by Mark Matzke
Godzilla/Godzilla, King of the Monsters: Godzilla’s first movie appearance took place in 1954, and it is a serious story about a giant radioactive monster destroying Tokyo. Godzilla was awakened by nuclear weapons testing, and that makes the story very powerful, since it came so soon after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities near the end of World War II. Godzilla is finally defeated by a secret weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer, and the doctor who invented the weapon sacrifices his own life to make sure that it can never be used again. In 1956, the movie “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was released in America, which used many scenes from the original movie, but rearranged the order in which the story was told, and added new scenes starring the American actor Raymond Burr.
Godzilla Raids Again: The first Godzilla movie was so successful that the movie company Toho wasted no time in making another. This is not the same Godzilla monster we met in the first movie—he was vaporized by the Oxygen Destroyer in Tokyo Bay—but a leaner, meaner version of the same species. This film features Godzilla’s first fight with another giant monster, the creature Anguirus. They battle first on a deserted island in the South Pacific, then they rumble in Osaka, Japan, where Godzilla beats Anguirus. Japanese jet fighters trap Godzilla in a canyon and bury him under tons of ice and snow. This movie was released in America as “Gigantis, the Fire Monster,” to show that this was supposed to be a different monster than the first Godzilla. Anguirus would go on to appear in six more Godzilla movies, often as Godzilla’s friend and ally!
King Kong vs. Godzilla: In this movie we see the clash of two of the biggest movie monsters of all time. Godzilla breaks free of his icy prison; meanwhile, King Kong escapes the raft that is taking him to Japan to star in commercials and the two titans collide in Japan to duke it out. This was the first full color Godzilla movie. It was also the first Godzilla film to include some jokes and comedy. We also start to see some new parts of Godzilla’s personality, as he shuffles his feet and knocks his knuckles together, getting ready to fight. For these reasons and more, “King Kong vs. Godzilla” is still the most successful Godzilla movie of them all. For years people thought there were two different endings for the movie, one where Godzilla won and one where King Kong won. It is true that there are Japanese and American versions of the film, but they both end the same: with Kong swimming away above water.
Mothra vs. Godzilla: Godzilla gets one of his best entrances in this 1964 epic. A typhoon has washed a giant egg ashore, and unbeknownst to anyone, Godzilla has been washed ashore too, buried under mud and dirt. He wakes up and rises from the earth, shaking the dirt off with a menacing look. He threatens to destroy the egg, but the adult Mothra shows up and a great battle ensues. Godzilla overpowers Mothra and kills her, but the egg hatches and two larvae emerge, who manage to wrap Godzilla in a silk straightjacket and dump him in the sea. “Mothra vs. Godzilla” features the return of Mothra’s fairies, Emi and Yumi Ito, who in real life were a singing group called the Peanuts. Sadly, Emi Ito passed away in 2012. The adult Mothra used in filming was actually five different marionettes, or stringed puppets, the largest with a wingspan of thirty two feet, the smallest the size of a kid’s toy.
Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster: As the title says, this marks the first appearance of the great space dragon, King Ghidrah. Massive, golden, and spitting lightning, this monster is probably Godzilla’s most famous and fearsome opponent. A couple of important things happen in this movie for the first time. One is that the idea of an alien invasion is used in the story. The other is that Godzilla becomes a defender of the earth—taking the role of a hero. Rodan and Mothra end up helping Godzilla fight Ghidrah, and we learn that the monsters can actually communicate with each other. The fun fact for “Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster” is that Ghidrah was originally supposed to appear with rainbow colored wings, and in some early photographs you can still see those colors being used.
Invasion of Astro-Monster: Also known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero or just Monster Zero, this film tells the story of another alien invasion. Aliens convince the people of earth to let them borrow Godzilla and Rodan, leading to a memorable scene where large white flying saucers transport the monsters to their home world. An equally memorable scene happens when Godzilla jumps for joy following a battle with King Ghidrah. Monster Zero has one of the best casts ever assembled for a Godzilla movie, including American actor Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno as Miss Namikawa, his alien girlfriend, Akira Kubo as the inventor who saves the day with his noisemaker and Akira Takarada as the astronaut Fuji. Another great actor, Yoshio Tsuchiya, stars as the Xian leader, and our fun fact is that he had so much fun playing an alien that he made up his own language to speak for one of the scenes.
