I‘ve kind of procrastinated on this so that I could get some distance between the last Godzilla movie and my thoughts on the series as a whole. Doing this too close to finishing that last film may have skewed things a bit and I really want to look at the whole series from a bit of distance. For those who have not read the original spotlight, it is available here. So how do you sum up many films that range from 1954 original to the final entry in this era from 1975?
A little back story first. Criterion picked up several of the Showa Era Godzilla films and put them in a collection on Filmstruck called Godzilla and Beyond which really means that they have added a few extras that are not part of the Godzilla series. The Showa Era is defined as the period of time that Emperor Hirohito ruled over Japan until his death. These movies were all released during that time frame, hence the name of the series.
I would first say that the series had a lot of surprises in store for me. For instance, you look at the films and say it’s just a dude in a rubber suit smashing up a cardboard town. However, the first film was so much more than that. It was a very socially and politically relevant piece about post-war Japan and overcoming the fear of the nuclear bomb. The first film came out just under ten years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki so those events were still very fresh to the people of Japan. An interview on Filmstruck compares Godzilla in the first movie to Japan in WW2. Basically saying that Japan was the big monster that science had to come along and stop.
Surprisingly, there was no mention of good or evil or who or what unleashed Godzilla. I would think it would be easy to throw blame against the American bomb, but there was no mention of who created Godzilla, simply that he needed to be stopped because of all the devastation he was causing. Sure, nuclear bombs started him, but there just wasn’t any mention of where those came from. It may be that the idea wasn’t something that needed to be spoken in those days. Anyway, the first film offered quite a bit more than anticipated for a so-called guy in a rubber suit flick.
Godzilla Raids Again was the second entry to the series in 1955. With the death of Godzilla in the first one, we get a new Godzilla for this movie. So another surprise was that there simply wasn’t just one Godzilla. Before I watched this series, my only Godzilla movie exposure was from the 1998 Roland Emmerich version and maybe one or two of the “actual” entries. Needless to say, I had a very limited view of just what the series was about. I think the only movies I watched had Godzilla tearing things up on his own. I had no clue there were any other Kaiju that he would fight. Yet in just the second entry, we have a sparring partner for the big guy to go up against.
Looking back at my comments about the second film, this one felt a bit long for its ninety minutes run time. There was a lot of fluff about some sort of love story that was tossed in between the big monster fights, which was another surprise. The series spends a lot of time on human elements throughout. Each entry has had some form of a human story that goes alongside the monster bits. In most cases, the human parts far exceed the monster parts with varied results.
The next film that Filmstruck offers is Godzilla, King of the Monsters! which is pretty interesting on its own because this film is the original movie with a lot of edits and an American dub. Raymond Burr got to star in it amidst all the edits that were put in place. I kind of wish this version was played a bit differently. The edits made for a tighter movie, but the whole story was altered a bit to make Burr’s reporter character fit. I’d have preferred that they injected him into the original with maybe some on scene reporting instead of shoehorning him into the story. I think if this was done right, it would have been a nice companion piece to the original by showing some sort of alternate viewpoint.
Rodan is up next from 1956. This is not a Godzilla film at all but was a welcome addition because it sets up a future movie where Godzilla and Rodan team up. My review for this entry was pretty glowing. There was less of the human side here, but what they did show was pretty tight without all the needless love story. I especially like the effects in this one. We got some good devastation.
Unfortunately, at this point, we skip an entry in the series. King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) should be in the collection, but it looks like someone else owns the rights to it. I’d like to see this one someday because these are the original, big monsters going at it. Like an early Alien vs Predator or Freddy vs Jason.
The fifth movie in the collection is Mothra vs Godzilla (1964) which I really liked a lot. This one had some really nice special effects for the time and a pretty cool story. There were also some weird, tiny people that really never showed up much or ever again. I noted that this entry still maintained the message that Godzilla is the big atomic monster we need to be protected from, but this entry is pretty much where that stops.
1964 also saw Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster released. I’m not sure how the cast and crew churned these out so quickly because both of the films released in 1964 were excellent. In this entry, we get Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla working together for the first time because Ghidorah is this monstrous three-headed beast that takes a lot of teamwork to tackle. The climactic battle is once again, the centerpiece of the movie.
Invasion of Astro-Monster continues the line in 1965 and this one reminded me a lot of some of the Bond films from that era. You’ve got an enemy that has this elaborate bunker bent on conquering the world. Only instead of spies and evil geniuses, we get aliens from Planet X “borrowing” our big monsters to take care of the Ghidorah menace on their planet. Turns out, they really control Ghidorah and just wanted to use our monsters against us. This was a good entry to the series, but a little weaker than the last couple.
In 1966 we get to Ebirah, Horror of the Deep which is also missing from the Criterion collection which is unfortunate. Some of the footage from this film is actually pieced into one of the later entries. So if you are going through the Criterion offering, you run across this weird monster you’ve never seen before.
