"Godzilla" is an anglicization of the original Japanese "Gojira"; in keeping with our general practice, however, we treat these movies according to the titles under which they will most likely be encountered by Western viewers. Nowhere is this a more practical step than with this series of Technofantasies, most of which are graced with a bewildering array of vts. Variant versions proliferate almost as much as do the vts: aside from cuts and changes, English-language versions of most were produced with not only dubbing but the splicing in of extra scenes featuring US actors. All the originals were produced by the studio Toho, latterly as Toho-Eizo.
A vast, fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus rex stirred from hugely long slumber by an atomic test, Godzilla was capable of trampling city buildings underfoot, and generally did so – although he later switched from Villain to Hero, defending Earth against creatures even more destructive in what became almost a Monster-Movie soap opera. His first appearance was in Godzilla (1954), which showed his genesis, his devastation of much of Tokyo, and the first of his several deaths. Gigantis (1955) saw him defeat another monster, Angurus, then devastate Osaka before dying in an avalanche. King Kong Versus Godzilla (1963) has much the plot one might expect, although it has an attempted political/ethical subtext; King Kong, although of course a cultural import from the USA, is regarded as Good, ranged against the Evil of US imperialist aggression, as represented by Godzilla. Godzilla Versus Mothra (1964) has a quite bizarre plot – it is the most fantasticated of the series – that sees Godzilla again attacking Japan; a giant moth is persuaded to try to stop him and fails, but its newly hatched larvae succeed. Kaiju Daisenso (1965) – none of whose English-language titles has ever really caught on – sees an abrupt shift in attitude towards Godzilla and the monster pterodactyl Rodan (which had made its debut in Rodan ): far from being destroyers they are now pitted as Earth's defenders against a three-headed interstellar Dragon, Ghidora. They thwart it (after a very entangled plot), but it was back later the same year in Ghidora, The Three-Headed Monster (1965), this time being defeated by a team comprising Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. Ebirah, Terror of the Deep (1966) has the giant crab Ebirah defeated by Godzilla and Mothra. Son of Godzilla (1967) is blatantly aimed at the children's market; father and newly hatched son team up to defeat a big Spider, Spigon. Destroy All Monsters (1968) paraded not only Godzilla but 10 other monsters from the Toho stable in what was intended as a spectacular, but proved forgettable. Godzilla's Revenge (1969) is a half-hearted affair, consisting largely of rerun footage from Ebirah, Terror of the Deep and Son of Godzilla. Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster (1971) took a new theme, pollution: the monster Hedora is born from an oceanic sludge of industrial waste, and must be destroyed by Godzilla. This is generally regarded as the worst of the series. Gojira Tai Gaigan (1972) continues the ecological thrust, with Godzilla and Angurus (from Gigantis) fighting off an invasion of Earth by the monsters Ghidora (again) and Gaigan, which are the weapons of a race whose planet is dying through pollution. Godzilla Versus Megalon (1973) has Godzilla fighting a giant cockroach (Megalon) and a giant hen (Borodan); it is better than it sounds. Godzilla Versus the Bionic Monster (1974) mixes Sword and Sorcery with sf as Godzilla battles a cyborg replica of himself which is under alien control; it was sequelled by Mekagojira No Gyakushu (1975), which was more of the same, and ended the Godzilla series proper. There was, however, an addendum: Godzilla 1985 (1985; vt Godzilla 1984) is a homage to the original Godzilla (1954) and a thematic remake of it. Further titles are Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Queen Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mecha Godzilla (1993), Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), and Godzilla vs. Destroyer (1995), plus, of course, the hugely successful Godzilla (1998).
It cannot be said that any of these movies are good – and some are diabolical – yet the canon as a whole represents something of a feat of consistent vision that has not been matched by any series of Monster Movies in the West. [JG]
further reading: A fuller treatment of the Godzilla movies – and of the Gamera movies, for which there is no space in this book – is given by Peter Nicholls in SFE. Good coverage of all these movies is offered by The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction (1984; vt Science Fiction: The Complete Film Sourcebook 1985 US; rev 1991) ed Phil Hardy and Giant Monster Movies: An Illustrated Survey (1994) by Robert Marrero.