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. Also known as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, this movie is a real change of pace for the Godzilla series. Set on a colorful south sea island, it has Godzilla in another good guy role as he fights the giant crab/lobster Ebirah, which is controlled by the Red Bamboo military group. This movie has one of the funniest battles ever seen in a Godzilla film, as Godzilla and Ebirah play volleyball with giant boulder, which Godzilla even head butts! Mothra also makes an appearance, airlifting a group of people to safety. Akira Takarada stars as a criminal with a heart of gold. Our fun fact is that this was not originally supposed to be a Godzilla movie, but instead King Kong was to be the lead monster, which helps explain why Godzilla is found in a cave, is revived by lightning (Kong conducted lightning in King Kong vs. Godzilla), and takes an interest in island girl Kumi Mizuno!
Son of Godzilla: A scientific experiment causes things to get really big on Sollgel Island in the movie” Son of Godzilla.” We get to meet Minya, the Son of Godzilla—in fact, we get to see his hatching, which turns violent when the Gimantises (or Kamacurus) show up. Fortunately, Godzilla defends his little one, and the two hang out on Sollgel, leading to a famous scene where Godzilla shows Minya how to blow an atomic ray. The humans on the island accidentally wake up Spiga, also known as Kumonga, so father and son team up to handle the giant spider. Another science experiment sends the island into a deep freeze, which leads to a touching final scene of Godzilla wrapping Minya in a monster hug as falling snow begins to cover them. There could many fun facts about this movie: One is that Minya was played by a Japanese professional wrestler, Little Man Machan.
Destroy All Monsters: This film takes the alien invasion idea to another level. The aliens, called the Kilaaks, find a way to control the earth’s monsters, who had been collected and living peacefully on an island called Monsterland. The Kilaaks then release the monsters to destroy the earth’s major cities. When the monsters’ mind control is broken, the earth’s kaiju band together to defeat King Ghidrah. The earth defenders include Godzilla, Minya, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, Mothra, Rodan, Manda, Kumonga, Varan, and Baragon. Anguirus and Gorosaurus both prove to be pretty brave fighters in the last battle with King Ghidrah. The Earthlings are pretty brave, too, led by Akira Kubo as the captain of the spaceship Moonlight SY-3. Our fun fact for this film is that if you pay careful attention, you will hear a news anchor reporting that Baragon is attacking Paris, while on screen it shows Gorosaurus doing the damage!
Godzilla’s Revenge/All Monsters Attack: Ichiro is a little boy whose parents are always working, so he spends a lot of time by himself. He also has a problem with bullies. When Ichiro falls asleep, he dreams of going to Monster Island, where he befriends Minya, and the two of them learn what it means to stand up for yourself. It turns out Minya has a bully too, the weird-looking Gabara, and Godzilla basically forces Minya to deal with the problem himself. Ichiro takes the lessons he learns and uses them not only to deal with the bullies who bother him, but to stop a couple of criminals loose in his neighborhood. The fun fact here is that Ichiro’s friendly neighbor was played by Eisei Amamoto, who starred as the villainous Dr. Who in “King Kong Escapes,” and other classic monster movies.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah: Also known as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, this movie has a strong anti-pollution message. Hedorah is a living pile of toxic waste that takes many forms. He crawls, walks, and even flies, taking a break to suck pollution out of a smokestack like it is a giant straw. Godzilla is not able to defeat Hedorah by himself, but works together with the military to dry out the Smog Monster. This movie tried many new things, bringing in modern popular music, strange camera tricks and even animation to tell the story. At the time this film was made, Japan was suffering with serious pollution problems, so it is interesting to see that now Godzilla is the hero, and Hedorah is the obvious villain. A fun fact—we learn that Godzilla can fly by using his atomic ray as a kind of jet thruster. Another fun fact—real Godzilla toys are visible in once scene, and all of them are collector’s items today!
Godzilla vs. Gigan: In American movie theaters, this was called “Godzilla on Monster Island.” Once again the story has to do with an alien invasion; this time aliens from Nebula M Spacehunter want to take over the world. Not only do they control King Ghidrah, but they also unleash a secret weapon, the cyborg monster Gigan. With his buzzsaw chest blade, claw handle hands and metallic roar, Gigan would reappear in two more Godzilla films. The aliens’ headquarters is located in a tower shaped like Godzilla, built in an amusement park, but once the tower is destroyed, Godzilla easily defeats the confused space creatures. A fun fact about Godzilla vs. Gigan is that it shows Godzilla and Anguirus talking to each other. In the American version, you can hear their voices—in the Japanese, their words appear in balloons like a comic book.
