits into his costume in a similar fashion. The awkward legging is not apparent here. Also by giving Hedorah multiple modes, something future villains will pick up, there is something left for audiences to be awed by throughout. These suit ideas as well as the miniatures that are spread throughout the movie are incredibly impressive and it's hard to imagine a modern film doing better which leaves me wondering why other Godzilla films from this period couldn’t achieve the same effect considering this was low budgeted as well. Banno also shoots the monsters at low angles, helping to keep a sense of scale and leave the kaiju as intimidating.

Going to story, Hedorah does a lot of recontextualizing of the original film into the new format that had developed since while also explaining how to do the human story for all future films. The monster narrative is interesting for returning to them as a metaphor. It’s not even really a metaphor to call Hedorah a representation of the destructive effects of pollution. He’s literally alien smog that feeds off of pollution until it grows big enough to destroy the world.As a modern audience member this seems scarier than the original film in some ways as pollution is still a serious issue while it's easier to lock nuclear fears to the past. Banno builds this sense of unease up with some crazy editing showcasing an experimental streak more akin to what was going on at Nikkatsu half a decade earlier than anything ever seen in a Toho feature. Banno also extensively shows the effects of Hedorah’s run with toxic burns and the largest on screen body count of any film since the original. The corpses are jolting in their effect, though it is telling of Banno’s intentions that he doesn’t provide anything haunting like the sing along in the school during the original film.

Godzilla himself is the key to unlocking Banno’s optimism which seems to believe in the possibility of solutions. For the first time Godzilla takes on the role of earth’s antibody which would subsequently become the default understanding of him in subsequent eras. Hedorah is man’s fault and the only way for the earth to survive is either a solution from man, though that would require man to get his act together, or for the earth to fight back. Godzilla is not just earth’s hope, but also a sign to man that he has time to depend on nature’s bounty, but how much is unknown. To emphasize this last point Banno has Godzilla really get beat up over the course of this film. He’s blinded and a hand in burnt to the bone.It almost seems like luck that the Earth can take the hits, but the film seems to wonder when will the threats against it finally be too much? It’s a scary idea that still doesn’t get answered.

I’ve been focusing on the monsters so far since that is where the thematic weight, which I’m more interested in, is, but the human story is equally compelling. Our leads are a small Godzilla obsessed boy and his marine biologist father. This provides another subtle recontextualization of the original as the leads are the ones to suffer from the effects of Hedorah so that the victims develop self advocacy language in order to turn the tide rather than being passive actors. There’s a very emotional scene where the horrifically scarred scientist in an Emmet Till moment says that the television news needs to film him to show what effect this pollution is going to have on the populace.

The film often in Godzilla fandom gets criticized for its experimentalism being called dated, but I am arguing that Banno has a firm control of his experimental side featuring things like an infinite chain of televisions or a theme song about how lead poisoning will ensure that there will be no survivors that carefully provide an experience of what it is like to live in the most polluted areas. Even the hated Fear and Loathing sequence makes sense thematically as a way of showing the exhaustion, neuroses, and anxiety that pollution causes. I guarantee this will become the most popular film of the set.

Tanaka, in another move that hasn’t aged well, decided to bring back Fukuda to tell his version of a Godzilla conservationist story with Godzilla vs. Gigan. The conservationist moral is at best muddled here not really mattering at the end of the day. This is often pointed out as the worst film in the series and its low budget nature does suggest that, but it is also arguably one of the most fun as well. Any attempt at seriousness is thrown out as Sekizawa lightly teases the movie itself throughout. The opening scene plays out with still action images and the lead character is a comic book artist. This leads to a humorous exchange about the need to market test characters while making them come across as organic threats. The rest of the movie is filled with that sort of funny questioning about why they’re here. The monsters have a unique role compared to previous expectations. By now the Kaiju are full on characters with personalities and goals. This is represented most explicitly in the film by having them talk to each other with comic book style text bubbles.

Gigan is incredibly low budget, but Fukuda has gotten a lot smarter on how to cover that up. For example it had become too expensive to feature many of the characters making it impossible to feature usual Godzilla allies Rodan and Mothra so the movie features Anguirus as Godzilla’s friend instead. Even King Ghidorah who is featured here for the last time is used sparingly as they did not have enough staff to use his puppet. The film also sparingly uses stock footage, but it’s so subtle that a person will only notice them if they’ve seen the movies in close succession or if they’re very familiar with them.