Back in the Criterion collection is The War of the Gargantuas from 1966. From my notes, I listed this as the best of the Kaiju movies on Filmstruck and I believe that still stands. The Godzilla films all kind of follow the same template. In this film, director Ishiro Honda, who did numerous of the Godzilla films, got to do something completely different. He explores a science experiment gone wrong and the consequences of it, but the story doesn’t have anything to do with Godzilla or any of the other monsters. This is a very stand-alone entry in this collection that feels really fresh amidst the typical Godzilla formula. Not that there is anything wrong with the formula, but it was very cool to see what else could be done.
I kind of dreaded watching Son of Godzilla which was released in 1967. The premise looked insanely stupid. Godzilla has a kid that gets attacked by a spider, but it somehow worked out to be a very charming film overall. We don’t get the big cities to trample here. Instead, were on a tropical island with a few scientists, but what we lack in overall destruction gets made up for in the monsters. There are several giant critters with this mega spider being the big villain. Overall, this was a nice change of pace.
Destroy All Monsters stomped onto the big screen in 1968 and from what I have read, this was to be the final Godzilla due to the popularity of the series falling which is apparent from having like eight or nine different monsters appear. It was like the creators decided to go out with every claw on deck. We get the aliens back again, only this time with a mind control device they use to take over the monsters and turn them against Earth. Instead of being the last of its kind, this film kind of revitalized the big monster movies a bit.
Which lead to All Monsters Attack being released in 1969 and I’m not entirely sure this was the best foot forward although it kind of works. The story here is about some kid getting bullied who imagines getting advice from Godzilla’s kid. You’d think this would be complete trash, but it was kind of a fun and a very different entry into the series. The kid has to face school bullies as well as some criminals holed up in a local run-down building. In this case, the monsters are truly human with Kaiju being in the kid’s imagination.
The timeline says Criterion is missing Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971) and Godzilla vs Gigan (1972). Quite honestly, these didn’t ever come up in my research of the other films, so I can’t say much about them. I don’t believe any of the monsters Godzilla fights in either show up in any of the other films.
Godzilla vs Megalon came out in 1973 and I first caught this on Fandor when I was still subscribed to that streaming service. Randomly, they had this lone entry into the Godzilla series that I watched one day. I did not care for this very much the first time I watched it. Going into this movie without any real experience of the series overall was a complete mistake. Even watching this one a second time, I would, without a doubt, put this at the very bottom of the list although I did like it more the second time. This film is very 70’s from the dune buggy to the clothing that the cast wears, but that isn’t what drags this one down. It’s just a weak entry overall. My initial review called this Power Rangers from the 70’s and I think that is a very accurate description.
The year 1974 brought Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla out into the world. We get some new alien invaders who have constructed a giant mech that rivals Godzilla in size and power. We also get another new monster to fight alongside Godzilla. This would also be the first time blood flows from a monster in any of these movies. I guess some competing franchises were getting gory so some of that was inserted here as well.
Finally, Terror of Mechagodzilla from 1975 rounds out the Showa Era. The big mech from the previous film is back with a new monster villain and the pesky aliens are back and once again bent on taking over the world.
In the time since I started this marathon, I’ve watched a few other films that are in the same realm and I feel are worth mentioning. The first Gamera (1965) was available so I gave that one a shot. It’s a black and white monster flick that copies a lot of the original Godzilla film except it stars a giant turtle. I want to explore more of this series because the gory bits of Godzilla were apparently borrowed a bit from this series.
Another pair of movies I watched is Pacific Rim and it’s recent sequel. Both of those reviews are also available here on FilmEra and you may be surprised to see that I’ve scored them so highly. In the case of Pacific Rim, I think director Guillermo del Toro really captured the essence of these old Godzilla films. We have giant saviors going up against equally giant monsters except for the human element in this actually means and controls the giant robot saviors. For Pacific Rim: Uprising, it gets bonus points for the big battle in Tokyo which looks incredible with modern effects. I’ve been wanting to see something like that with each new Godzilla entry I’ve watched.
Seeing modern films grow and adapt the Godzilla formula from so many years ago is nice to see. The biggest thing I’ve gotten from this marathon is a deep appreciation for a series I’d had little investment into. Godzilla has definitely made a very big impact on monster movies over the years. I look forward to checking more of these out. Unfortunately, Criterion only has up through 1975. The series took a decade-long break from there which probably means a whole new cast and crew as well as direction. I have watched the recent Shin Godzilla, which was incredible, so I know the series is still going strong, but I kind of wonder about the 80’s.
Anyway, I will wrap this long article up by saying that I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through the Showa Era. It’s been really fun for me to go through these. I love old sci-fi movies from the 50’s and 60’s so it was a treat for me. I also look forward to continuing the reviews of future installments as I get to them.