Godzilla vs. Megalon: Nuclear testing has done severe damage to the underwater kingdom of Seatopia. In order to strike back, the Seatopians send the bizarre beetle-like creature Megalon to the surface. They also manage to take control of an experimental robot named Jet Jaguar, but his inventor is able to regain control and send Jet Jaguar to find Godzilla. The Seatopians contact the aliens from Nebula M Spacehunter, and they send Gigan to earth, setting up a tag team battle—Godzilla and the now monster-sized Jet Jaguar versus Megalon and Gigan. Jet Jaguar may remind you of other robotic heroes such as Ultraman. This movie came out in 1973, and at that time, giant robot superhero shows were very popular on Japanese TV. Our fun fact for a fun movie—the flying drop kick that Godzilla lays on Megalon was a featured part of the opening sequence of cable TV’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000” for a couple of seasons.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla: Also known as both Godzilla vs. the Bionic and Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster, this movie was a great way to celebrate twenty five years of monster mayhem. The Simeon aliens are out to conquer the world, and they have an incredible weapon on their side: Mechagodzilla, a robotic Godzilla lookalike. Mechagodzilla takes on Anguirus, then Godzilla himself. Godzilla regroups and recharges, and when it comes time to face his mechanical twin, he gains the help of King Seesar, guardian of Okinawa. Working mostly by himself, Godzilla takes a bloody beating, but wins the fight by becoming a giant magnet and snapping Mechagodzilla’s head off. A fun fact: The actor Akhiko Hirata, who was Doctor Serizawa in the first Godzilla film, appears here as a scientist who ruins the Simeons’ plan.
Terror of Mechagodzilla: The Simeon aliens are back, and they have the help of a brilliant scientist, Dr. Mifune. Not only is Dr. Mifune helping the Simeons to rebuild Mechagodzilla, but he has control over a giant dinosaur named Titanosaurus. Godzilla arrives to battle Titanosaurus, and we learn that Katsura, Dr. Mifune’s daughter (who is actually a cyborg), has control over Godzilla’s opponent. When Katsura seems to die, her control over Titanosaurus ends too, but the aliens put the control for Mechagodzilla inside her, and she sends Mecha and Titano to destroy Godzilla. Katsura finds a way to override the aliens, and she releases control over the monsters. Godzilla defeats Mechagodzilla, and Titanosaurus is turned back with sonar. A fun fact about Terror of Mechagodzilla is that the story idea was the result of a contest. The winner became the Godzilla series’ first woman screenwriter.
The Return of Godzilla: It would be about ten years before Godzilla would rise again, but when he did, he got a lot of attention, both in Japan and America. This movie acts like all the other films didn’t happen, except for the first, so when Godzilla reappears to feed on a nuclear power plant, it’s the first time he’s been seen in thirty years. Like the original, Godzilla is the only monster that you see onscreen, and also like the original, the military cannot defeat him; it takes a scientist’s idea to bring down. Godzilla is lured into a volcano by the sound of birds. A very large robotic suit was used for many scenes in this film, and the suit was actually used outside the studio to get attention for “The Return of Godzilla.” Another fun fact: The Amercian version, called “Godzilla 1985,” once again starred Raymond Burr, the same actor who played reporter Steve Martin in 1956’s “Godzilla, King of the Monsters.”
Godzilla vs. Biollante: Godzilla vs. a giant plant may not sound very exciting, but Biollante is no ordinary giant plant. Born from the cells of a scientists’ daughter, Biollante first appears as a beautiful yet humongous rose, but soon transforms into a hideous and even more humongous monster. Godzilla and Biollante do battle a couple times, and in the very end Godzilla seems to win, although the match nearly kills him. Godzilla vs. Biollante introduces a new character, Miki Saegusa, who can communicate telepathically with Godzilla. The Godzilla suit was totally redesigned for this movie, making him look very aggressive. A fun fact of Godzilla vs. Biollante is that nearly 5,000 people from all over the world gave the movie company Toho story ideas for this picture. The winner was a Japanese dentist and science fiction writer who had written an episode of “The Return of Ultraman.”
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah: The story of this film reveals that Godzilla was a much smaller dinosaur at the time of World War II, and that he defended Japanese soldiers against American attack on Lagos Island, before being exposed to a nuclear test in 1954. However, time travelers from the future offer to rid Japan of Godzilla by going back in time and removing Godzillasaurus from the island, so he’s never exposed to the nuclear test. The time travelers betray Japan by releasing three little Dorat creatures onto the island, which, when exposed to the test, becomes King Ghidorah, whom they then use to threaten Japan. But it turns out Godzilla was created anyway, he attacks King Ghidorah and the UFO, then the good time traveler uses Mecha King Ghidorah to dump him in the sea.
