At AnomalyCon this year, my first ever convention panel was on Kaiju: Godzilla and Beyond with M.H. Boroson and Kathryn S. Renta. It was such a delight to actually be asked to talk about Kaiju for an entire hour. We covered so much from what they symbolized, what they meant for us personally, as well as the history of them all.
Renta provided amazing insight into why Kaiju are needed in entertainment and believes that there will be resurgence with “Pacific Rim” and the reboot of “Godzilla.” She continued by stating that Kaiju movies were constructed as a warning to all about the horrors of war. With so many continuous wars in the new millennium, she believes their warnings set to massive storytelling has its place in the new era. So what are the movies you should see if you want to gain a formidable knowledge of all things Kaiju?
Look no further than the following lists of five items to fuel your Kaiju craving. The drinking game attached at the end applies specifically for that movie, but many have crossover capabilities. Combine them at your own risk.
Five Solo Kaiju Movies
Gojira (1954) We’re not talking “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” We’re talking “Gojira,” the all-Japanese version before they shot Raymond Burr in after the fact for commercial appeal and exposition inserted for American audiences. The original version is a blatant cautionary tale against the horrors of war and the use of nuclear weapons. Drinking game: Take a shot anytime you see something much darker than you ever thought you would in a Kaiju movie. This one has a lot. We’re talking a mother holding her children, as they’re about to die. Another shows children being diagnosed as terminal from radiation poisoning. Another shows a young toddler crying over her bloodied, dead mother after Gojira has pummeled nearly all of Tokyo.
Rodan (1956) This movie is a bit closer to the King Kong style of tragic monster movies in which the creatures have no evil intentions; they simply surfaced in the wrong era. Drinking game: Take a shot anytime the wings or flying pattern seems a tad off. This was very early and many of the suits went through massive changes as the characters returned in more Kaiju movies.
Mothra (1961) Considered the purest of all Kaiju, Mothra is oftentimes a symbol of unflinching hope and faith, even throughout the darkest times. Drinking game: Drink anytime you feel that Mothra needs to get of its high horse.
Dogora: The Space Monster (1964) This movie is on the list for one reason alone; to see a Kaiju movie that isn’t one by the traditional standards. This movie was a large part of the introduction of space being a viable means of origin for a Kaiju. Drinking game: Take a drink anytime you see a special effect that makes you sad because it failed, but you can see that they tried so hard to make it work.
Gamera: The Invincible (1965) Made by Toho’s rival studio, Daiei, as a counterpoint to Godzilla, the movie is much more kid friendly about a flying turtle. Also as a counterpoint to Godzilla, Gamera began fighting for good nearly straight out of the gate. Drinking game: Every time you think: “My God, that kid is annoying.”
Five Essential Godzilla Movies
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1964) Make no mistake, this movie is not good. But it’s so bad, that it’s amazing. The U.S. release featured additional footage inserted of a news anchor that only provided a play by play, because a narrative as complicated as a a giant gorilla and irradiated dinosaur duking it out needs it just that much. Drinking Game: Every time a line has no story or character development, only exposition.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) This movie is as close to the A-Squad of Kaiju movies as you’ll ever see. Mothra has to try to come to peaceful terms with both Godzilla and Rodan. They form a trio to battle the three-headed monster from space. Drinking game: Any time someone says “That’s impossible,” or something along those lines. You’d think after a while, they’d just accept that they have ridiculous circumstances by this point.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) Ghidorah is probably Godzilla’s most consistent opponent, but Mechagodzilla is a close second. The amount of resources needed to create a robot equivalent is quite the undertaking. Drinking game: When the words “Alien,” “Space,” or “Monster” are mentioned, be sure to have some pretzels and water nearby.
Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995) Probably the least predictable of my selections, but it’s a well-done Kaiju movie. In this, the nuclear radiation that created Godzilla begins to cause his body to fall apart. The story gives a lot of depth to Godzilla as a monster and the final reveal set up the next Godzilla for the new millennium. Drinking game: When a character makes a decision as intuitive as a blonde cheerleader in a horror film.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2007) This is the big finale of Godzilla movies. There hasn’t been a Toho made Godzilla film since as they’re giving him a break until they’re ready to resurrect the behemoth. In Final Wars, aliens now control all monsters but Godzilla. They send one after another to try to stop the monster of all monsters. It’s worth it for the Godzilla vs. American Godzilla fight alone. Drinking game: Every time someone speaks Japanese to an English-speaking individual, or vice versa, and they can inexplicably understand one another.
Five Kaiju Movies Best Defined as “Bonkers”
King Kong Escapes (1967) The King Kong suit somehow got worse from King Kong vs. Godzilla, and he fights a robotic version of himself. Drinking game: Anytime you ask yourself: “At what point did the writer, director, or producer think this was a good idea?”
Latitude Zero (1969) Made by Toho, this movie starred Cesar Romero (The Joker from Adam West’s iteration of Batman), Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen), and Joseph Cotton (Citizen Kane), you’ll spend half this movie wondering how Toho ever convinced this cast to be in this movie. Drinking game: Every time you see a costume design on a human that makes no sense, or it looks like one of the bat creatures are having a seizure.
All Monsters Attack (1969) This is probably the closest a Godzilla movie ever came to being a Saturday morning children’s special. A bullied kid travels, in his mind, to Monster Island where Godzilla’s son, Minya, can inexplicably talk. Minya is also going through a similar conflict with a monster that looks like a cat-monster with boils on its skin. They go on many grand adventures together, yes, Godzilla’s son and an elementary school kid. Drinking game: Take a drink when you come to realize the irradiated offspring of a creature born out of hatred from nuclear weapons usage can have calm conversations with a child, and not eat him, that seems realistic.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) In a clear attempt to draw another cautionary tale into the mix, Godzilla has to fight…smog. Yes, smog takes a monstrous form in which the acidity eats hippies. Drinking game: Every time you are slapped in the face with an environmental message.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) The Heisei series of the late-80’s and early 90’s was infamous for one major thing, ripping off American cinema and not even trying to hide said fact. Every Heisei series movie from Godzilla vs. Destroyah to the Rebirth of Mothra had at least one major film concept copied and pasted from an American made blockbuster into their Kaiju script. Drinking game: Every time The Terminator, or another American made blockbuster, is shamelessly stolen from for material.