The movie would also take one last thing from the Gamera series. Those are notable for being absolute gore fests despite being for very young children. Likewise this entry is the first to show Toho Kaiju bleeding in ridiculous Sanjuro spurts of blood. Despite this violence the films still need to be seen as kids movies though. In general Japan seems to have a different view of acceptable violence in children’s entertainment in the west. The most prominent example of I can think of is the Detective Conan series which in Japan is for young tweens, but played on Adult Swim in America.

Fukuda jumped right back in the saddle for Godzilla vs. Megalon, though this is a Godzilla movie entirely by accident. Toho had just held a contest that a fan would design the star of their next movie and the winner was Jet Jaguar, a generic superhero character in the style of Ultraman or for American audiences Power Rangers. Toho was understandably nervous such a bland character would be able to hold his own movie so they had him team up with Godzilla during the final fight. So really your baseline here is an extended episode of Ultraman with special guest Godzilla and with that expectation the film is fun enough.

Finally, the Showa ends with a pair of films by the main directors that actually do provide closure to the series even though they were not intended that way. They line up so perfectly and tell basically a singular narrative that you could watch them as a double feature and get a strong enjoyment. It would still be shorter than watching one Marvel movie by comparison.

This accidental finale begins with Fukuda’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla . The idea was to return Godzilla to his roots as a villainous creature, but obviously that wasn’t possible if only given the young nature of his ‘70s audience. The solution they chose was to make a second Godzilla who could do all of the evil things while the real Godzilla got to retain his good guy status. Identical evil twins may be the stuff of soap operas, but that’s basically what we have. Fukuda makes this his most fun film. It’s James Bond with evil aliens manipulating Godzilla’s image as they try to take over the planet. This really puts into relief Destroy All Monsters’ failure as this as well plays like a greatest hits, but Fukuda’s sense of fun ensures a lively movie that plays up meta concepts of kaiju’s place in cinematic history.

Even better is Terror of Godzilla which is Honda’s satisfying final film before his retirement. Whereas Destroy All Monsters was Honda running on fumes this is him clearly inspired looking back to the original for a final farewell to movie making with an understated approach to the material. The monsters are largely beside the point here punctuating the real action as a sort of release valve to allow the audience to ruminate on the story. Even when Honda puts them on screen for a long period of time it is often in relation to the human story painting their effect in a different light. The real care is on the anti-villain scientist character who is in many ways a reversal of the scientist from the original movie. Honda spent a career on the utopian possibility of science in the face of its destructive effects. Here society's misapprehensions leave an embitterment that necessarily causes that destruction. No longer is Honda an optimistic youth, but rather bittersweet at potential loss. It's very easy to read Honda himself into the scientist here developing his relationship with Titanosaurus with the hopes for good, but being left to use his baby destructively. The structure here with the daughter and romantic reporter do a lot to give the impression of a remake of the original, but again in a bittersweet fashion that honestly left me very sad by the end of the movie. This works less as a triumphant bow out and more like a necessary walk from further destruction as Godzilla himself leaves with a Clint Eastwood quietness.

The story doesn’t end entirely in sadness though. While Tanaka would spend the next decade trying to make a follow up Honda spent a pleasant time in retirement. It wasn’t until a day spent with good friend Akira Kurosawa that he would return to film helping the ailing director, Kurosawa was slowly going blind at this time, direct Kagemusha. This teaming would last until Honda’s death even giving Honda a directorial credit on Dreams.
I should note a lot of ideas I mention throughout here are drawn from the commentaries from the old DVDs which Criterion would have benefited from including. So, if anyone was crazy enough to actually read through this, first off thanks, and secondly I hope this helps.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#314 Post by YnEoS » Tue Jul 28, 2020 11:17 am

Great writeup! A lot of helpful background here and detailing of the various shifts the series went through over this era.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#315 Post by jwd5275 » Tue Jul 28, 2020 3:51 pm

Thank you so much for this! Always have enjoyed the Godzilla movies on multiple levels, but this adds so much more...

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#316 Post by knives » Tue Jul 28, 2020 4:00 pm

You both are welcome. There's a lot more to talk about with the films, but I figured 6000 words was enough to get people interested and in a good frame of mind.

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Re: 1000 Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975

#317 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Jul 29, 2020 9:18 am

Wonderful comments YnEoS and knives! knives' write up on Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla's 'identical evil twin' figure because of the child centred demographic nature of the audience makes me wonder if Superman IV: The Quest For Peace took any cues from the series!

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