Godzilla and Mothra: the Battle for Earth: This was the most successful of the Japanese Godzilla movies made in the 1990’s. The only movie that sold more tickets in Japan in 1993 was ‘Jurassic Park.’ It isn’t too hard to see why. There’s lots of great monster action in this one, with the return of Mothra and her darker twin, Battra. Eventually, Mothra and Battra team up to fight Godzilla in the Japanese city of Yokohama. Just when it seems the giant insects have the upper hand, or wing, if you will, Godzilla hits Battra with his atomic ray at point blank range, killing it. Mothra drops Godzilla in the ocean, then heads off to space to stop a meteorite that Battra was going to destroy. A fun fact about Godzilla and Mothra: The opening scene, where we meet the explorer Takuya, is a tribute to Indiana Jones movies such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II: The United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center uses the remains of Mecha King Ghidorah to build two new devices: the warplane Garuda and Mechagodzilla. At the same time, a giant egg is discovered, which Godzilla and Rodan fight over. The egg is taken to Japan, and of course, Godzilla follows, because there is a BabyGodzilla inside, who hatches in captivity. Godzilla defeats his mechanized double in their first meeting, but the Garuda is attached to the robot’s back, and it goes to war again. Fire Rodan approaches, but is seemingly killed by Super Mechagodzilla. A G-Crusher weapon injures Godzilla’s spinal brain, but Fire Rodan transfers its life force to Godzilla. Godzilla now overpowers Mechagodzilla, and leaves Japan with BabyGodzilla in tow. Fun fact: The suit actor who portrayed BabyGodzilla is named Hurricane Ryu.
Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla: This movie continues a number of storylines from the 1990s Godzilla series. Godzilla and the slightly older LittleGodzilla now live on Birth Island, and are minding their own business when Space Godzilla arrives, beats up Godzilla and traps Little Godzilla in space crystals. Space Godzilla had been created when cells from Biollante were sucked through a black hole and started to mutate. In the end, Godzilla teams up with a new self-defense robot named MOGUERA to stop Spacey and free the little guy. The story also features telepath Miki Saegusa and a plot to control Godzilla’s mind. This movie was released on Godzilla’s fortieth birthday. Our fun fact for this film is that the robot MOGUERA was a redesign of a robot monster that first appeared in the 1957 movie “The Mysterians.” In that film, Moguera is used by alien invaders to destroy the Japanese countryside.
Godzilla vs. Destroyah: Godzilla is beginning to suffer a nuclear meltdown when we first see him in this film. This particular suit is often called “Burning Godzilla.” The after-effect of the Oxygen Destroyer, used to vaporize the original Godzilla, leads to the birth of tiny creatures that finally assemble into one giant, fearsome monster—Destroyah. Little Godzilla is now Godzilla Junior—radioactivity has increased his size, and he moves to battle Destroyah. However, Destroyah is too much for Godzilla Junior, and the youngster dies. With the seconds ticking away, Godzilla seems to finally triumph over Destroyah, but the Japanese airship Super X III deals the villain a final blow. Meanwhile, Godzilla fully melts down and explodes, but the radioactive energy from the explosion transforms Godzilla Junior into a new adult Godzilla. Fun fact: Momoko Kochi, who was the lead actress in the original “Godzilla,” plays the same role of Emiko in this film—41 years later!
Godzilla: In 1998, Matthew Broderick starred in a summer blockbuster that featured a giant radioactive lizard. For many G-fans, this creature was Godzilla In Name Only, because it did not look or behave like Toho’s monster star. What can’t be argued is that the film helped introduce Godzilla to a new generation through a huge wave of merchandise, including the classic movies and an animated series. Another result of Godzilla 98 is that Toho rushed their next movie into production as an answer to the American film, and before long, Godzilla 2000 was in American movie theaters! Fun fact: In 2004, Toho gave us their own version of GINO, officially called Zilla in “Godzilla: Final Wars,” who is easily defeated by the real Godzilla in Sydney, Australia.
Godzilla 2000: The Godzilla Prediction Network discovers that Godzilla is back and not in a good mood. At the same time, the Crisis Control Intelligence Agency raises a meteorite from the ocean floor, only to discover it is actually an alien spacecraft. The craft flies toward civilization and then morphs into a living creature called Orga, which samples Godzilla’s DNA, making it appear more and more Godzilla-like. Just when it seems Orga has absorbed Godzilla, the mighty monster blows the alien away from within. Godzilla’s looks are redesigned for this movie—his spikes are now purple, his skin is actually green, and his atomic ray is red, not blue.
