Alright, we made it to part two of my favorite kaiju movies, the best of the bunch! Or, well, my personal favorites at least. You can read part one over here.
Godzilla Vs Hedorah (1971) - This movie has a bit of a bad reputation among fans, and even I hated it the first time I’d watched it. I was sick, I had a headache, I wanted something light and cheesy to watch (most Godzilla movies are perfect for watching while sick in bed, for some reason), and well, this is anything but. More like an all-out assault on the senses. In some ways, it’s a little obvious why Toho outright banned writer/director Yoshimitsu Banno from making another film after this one, but the reasons why are kind of why I love it so much: it is such a gross, ugly, mean movie. Hedorah may be the most bizarre monster Godzilla has ever fought, a rapidly evolving pollution-devouring sludge beast from space, and the movie wastes no time whatsoever showing him to you, along with the devastation he causes. For the bulk of the movie, Godzilla doesn’t even know how to fight the damn thing. Hedorah’s stench is so awful that Godzilla hardly wants to go near him, not to mention his attacks just cut right through the sludge, doing nothing but getting himself covered in burning, acidic ooze. Even his beam is ineffective. He just doesn’t know what to do. News broadcasts throughout the movie keep you updated on the amount of damage Hedorah deals, as well as a running body count. People choke on toxic fumes and pass out, stray sludge burns them away to nothing but bones. It’s grisly, not the kid’s film that Toho expected at all.
But it’s the times where Banno DOES remember that this is a kid’s film where fans get the most upset: this IS the movie where Godzilla uses his breath to FLY, after all. Seeing him soar across the sky is up there as far as ridiculous moments in Godzilla movies go, but it’s really just a drop in the bucket when one considers all the other bizarre imagery in this movie. I think that’s another reason I enjoy it so much, it’s so unabashedly WEIRD, the most outrageous of all the Godzilla movies. Banno flew too close to the sun with this one, it‘s more like those batshit crazy Shochiku horror films from the 60‘s than anything else. And now I want to do a double feature of this movie with Genocide.
BONUS: This past Saturday I was at the comic shop for Free Comic Book Day, discussing Godzilla nonsense with anyone who stood by my table for longer than 5 seconds. One guy, who I’d met last year and talked with a lot, told me about how Hedorah was the first Godzilla movie he saw. He was 6 years old, and his father worked at the Eastman in Kingsport, 30 minutes from here, a HUGE industrial area, and he watched it THERE at one of the factories as part of some summer thing that the Eastman put on for the kids of employees. Not only did the movie rightfully scare the shit out of him, but when he got out of the movie he was absolutely convinced that Hedorah would descend upon the Eastman, devouring smoke and murdering people. BEST FIRST GODZILLA EXPERIENCE EVER.
Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996) - A lot of kaiju fans state that Gamera 3 is the best of Shusuke Kaneko’s Heisei trilogy, and I don’t really know why. I guess because it’s so dark and grisly? But it’s also dull, with the interesting bits like the Gyaos invasion and Gamera starting to go feral set aside in favor of a boring revenge plot with the unimpressive-looking Irys. For me, Gamera 2 is where it’s at. It’s quite a bit of a throwback to old 50’s alien invasion movies in a lot of ways, with more old-school charm to it than the other two films in the trilogy. And then there’s the Legion themselves. I’m a sucker for insectoid kaiju (see: Megalon), and the Legion insects are just so cool looking. Then there’s the giant queen herself, a massive thing, towering over Gamera, resembling a cross between a crab and a grasshopper, unstoppable. Gamera doesn’t even stand a chance against her, with most of the fighting between the two coming down to Gamera just struggling to hold Legion back. The special effects get a huge upgrade with this movie, and Kow Otani’s score is just fantastic as usual. This is really one of the finest kaiju movies ever made.
