Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 10: It Probably Came From a Sticky, Dark Planet Far, Far Away

In the deep dark places of my mind, there are one group of childhood movies that stand out. All of those classic "Godzilla vs. ______" movies were some of the best films I rented as a kid. It's been years since I've thought about it, especially since the Americanized film versions ruined what I held dear. So now I'm here to bring back the love I had for Godzilla. Throw out your current knowledge of Godzilla and other Japanese beast films because I'm about to school you in the original Japanese art of Kaiju.

Godzilla is one of many films known as Kaiju science fiction films. The Kaiju films are a fad that started over in Japan that consist of films and artwork containing strange and usually large beasts. These Kaiju beasts are modeled after animals, insects, and mythological creatures that are altered to create a more horrifying and thrilling character (yet in some cases the creatures are based on inanimate objects). These beasts are usually seen as evil entities that plague our earth, yet at the same time have been know to do good. Ex.: Godzilla might be known to destroy buildings and entire cities, but is also known to have helped rid Japan of its occasional monstrous pests. Generally, Kaiju creatures over time became portrayed as less evil and more misunderstood.

The first Godzilla movie (properly known as "Gojira") became one of the first landmark films for the Kaiju scene in 1954; it was later heavily edited and released in the U.S. as "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!". The story starts off with Japanese fishing boats, and the rescue boats that came to help them, being attacked. Natives on the island of Odo know of the beast Gojira and are aware its his attacks. From there on it is a battle between Japan and this evil monster of the sea. Throughout the plot, scientists figure that the beast had been created due to a nuclear explosion. I would go further with the plot, but I'd rather not reveal it for those who have not had the pleasure of watching it. More important is the fact that this movie is not just some science fiction film, but rather a euphemism for an event known as the "Castle Bravo nuclear test". On March 1, 1954, the U.S. tested nuclear weapons on Bikini Atoll near the Marshall Islands and instead of testing the expected 6 megatons, there was a test of 15 megatons. A tuna fishing boat known as the "Lucky Dragon 5" was in the radius, along with some of the Marshall Islands. Radiation from the test not only affected the boat members and residents of the island, but is also known to have contaminated fish around the islands. When watching Gojira, it is clear that producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had the event in mind and used his creation to display a deeper story. With Gojira being the creation of a nuclear accident, he reigns terror on Japan, similar to the terror caused by the Castle Bravo incident.

Other Kaiju Monsters You Should Know

Gamera- Also known as Daikaiju, Gamera was a film made in 1965 about a giant turtle named Gamera. Similar to Godzilla, Gamera's awakening is caused by the detonation of an atomic bomb. For the most part, the rest is straight forward: Gamera is mad and he wants to destroy Japan. Several attempts are made to stop Gamera which all obviously fail and lead to reveal one of his superpowers: flight. The rest is golden. I suggest that if you want to watch this, get twice the pleasure and try to find the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it.

Mothra- Another classic is the 1961 Kaiju film, Mothra. Directed by Ishiro Honda, the film brings us on an expedition to an irradiated island where we find primitive native culture. When one expeditionary tries to exploit the islanders, their ancient deity comes to action. Plot..plot...plot.. the egg hatches and out comes the caterpillar form of Mothra. It makes it's way to the Japanese mainland destroying several battleships on the way, only to wreak serious havoc in Japan. Making itself at home, the caterpillar creates its cocoon in the ruins of the Tokyo Tower and later comes out as a full blown giant moth. Some destruction, some more plot, and Mothra goes back home.

Rodan-  The final film I present to you is Rodan, the Giant Monster of the Sky. This film takes on a bit of a different plot start. Here we find Japanese miners digging far into the depths of the earth and finding prehistoric insects called Meganulon that attack them. Further research into the matter reveals that they are food for larger creatures known as Rodans who hatch from their eggs to terrorize the world. 

I would go into the American movies and tell you their history, but I see that as more pointless than to know the facts behind the Japanese films. So from here I hope you all go out to enjoy some of these classic Kaiju films and see a side of horror and destruction that you have yet to see in any other movie.

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