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus: Godzilla appears throughout Japan’s modern era, coming ashore to feed on whatever energy the country is using at the time. However, a new technology is developed that can create black holes, called Dimension Tide. A prehistoric insect travels through a test black hole and begins to adapt and eat people. So many of the insects reproduce that their swarm interferes with the use of the Dimension Tide weapon against Godzilla. A gigantic insect develops—the Megaguirus of the title—and it faces off with Godzilla, leading to one of the most titantic belly smackers in movie history. The Dimension Tide weapon is fired again, and it seems to work against Godzilla. Our Megaguirus fun fact is that the film’s guest actress, Yuriko Hoshi, was the star of a Godzilla film thirty years before, appearing in “Ghidrah, the Three Headed Monster.”
Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack: Another of the Millenium series resets, GMK casts Godzilla as the villain and Mothra, Baragon, and King Ghidorah as the guardian monsters of the Japanese homeland. Tabloid television reporter Yuri follows the action and tries to figure out the prophecies about the guardian monsters, to help the military in their quest to turn back Godzilla. Her father happens to be an Admiral, and he is the one to pilot a submarine in a final showdown with Godzilla. This is Baragon’s first appearance since “Destroy All Monsters”—prior to that, the monster had tangled with the mutant Frankenstein monster in “Frankenstein Conquers the World.” A fun fact about GMK: the director originally wanted the guardian monsters to be Baragon, Anguirus, and Varan, but the bosses at the studio wanted more recognizable monsters to be in the film. The bosses won.
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla: What would the ultimate anti-Godzilla weapon be? What about a Mechagodzilla built from the bones of the original Godzilla himself? That’s the main idea behind 2002’s Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. This particular Mechagodzilla, nicknamed Kiryu, looks like he has all the tools to bring Godzilla to his knees, but there’s a problem: something deep inside his DNA recognizes himself when Godzilla lets out his trademark roar. Rather than continuing to attack his “brother,” Kiryu goes on a rampage, emptying all his weapons into the city he’s supposed to defend. After Kiryu is repaired, the battle is joined once again, and Godzilla and his metallic counterpoint wrestle to a draw, thanks to the bravery of pilot Akane. A fun fact to know is that the actress who plays the prime minister is none other than Kumi Mizuno, who was last seen in a Godzilla film in “Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster” from 1966.
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.: This is the only movie in the Millenium series that works as a sequel to the one that came before it. Once again we have Kiryu, the new-school Mechagodzilla, being used to defend Japan against Godzilla. Suddenly, Mothra appears, and the twin fairies that accompany Mothra warn that using Godzilla’s bones for Kiryu is wrong; that Godzilla’s bones should be returned to the ocean; and that Mothra will take Kiryu’s place to battle against Godzilla. The government isn’t so sure, and pays the price. Mothra, Godzilla, and Kiryu face off. Kiryu plunges Godzilla into the ocean depths, solving the basic problem. Tokyo S.O.S.’s special effects are very good, blending classic miniature work and suitmation with computer generated graphics. A fun fact of “S.O.S.” is that actor Hiroshi Koizumi reappears as the scientist Chujo—a role he played in the original Mothra movie from 1961.
Godzilla: Final Wars: For Godzilla’s 50th birthday, an all star monster cast was assembled. Godzilla: Final Wars not only stars Godzilla, but Mothra, Rodan, Gigan, Manda, Anguirus, King Seesar, Kamacurus, Kumonga, Ebirah, Hedorah, Monster X, Kaiser King Ghidorah, and the Tristar Godzilla, also known as Zilla. All these monsters were updated and streamlined for the occasion. The story borrows from Godzilla movies of the past, especially “Destroy All Monsters,” with alien invaders controlling the earth monsters and using them to wreak destruction on the world’s cities. Mixed martial artist Don Frye stars as Captain Gordon, who has the idea to save the world by setting Godzilla free from prison. Our fun fact for Final Wars is that it offered Akira Takarada the chance to be in both the first and (for now) the last Godzilla film made in Japan.
Godzilla: After the 1998 film, it seemed doubtful that another American Godzilla movie would ever be made. However, that all changed in March 2010, when Legendary Pictures announced that it would be making a new Godzilla film, and began promoting it at that summer’s San Diego Comic-Con. Longtime G-fans were thrilled when a picture from the set was released that showed director Gareth Edwards with Akira Takarada, who had traveled to Vancouver to film a cameo, and their hopes were dashed when the scene was cut in an eleventh-hour editorial decision. However, the film itself, a financial success, hearkens back to the 1970s, casting Godzilla in a heroic role against two creatures (called MUTOs) who are trying to spawn. The special effects are excellent, and it seems that a sequel is a certainty. Sixty years after he first appeared, Godzilla ruled the box office in the United States!
The author wishes to acknowledge the works of David Kalat, J.D. Lees, and Marc Cerasini in preparing this overview.