BY: RICHARD COLOM
On November 3, 1954, the islands of Japan shook–not because of any natural disaster or foreign attack, but because of a 150 foot monster with radioactive fire breath and almost complete invulnerability to conventional weapons. This was the day that Gojira premiered in theaters throughout Japan, starting what would become the legacy of the film production and distribution enterprise, Toho Company, LTD.
Despite mixed to negative reviews, the movie was extremely popular and sold 9.6 million tickets. Two years later, the movie would be re-edited and renamed by Jewell Enterprises into Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
In 1955, Toho revealed that Godzilla was not a king without enemies. During the second movie, Godzilla met his first foe, Anguirus, who would be followed by a large cast of monsters that would fight against and alongside the King of Monsters across twenty-nine movies.
In Japan, most monster series are divided into three eras: the Showa, Heisei, and Millenium. The first two eras are marked by the Japanese emperor at the time, while the Millenium era is based on a general change in style and story. Each era has its hallmarks, and in the first two eras, its own continuity.
The Showa era ran fifteen movies, until Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975. After the second movie, the tone became more lighthearted. By the fifth movie, Godzilla starts to take on the role of a protector, and, by the end of the era, he is almost a superhero–except with a larger damage bill than Superman in the latest Man of Steel movie.
Overall, the Showa era is remembered for its goofiness. Most of the silliest scenes in the series occur during this time, including: Godzilla feeding King Kong a tree in the middle of a fight, Godzilla and Anguirus talking, and Godzilla doing a comical victory dance. The series was eventually ended due to dwindling sales by the time of Terror of Mechagodzilla.
The Heisei series consists of seven movies, from Return of Godzilla in 1984 to Godzilla vs. Destroyah in 1995. This series has a much more serious tone, without any of the outright goofiness. Godzilla is almost never considered a good guy; if he is not the outright villain, he’s a lesser evil. This era also has a significantly stronger continuity than the previous two, with recurring plot points and characters.
In 1998, Tristar released a movie titled Godzilla. Their agile, vulnerable Godzilla was very different compared to the Japanese Godzilla. Fans of the old Godzilla were mostly unimpressed with this version, but Toho made it up to them the next year with the start of the Millenium era.
The Millenium era started in 1999 with Godzilla 2000 and ended in 2004 with the fiftieth anniversary, Godzilla: Final Wars. Overall, the tones of the these movies show traces of both the Heisei and Showa eras. Final Wars, however, is akin to a Showa era movie with a fresh lick of paint. Unlike the previous two eras, there is little continuity; most of the films are only related to the first movie.
When Final Wars had been released in 2004, an executive at Toho was quoted stating that it would be a decade before another Godzilla movie would be released. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the release of Gojira, and the 10th anniversary of the release of Godzilla: Final Wars.
In celebration of this milestone, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures will be releasing a new movie, again titled Godzilla, on May 16th. The movie will feature Bryan Cranston, most recently known for his role as Walter White from Breaking Bad.
Trailers for the film suggest a serious movie echoing the first film, with lingering shots of destruction and death. What can be determined is that, based on the design and the roar, the Godzilla of this film is more like the Japanese Godzilla than the last American attempt.