Friday, March 29, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Godzilla and Company! Part 1: Shōwa

With a new Godzilla movie coming out soon, I figured I should make a guide to where to start if you have never watched Godzilla before, or maybe just some recommendations if you are looking for one you have not seen.

Please keep in mind, there are hundreds and hundreds of Godzilla viewing guides, and none of them are wrong.  Most movies have nothing to do with each other, so seeing every movie is not completely necessary.  Everyone has their own opinion, and to them their viewing guide is perfect, I'm just here to show you mine.  I'm going to list them in order of release, and if you were wanting to watch them all, that's the order you should do it in.  I'll then make recommendations!  Not all these movies are great, or even good, but if you are a fan, why not watch them all?

Godzilla movies are split into three "series".  The films in each serious don't necessarily have anything to do with other films in the series, but for a few it helps to watch them in order.  The Shōwa series is named for the period in Japan before Emperor Hirohito's death.  These films span from 1954-1975.

The second series is the Heisei series.  This series starts with a direct sequel to the 1954 original, and ignores all previous movies besides the first.

The final series is the Millennium series.  This is from 1999-2004.  All films in this series use the original as the starting point.

This post is going to focus solely on the Shōwa series, but we'll cover the others later.  We have a long way to go!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla started it all.  Other than a few prior B movie horror films and of course King Kong, Godzilla really was the first big (ha) monster to take over the silver screen.  Known in Japan as Gojira, Godzilla made his first appearance in 1954.  There are two versions of the movie, Gojira, the Japanese version, and Godzilla, the "American" version.  Essentially, Hollywood took original Japanese footage from the movie and added an American actor into it, making it more appealing.  If you are going to watch one, I would recommend the Japanese version.  Also, from here on out, just assume recommend the watch these movies with the subtitles and original Japanese audio track.  Typically, the English dubs are a little off, but if you are just watching them for monsters fighting and cheese, the dubs will suffice.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters was released in the United States in 1956.  It shows Godzilla's first attack on Japan and how the military attempted to stop him.  Like old slasher films, don't take the story lines between these movies too seriously, as Godzilla dies more than once.

I would definitely recommend this movie the anyone interested in Godzilla.  You need to see where it all began!

Check here to see where it is streamming currently.  I would list them myself, but these things seem to change constantly!

Godzilla Raids Again

Just one year later, in 1955, Toho productions released Godzilla Raids Again.  Once again, Hollywood screwed up Godzilla for us Americans.  They released this movie as Gigantis, the Fire Monster.  In the film, they referred to Godzilla as Gigantis and changed his roar to make him seem like a new character.  Watch the Japanese version!

This film gave Godzilla his first giant monster to do battle with!  Godzilla Raids Again introduced the future ally Anguirus!  After this film, it apparently became almost a necessity to have Godzilla fight another monster in every movie.

Anguirus is a half turtle, half crocodile, half stegosaurus four-legged monster.  He walks on all fours and has sharp spikes covering most his body.  Anguirus goes on the become a frequent monster in Godzilla movies, depicted as an ally to Godzilla.  He typically is there to help take down the bad ones!

King Kong VS Godzilla

This next one is pretty bad...
In 1962 Toho released King Kong VS Godzilla!  It seems like an okay film right?  Two widely famous monsters doing battle!  Well, remember King Kong getting shot at my planes?  Remember his size?

He is maybe twice the size of the plane!  Godzilla is taller than Skyscrapers!  It would be like mouse fighting a lion!  Anyway, he is much bigger in this film that in King Kong, he is essentially just a Godzilla sized ape ready to box a giant lizard.  While not particularly great, it should be noted that this is the first movie where Godzilla and King Kong are in color.  Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, this is the most successful Godzilla film to date.  This does not surprise me, as I'm sure King Kong was quite well known world wide in the sixties, as was Godzilla.  This also is the first of two Japanese King Kong movies, I'll touch on that later.

As a kid in the nineties, it was sometimes tough to get Godzilla movies.  I had the basic ones everyone has seen, and a couple harder to find ones, but I never did get this one on the old VHS tape.  There was a rumor that there were two versions of the film, in the Japanese version, Godzilla lights King Kong on fire and he dies; in the American version, King Kong throws Godzilla into a volcano and Godzilla dies.  At the time, it seemed so believable as both countries would want their own monsters to win.