Godzilla Vs Destoroyah (1995) - The final Godzilla film of the Heisei era (Mothra got her own Rebirth trilogy after this), with Akira Ifukube’s final score. Godzilla is dying, on the verge of a catastrophic meltdown, his body glowing bright orange and yellow, hissing steam. All anyone can do is sit and watch as he rampages in blind pain, this unstoppable giant that’s persisted for years finally at death’s door, and not from any of their efforts to bring him down. And then enters Destoroyah, a cackling red hellbeast, spawned in part from the one weapon that could stop Godzilla, the Oxygen Destroyer, come to drag Godzilla into Hell. And his son, too, actually. Destoroyah’s sole purpose of existence is to wipe all life off the face of the planet, with a particular emphasis on the kaiju. The one thing about this movie which really bothers me is the scene where it tries to be Aliens, with the JSDF trying to fight the Destoroyah Aggregates. It just feels a bit too silly and low budget compared to the apocalyptic doom that hangs over the rest of the movie. Luckily, it’s over pretty quickly. This movie, especially in its ending, carries the most emotional weight of any Godzilla film since the first. It’s tragic, watching this monster, this awe-inspiring colossus, die such a painful death, realizing that his reign has come to an end. It may have been short-lived, but it was an incredibly well-done and respectful send-off for the king of the monsters.
Pacific Rim (2013) - Yeah yeah, this is the third time I’ve written about it, I know, but I can‘t help it. Guillermo del Toro made the monster movie I’ve been wanting to see since I was 5, warts and all. Del Toro made Pacific Rim with a lot of love, and it’s palpable. It has a heart, the same way a lot of movies on this list do, which is more than a lot of big action movies in the past few years can say. It isn’t about any one character in particular, it’s about everyone working together to fight off monsters invading from another dimension, regardless of age, race, language, whatever. That’s inspiring. There are a few nods to the original Godzilla in both the movie’s structure and in a couple particular shots, such as Mako’s flashback as she hides in the alley from Onibaba. If the movie’s heroic theme by Ramin Djawadi doesn’t get you pumped up, you need to check your pulse. The Hong Kong sequence is one of the greatest giant monster throwdowns I’ve ever seen. As many times as I’ve seen the movie, I still get excited when I hear that music and see Gipsy Danger collide with some huge monster. It just pushes all the right buttons for me in almost every way. It’s hard for me to really criticize, you know?
Gojira (1954) – The first film, the one that started it all, and still one of the greatest. A tension building horror film, less about a giant monster and more about the immediate effects of nuclear devastation. There’s a scene on a train where a woman makes the remark: “I barely escaped the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, and now this?” The man next to her says, “I’ll have to find a place to evacuate to.” The next guy: “Evacuate AGAIN? I’ve had enough!” That’s when you realize that every actor in this film was there when we dropped the bombs on them in World War II. Holy crap. For the bulk of the movie, Godzilla doesn’t really do much but show up, scare the pants off of people, and wander off. No one knows how to handle a giant, irradiated monster. When the JSDF finally try to take him on in the harbor, that’s when his destructive nature is fully unleashed, and what follows is roughly 20 minutes of Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo while the population struggles to just get the hell out of the way. It’s phenomenal that the music in this film, and Godzilla’s roar, both created by Akira Ifukube, are still used to this day, though I feel like it’s here in this movie that they’re at their most powerful. Maybe it’s because of how it was all recorded back then, but the music is darker, heavier here than in any other Godzilla movie, and his roar so low and quaking, it makes your guts churn. Nearly 60 years old and this movie still hasn’t lost any of its power. Simply the best.
So. The new movie is out next week. Upon seeing the leaked Wondercon footage and the new Asian trailer that came out last week, I’m more excited than I thought I would be. I’m still a little worried, I have my concerns, but at the same time I’m just excited to have another great big kaiju movie to go see in theaters.
And hey, if it sucks and it fails terribly, there’s every possibility that Toho will start churning out more Godzilla movies themselves like they did after the Emmerich film bombed, right? Nothing wrong with more Godzilla movies!