Six Weeks of Halloween 2013: Week 1 – Kaiju Movies

The most awesomest time of the year has arrived, bringing with it stuff like decorative corpses, mutilated pumpkins, bite sized candy, pumpkin beers, and a whole host of other nominally ghastly objects that suddenly become socially acceptable. Halloweentime is so fun, and it’s the horror movie nerd’s high holiday, so in honor of this most glorious of seasons, I always buckle down and watch a bunch of horror movies.

Inspired by Pacific Rim, I’m kicking the festivities off this year with a bevy of Kaiju movies. The Japanese term Kaiju literally translates to “strange creature”, but to us yanks, it basically means “monster”. I’ve seen bits and pieces of these over the years, and I believe I’ve even watched some in MST3K form (I definitely remember a couple of Mothra flicks from that era), but I’ve never given them a serious, sustained look. So let’s do that:

  • King of the Monsters (Robot Chicken)
  • King Kong (1933 Trailer)
  • Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (trailer)
  • Godzilla – The granddaddy of all kaiju, Godzilla is one of the most recognizable creations of Japanese pop culture, appearing in upwards of 27 films, not to mention video games and other ephemera. This 1954 film is, to my knowledge, the first official kaiju film and well worth a look. The Japanese have a unique perspective on technology, particularly nuclear technology, so while this isn’t the first (cinematic) giant monster created by nuclear testing, it’s the most famous.


    Watching it now, the special effects don’t really hold up so well (that’s clearly a dude in a suit and those exploding trains are clearly toys), but the thing that surprised me most about the movie was it’s sophisticated sense of responsibility in the face of new technology. There’s the obvious commentary on nuclear testing, but when the eyepatch wearing Serizawa discovers a new weapon, there is a great deal of (deserved) hand-wringing about the use of a new and terrifying weapon. What’s more, there is also a sense of responsibility around Godzilla itself. Should we destroy the beast, or is it merely a force of nature that begs for study and understanding? Sure, Godzilla lays waste to Tokyo and there’s all sorts of tanks and planes and explosions, but it’s the morality of the tale that makes this an enduring film, and it’s well worth revisiting for that side alone. I was really not expecting this sort of ethical and moral sophistication, and I’m really happy I went back and watched this movie. ***

  • A Ruined Nation (Robot Chicken)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Attack of the 50 foot Eyesores
  • Mothra (trailer)
  • Rodan – Rodan is a mutated prehistoric reptile, caused by (you guessed it) nuclear testing, but it was also uncovered by a mining operation, a wrinkle on the cautionary nature of these tales. Unfortunately, none of the subtlety or sophistication of Godzilla are present here; no moral conundrums, and only a minor retread and tweaking of the cautionary themes. The plot is barely worth elaborating. Workers in a mine start disappearing; one survivor witnesses a giant egg hatching to reveal Rodan, a flying monster whose main weapon seems to be the wind caused by it’s acceleration and supersonic speed. Unfortunately, the movie barely does anything with this. Plenty of destruction and mayhem, but little human conflict to anchor that to. After the pleasant surprise of Godzilla, this was a big disappointment. *
  • Pacific Rim (trailer)
  • Godzilla (1998 trailer)
  • Godzilla Returns (Robot Chicken)
  • Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster – So Godzilla is the king of the monsters, but then, what can stand up to him? Enter the “big bad” of the kaiju movies, Ghidorah, a fire-breathing monster of extraterrestrial origins that is so powerful that Godzilla can’t take him on alone. Instead, we get Mothra convincing Godzilla and Rodan (formerly enemies) to put aside their own petty squabbles in order to defend their planet. Godzilla had been portrayed as a villain or a force of nature, but now he makes the transition to hero. All of the sudden, these monsters became likable and we started applying anthropomorphic traits to them. The challenge of featuring these giant monsters teaming up to battle another giant monster is that humans are sorta extraneous, so we end up with a very disjointed tale of a princess who thinks she’s from Mars, warning the planet about Ghidorah and dealing with a hit squad from her homeland. Or something. This is certainly an improvement over Rodan, but not quite to the level of Godzilla. Still, I certainly had enough fun with it, so it may be worth a watch if you’re interested. **1/2

And so the first week of Halloween is in the books, only 5 more weeks to go. Stay tuned for a look at some of the Saw sequels next week.

4 thoughts on “Six Weeks of Halloween 2013: Week 1 – Kaiju Movies”

  1. The original Godzilla mainly works as a period piece; some of the sfx are surprisingly effective viewed in context of when the movie was made. It’s also the only film to remotely count as a horror movie, and one of only a handful that were treated seriously. I haven’t watched the 1984 remake in quite a while, but the 1999 relaunch was probably the one other serious, somewhat tense movie. Godzilla is treated seriously and the film has some great images and sequences. The last movie, Final Wars is over-the-top and campy, and very uneven in quality and storytelling. However, Final Wars has a couple of sequences that are probably the most impressive of all the movies.

    Best MST3K kaiju movie was one of the Gamera films. Don’t remember which one.

  2. Happy Six Weeks!

    The original Godzilla is a surprisingly good movie. The rest, I actually never had much use for… after a point, two guys in rubber suits fighting and stomping on models gets pretty old.

  3. Ben, Believe it or not, they’re rebooting Godzilla next year. Gareth Edwards is directing (he made that low-budget, quasi-mumblecore movie Monsters a few years ago – not my favorite movie, but interesting.) Also, I’m pretty sure the MST3K for the first Gamera movie is on Netflix Instant. May have to check that out!

    Rex! I pretty much agree with everything you said. I enjoyed Ghidorah a fair amount, but I can also see the rest of the versus movies being very repetitive. I’m doubting I’ll explore the genre that much more, but I’m really happy that I watched the first Godzilla. To your point, it’s surprisingly good.

  4. Mark,

    Oooooh, yes, I’m aware of it. Of course, I was excited about the previous American Godzilla movie, right until I watched it and saw what an incredible fumble of the franchise it was. It’s not a *bad* movie, to be clear; just not really a Godzilla movie. Kind of an American kaiju movie inspired by and based on Godzilla.

    The two things about the Gamera movie I’m trying to pin down is that, in English, they called the little boy “Timmy” and every time someone warned him about danger he would exclaim “I don’t care!” This, of course, became an oft-repeated phrase by Joel and ‘bots. And then they did a Gamera song that featured the lyrics “Gamera is really neat! Gamera is full of meat! We believe in Gamera!!!”

    Good times. Good times.

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