Mothra VS Godzilla

Mothra first appeared in the film Mothra in 1961.  Three years later, Toho decided to have her face Godzilla!  Poor Mothra!  This film marks the first time Toho brought monsters from their other movies into Godzilla movies.  This film is also known as Godzilla VS the Thing in the United States.  I actually have two copies of this VHS tape, one with each title.  I didn't know they were the same as a kid.
Mothra is a giant moth!  She is the protector of the planet, and he is represented by two five inch tall women!  It sounds far fetched, but you are the one reading a blog called the Mojoverse about a giant lizard who destroys cities!  Following this film, Mothra returns in three solo film, Rebirth of Mothra I, II, and III, and in twelve more Godzilla movies, sometimes as an enemy, and sometimes as an ally.

Ghidorah,  the Three-Headed Monster

Also in 1964, Toho release Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster!  King Ghidorah will go on the probably be the main antagonist of the series.  It is worth noting, he is sometimes called Ghidrah in the American versions.
As the title implies, Ghidorah is a giant three-headed monster!  He can fly and shoots lightning out of his mouth as well.  Neat.  He is vicious and always considered evil.  Also appearing in this film is Rodan!
Rodan is a giant flying pterodactyl.  He first appeared in the film Rodan, which I'll get to later, but had his first Godzilla appearance in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.  He is an enemy for about the first thirty minutes of this movie, and has been a trusted Godzilla ally since!  This film also has Mothra, making it the first Godzilla movie to feature more than two monsters.  Overall, it's one of the bests.  Definitely watch it if you are going to watch any of them that are this old.

Godzilla VS Monster Zero

Apparently Godzilla fans liked Ghidorah!  Just a year later, Toho release another Godzilla film with Ghidorah as the villain.  This movie has a bit of science-fiction to it.  Two astronauts travel to a planet that is terrorized by Ghidorah, and the locals ask for Godzilla's help to stop him, but it's not all as it seems!  Anyway, this is also known as Monster Zero and Invasion of the Astro-Monster.  This movie also features Rodan helping Godzilla take down Ghidorah, again.  It's not bad, but typically I would rather watch the Three-Headed Monster twice than to watch both of these.

Godzilla VS the Sea Monster

So in this one, Godzilla fights a sea monster.  No really.  The official Japanese title is Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, but is known as Godzilla VS the Sea Monster in America.  This film stars Godzilla, Mothra, and Ebirah...
...a giant lobster!  This movie kind of starts to show a lighthearted Godzilla.  He is still a monster, but much less terrifying than previously.  There is even a scene where Ebirah and Godzilla hit a rock both and forth like they are playing volleyball.  Ebirah isn't very popular apparently, as he only appears in three films total.  Honestly, I like this movie because I had it as a kid, I probably wouldn't otherwise.

Son of Godzilla

Son of Godzilla, also known as Monster Island, is really where the movie start to get weird.  It was released in 1967 and more of a children's movie than anything else.  This movie introduces Godzilla's son, Minilla.
Damn that thing is ugly.  The movie is about a group of scientists working on a weather control system on a remote island in the Pacific.  This proves dangerous as Godzilla lives on the island, along with Minilla and giant praying mantises.  They are known as Kamacuras.  God Minilla looks weird.
The Kamacuras mess with Minilla, and Godzilla shows them what's up.  That's pretty much the entire plot.  
The film also introduces Kumonga, a giant tarantula from the island.  Kumonga will go on to be in three more Godzilla films.

Destroy All Monters

This movie was the first DVD I ever bought!  Released in 1968, this was originally supposed to be the final Godzilla film, but you can't kill Godzilla!  This movie is an all out battle between monsters and the Earth!  Aliens mind control all the world's monsters and they start destroying all the major cities.  This movie features previously introduced characters such as Godzilla, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Minilla, Kumonga, Anguirus, and Mothra.  This film also introduces Gorosaurus, Manda, Baragon, and Varan to the Godzilla series.
Gorosaurus got his first appearance in Toho second King Kong movie, King Kong Escapes in 1967.  He is more or less a giant tyrannosaurus rex.  He will appears in two more Godzilla films.
Manda, a personal favorite of mine, got his first appearance in film Atragon in 1963.  He is an underwater God, and he closely resembles your stereotypical Japanese dragon.  He's a personal favorite of mine.  He will appear in two more Godzilla films.
Our next monster is Baragon.  He is a giant dinosaur, like many other Toho monsters.  He first appeared in Toho's giant Frankenstein film, Frankenstein VS Baragon.  More on this later of course.  He is also featured in one more Godzilla movie, Godzilla: Final Wars.
Our Final new monster to the Godzilla series is Varan, who first appeared on his own film in 1958.  He's kind of a spiked dinosaur of sorts.  He also appears in Godzilla: Final Wars.

This is the definitive monster chaos movie.  It's really just monsters destroying cities, and then teaming up to fight King Ghidorah himself!

Godzilla's Revenge

This movie is 100% made for children.  According to Wikipedia, the film was made for $150,000, which even for 1969 wasn't much.  It is also known as All Monsters Attack.  The film stars a young boy named Ichiro.  Ichiro is a lonely, bullied child who escapes into Godzilla fantasies.  These fantasies involve him on monster island with Minilla, who can apparently shrink to a human size on demand.  The movie features Godzilla fighting a variety of creatures throughout the island and Minilla and Ichiro cheer him on.  To help overcome his fear of bullying, in his fantasies Ichiro witnesses Minilla being bullied by Gabara, a green monster who sounds like a cat meow on repeat.
This is Gabara's first and last appearance in a film.  Gorosaurus, Manda, Kumonga, Ebirah, Kamacuras, and of course Godzilla also return.  Most the monster appearances in this film are just stock footage from previous Godzilla movies.  This movie is literally as weird as Godzilla gets, and you probably shouldn't watch it if you literally have any other Godzilla movies to watch.

Godzilla VS Hedorah

Also known as Godzilla VS the Smog Monster, this film was released in 1971 as introduces us to Hedorah, the smog monster.  Hedorah is essentially a giant space alien blob of trash.  He can change his size and form often, and it apparently unaffected by Godzilla's atomic breath.
This is Hedorah's first and only appearance, but that doesn't mean he should be compared to Gabara!  He is a pretty great villain!

Godzilla VS Gigan

Godzilla VS Gigan was released in 1972 and features Ghidorah and Gigan sent to Earth to wipe out the human race.  Godzilla and Anguirus attempt to fight them off!  There are a few other appearances of monsters from stock footage, but nothing notable.
Gigan is a giant laser eyed cyborg with claws for arms, to make things even better, his stomach is literally a buzz saw..  Since he is an alien, he can apparently fly.  Gigan will return in Godzilla VS Megalon!

Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla

This might be my favorite Godzilla film.  If you couldn't tell by the title, this movie is about Godzilla facing off against a giant robotic Godzilla.  Originally known as Godzilla VS the Bionic Monster in the United States, this 1974 film features another monster who can go 1 on 1 with Godzilla other than Ghidorah.  Mechagodzilla is a Godzilla sized robot built to destroy Godzilla.  At first, it wears a fake skin to disguise itself as Godzilla.
Mechagodzilla is equipped with lasers, missiles, machine guns, some kind of spinning force field, and of course, rocket shoes so it can fly.  He appears in one more Godzilla film, even though technically it's a new robot, but still the same thing.  The film also features Anguirus and introduces King Caesar!
King Caesar is a giant, horned dog.  Just kidding, but seriously.  King Caesar is some kind of royal monster worshiped by natives on an island.

Terror of Mechagodzilla

Terror of Mechagodzilla was released in 1975 and is the final film in this series.  Apparently the film didn't even sell one million tickets, so Godzilla was put on hold for a while.  The film brings back Mechagodzilla, ready to do battle with Godzilla once more.  The film technically starts Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla, but it is more or less the same machine.  The film also introduces one of my favorite monsters, Titanosaurus.  I don't know what it is about fish looking monsters, but I love this guy.
He is an aquatic monster discovered by a doctor, but no one believed him.  He got kicked out of the scientific community for his "crazy" findings.  If you can believe Godzilla and the 500,000 other giant monsters in Japan, what makes this so crazy?!  Anyway, Titanosaurus is pretty bad ass, but this is his only film sadly.

This was one of the few Godzilla movies I had on VHS for years, so I've probably seen this one more than any of them.  Titanosaurus's roar is so great!


Out of this series, everyone needs to see the original Godzilla.  Godzilla VS Mothra is definitely worth checking out, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is mandatory viewing.  I would probably check out Destroy All Monsters just for the monster carnage.  Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla is good too, as he kind of messes Godzilla up.

I will do the other series and spin-off titles soon!

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