This month our favorite jumbo-sized reptilian titan is back on the big screen -- or, thanks to Warner Brothers’ current release strategy, on your phone while you’re doing laundry and also watching Bridgerton. In any case, we couldn’t be more thrilled to check out the latest bout between Godzilla and his ape counterpart King Kong, so much so we’ve decided to take a look back at some of the wackier moments in the history of Japan’s iconic kaiju, such as ...
Godzilla has undeniably become a towering pillar of modern popular culture -- after all, how many fictional characters have battled both Charles Barkley and The Avengers? But Godzilla, not unlike Batman and Olaf the exasperating snowman, began as kind of a giant rip-off. The original 1954 Godzilla only happened because Japanese studio Toho’s plans to shoot a post-war drama in Indonesia fell through due to the government’s bureaucratic obstacles. As the story goes, on the plane ride home, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka gazed out the window and thought and was suddenly inspired to … throw together a copy of an American monster movie in order to utilize the budget Toho had already coughed up.
Just the year before Godzilla came out, the American horror movie The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms told the story of a dinosaur-like monster who is awoken by nuclear tests and proceeds to terrorize a major city. Sound familiar?
Somewhat unsubtly, Tanaka’s pitch was originally titled Big Monster From 20,000 Miles Beneath The Sea. Yeah, Godzilla basically began as an Asylum Studios-like mockbuster. Early drafts for Godzilla even involved the titular monster attacking a lighthouse, which was blatantly cribbed from a scene in its American predecessor in which the fictional Rhedosaurus digs into a lighthouse as if it were a giant Olive Garden breadstick.
Stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen, who did the creature effects for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms still seemed pretty pissed about all of this more than fifty years later; in 2005 he called Godzilla a “filch” from his movie during an interview. Of course Godzilla ended up diverging greatly from those earlier B-movies, not just in its “suitmation” effects, but in its enrichment of the nuclear anxiety allegory that was never as starkly realized in the American monster movies of the time. And we’d like to see the Rhedosaurus even try and fight his own alien hybrid clone.
As we’ve mentioned before, wearing the Godzilla suit was basically torture. It weighed more than 200 pounds; parts of it were originally made of concrete because rubber was so scarce in post-war Japan, which also meant that it was insanely hot for performers, especially under the bright studio lights. Breathing, too, was a problem, requiring oxygen tubes that had to be removed during filming. All of these problems existed on land, and they were only exacerbated while filming in water. For the water scenes Godzilla actors literally risked their lives in giant pools that were also, incidentally, full of urine.
But it wasn’t just Godzilla’s costumes that were a pain in the ass to wear, the franchise’s arsenal of creatures boasted equally cumbersome outfits. By far the craziest story involving one of these costumes happened during the filming of 1971’s Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, in which Godzilla battles Hedorah, a toxic creature that feeds off of the world’s pollution. Godzilla eventually wins, which involves ripping out Hedorah’s guts and tossing them around like hacky sacks.
During the shoot, actor Kenpachiro Satsuma, who was playing Hedorah, was allegedly hit by a sudden case of appendicitis and had to have an emergency appendectomy while still wearing his giant monster costume. Why? Because time was of the essence and it would have taken too long to get him out of the suit. Which makes that climactic scene all the weirder.
Despite the fact that it turned out to be a crappy Jurassic Park rip-off set to the sounds of Puff Daddy yelling literal nonsense over a Led Zeppelin riff, there was an absolutely staggering degree of secrecy surrounding the 1998 American remake of Godzilla. Specifically, the look of the character. For example, when the L.A. Times reported that the new Godzilla would have a giant flopping dong (seriously), TriStar disinvited them from covering the production, which they interpreted as “payback.”
Because blockbuster movies have numerous promotional tie-in partners, a leak seemed almost inevitable. But since filmmakers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich were more concerned with concealing their redesign of a forty-five-year-old character than crafting the semblance of a watchable movie, they actually set up a “sting operation” to ferret out any potential leakers. The team distributed unique fake artwork to various potential corporate partners for merchandising crossovers, then waited to see which ones surfaced online. It actually worked -- the fake Godzilla design they gave Fruit of the Loom ended up on a fansite so they “terminated” the partnership, depriving the world of boxer briefs with Godzilla’s face plastered on the crotch.
But while they successfully deduced that the underwear company they sent bogus monster sketches to wasn’t trustworthy, Devlin and Emmerich ultimately ended up creating bigger problems for themselves. Why? Because the intentionally crappy design was circulating the internet, and fans who weren’t hip to the ruse naturally assumed it was real. And the various decoys “refused to die” once companies passed sketches onto subcontractors, which led to more leaks, which were again picked up by Godzilla websites. The filmmakers ended up having to basically threaten their own fans, sending stern emails to Godzilla obsessives who posted the images online forcing them to reveal their sources. Which is especially insane seeing as most people first saw the new Godzilla, not in the movie, but on a friggin’ Taco Bell collector’s cup.
America eventually took another stab at the franchise with 2014’s Godzilla, a film that arguably owes less to the original Japanese movie than it does the films of Steven Spielberg -- right down to the lead character being called “Ford Brody,” a name seemingly pulled from some kind of online Spielberg character name generator. Following its success, Toho decided to produce a Godzilla reboot of their own. The resulting movie, Shin Godzilla, harkened back to the blistering topicality of the 1954 original -- it was part monster movie, part broad satire of bureaucratic incompetence, reworking the familiar story of a Godzilla attack into a scathing critique of the inept government response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
And, unfortunately for us, it’s become even more relevant now. Shin Godzilla works surprisingly well as a retro-fitted metaphor for the United States’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The fictional Japanese Prime Minister, not unlike former President Trump, immediately downplays the dangers of the mysterious new threat, implying that the whole thing is bound to blow over. He also continually ignores the advice of scientific experts, and re-opens the economy literally in the midst of a deadly sea monster assault.
In another weirdly specific parallel, part of the reason why the government has such trouble battling Godzilla is because he’s constantly mutating.
And in the end, everybody realizes that Godzilla can never totally be killed, and humanity will just have to try and use its collective ingenuity to keep the danger at bay.
Of course the true measure of any work of art is how many unnecessary tourist traps it spawns -- and Godzilla is no slouch there, either. Recently, a number of bizarre Godzilla-based attractions have popped up, including a Tokyo hotel featuring a giant, sculpted Godzilla head at the top. Which is both amazing and kind of odd, considering that branding a towering Tokyo building with the image of Godzilla is a little like naming a music school after Nickelback. The head even features his glowing eyes and atomic breath, presumably activated every time someone steals a bathrobe.
The Hotel Gracery Shinjuku also features Godzilla-themed rooms for those couples looking to spice up their relationship with a night of passion underneath a giant scaly monster claw.
And while his old buddy King Kong has had a steady gig terrorizing the Universal Studios tram tour for decades, Godzilla finally got a ride-based attraction just last year. Awaji Island Anime Park is now home to a Godzilla museum which is housed next to a ride that allows you to zipline directly into a “life-size” Godzilla’s gaping mouth … before you seemingly exit through his similarly gaping butthole.
The ride only costs 38,000 yen, or around 35 bucks -- a small price to pay to fly through a giant digestive tract as if you were a 7-Eleven chimichanga.
Top Image: Toho Studios