To celebrate Godzilla, floor manager and film connoisseur Gregory teamed up with bookseller and artist at large Griffin to make an awesome display on the second floor of the store (near the film section!) and here explores the life and times of the giant monster that we all know and love.
Godzilla turns 65 this year and with another flick opening in cinemas this weekend, I thought it was high time we booksellers pay tribute to the giant terror from Japan. Now, I have to warn you this post will be digging through the good stuff. So any mentions of the likes of Matthew Broderick, Roland Emmerick, or Puff Daddy are no bueno. We’ll also be paying no mind to the recent American flicks, sorry Bryan Cranston fans. We will be talking about the reigning king of monsters that started the Kaiju craze, the one that went toe-to-toe with Charles Barkley, co-star of Perry Mason, the one and only Gojira!
Godzilla roared out of the waters of Japan back in 1954, and monster movies have never been the same. Sure, there were giant monsters before this, but none so terrifying and none so socially conscious as Mr. Mean Green (who was in black and white at the start). Prior to this there were dinos, sea creatures, and one notable ape known for his love of blondes, but what Godzilla brought to the screen was the modern context of a nation’s fears and anxieties. Godzilla after all debuted less than ten years after the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you haven’t seen the OG flick, Godzilla is a mutant of atomic energy. It arrives and wreaks havoc of atomic proportions on Tokyo, echoing the WWII destruction. This kind of social realism is hard to come by in other picture of this nature.
Following this the giant monster movie craze erupted. THEM, Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Monster that Changed the World, and The Amazing Colossal Man followed quickly in the steps of Old Fire Breath, but none of them had the same impact. Side note, look no further than Attack of the 50ft Woman if you want to see an uproarious take on men’s fears of rising feminism. Godzilla spawned some 35 pictures, including remakes and reworkings and tv shows. The film franchise also spawned household name monsters such as Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and Godzuki (who we’re not going to talk about, because nothing is perfect after all).
Godzilla has had a strange relationship with viewers. What started as an unholy terror spawned by man’s follies, Big Green became a protector of humanity, then went total goofball in the late-60s through the ‘70s. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good entries in the series during this time, especially Destroy All Monsters (‘68) and Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (‘74), but daffiness runs amok in a lot of the entries. I know I just said I wouldn’t bring up Godzuki, but if you want to make the average movie-goer wince in discomfort, look no further. There’s also the gleeful moments of Godzilla spazzing in a jump for joy, flying by the propulsion of his breath, and a dropkick so hilarious it earned a place in the opening credits of MST3K. Schlocky fun, indeed.
Ultimately, Godzilla got a reboot, returning The Giant Terror to its origins. Godzilla 1985 brought The Crusher back to the city (which strangely had been missing for a number of years from the franchise), cut out other monster gimmicks, and recontextualizes the monster for the Reagan/Gorbachev era of the Cold War. Everything following this picture had the Giant of Giants flexing between protector and destroyer; not exactly fighting for humanity, but more so defending his territory.
And that’s where we stand today, with every new entry in the series, Godzilla is faced with some new ugly monster or mechanical murder machine, but he always makes it out, because after all, he is The King of the Monsters. The latest great entry in the franchise is Shin Godzilla (2016) that recontextualizes the monster again for our climate change fears. The picture is jammed with bureaucratic disagreements on handling the increasing danger of the approaching disasters, which isn’t necessarily new to these movies, but it plays so close to our reality at this point we might as well be looking at hurricanes and tsunamis as giant monsters of our own creation.
Now, there are plenty of other giant monsters worth mentioning in Godzilla’s wake, namely his mammal counterpart King Kong. Anyone taking on the big hairy guy has always struggled to reproduce the magic of the original 1933 picture, even having him square off against Old Motorbreath (and we’re getting that rematch in 2020). But Kong has struggled with remake after remake and just never found that sweet spot Godzilla has in our pop culture hearts. On the other hand, many other monsters have cropped up in pictures like Q (1982), The Host (2006), Cloverfield (2008), and Pacific Rim (2013) all leaving notable marks on our cinematic entertainment. Anime is probably the greatest successor to the Alpha Lizard with so many giant creations sprouting up all over, but also North Korea’s Pulgasari, Clash of the Titans’ The Kraken, and the disaster-porn obsessed superhero blockbusters all take from Godzilla as well.
But what makes Godzilla so intriguing compared to any of the contemporary monsters is the character’s place in our culture. Beyond movies, he’s appeared in video games, comic books, cartoons, and in multiple toy lines. The film scores have been endlessly sampled in hip-hop and electronic music. He’s been used to sell Nike, Dr. Pepper, Snickers, and Taco Bell. He is the official Japanese Ambassador of Tourism and has his own hotel in Tokyo. He’s been parodied in GhostBusters, The Simpsons, Rugrats, and by many others. Kaiju Big Battel Wrestling, Blue Oyster Cult, and Pee Wee Herman are all connected by The Big G. But least of all, we cannot forget the greatest mangling of Godzilla’s cultural impact—that being the term “bridezilla”.
There is just so much to discuss in the history and our fascination with the giant monster movies and Godzilla. Thankfully, whole books have been written on the subject, namely Godzilla on My Mind by William Tsutsui. So, to celebrate this occasion and the release of a new American version in cinemas now, we’ve created a display in our film section. Stomp on by, check it out (featuring some incredible art by one of our monster-fiend booksellers, Griffin), and dive into the tomes of giant terrors and realm protectors.
For further reading on Godzilla, or mega-monsters in general, check out these books that Gregory recommends!
And some monster fun for our younger readers: