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Oh No, There Goes Tokyo…

November 22, 2012

Last weeks post about the PCC seemed to go down well (see previous post ‘Picking Holes’ for more on that point) but I’ll never get anywhere trying to do regular posts on current events or politics. If something grabs my attention like those cocking elections did then I might give it another go, but there’s not a lot of mileage in the oeuvre for me (if oeuvre actually a word, pretty sure it is). So instead I’ll be using this post to talk about how much I like to watch two or more men in rubber suits wrestle with each other. By which I mean Japanese monster movies.

While I enjoy pretty much any film that features a giant something destroying somewhere or fighting a giant something else (Gamera, Gorgo, Cloverfield, Q The Winged Serpent, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Mega-Shark Vs Giant Octopus, Ultraman… the list is pretty much endless) it’s the films produced by the legendary Toho Studios that feature Godzilla, Mothra, King Gidorah and so on that really get me going. The monster suits might at times be laughable, the dubbing is often comical, but the prospect of seeing a bunch of Kaiju warms the very cockles of my heart. Kaiju being the generally accepted Japanese term for a movie monster, though technically a giant monster should be a Daikaiju, but I’ll stick to the the more commonly used term. The signs of this unhealthy appreciation are plain to see – the name of this blog itself is based on a quote from the classic Toho film Destroy All Monsters. And is it happens the title of this entry is part a line from the most excellent song ‘Godzilla’ by Blue Oyster Cult. Which might actually be a better title for next weeks blog. Hmm. Screw it, I can’t think of anything better for this week. I’m leaving it as is.

It seems wherever it may have come from this giant monster fetish has been with me from an early age. My parents told me when I was four I watched the original 1933 King Kong in quiet fascination, and was particularly entranced by the fight scene between Kong and the T-Rex. Apparently I was inconsolable for a while after the big monkey bought the farm at the film’s climax – I was convinced he was the hero of the thing, it seems – and I’ll even admit to feeling a bit of a lump in my throat at the end of the excellent if a bit over-long Peter Jackson remake as well. As well as Kong I was also exposed to a fair few of the movies of Ray Harryhausen at a formative and impressionable age as well. The Sinbad ones stuck with me, but Clash of the Titans was my favourite – particularly for the Kraken. It seems there’s something about the sight of a humongous creature rising out of the sea that resonated with something in my bizarre little psyche, something was planted like a little seedling of geekiness that what would only fully bloom when I met the one-and-only Big G for the first time.

Up from the depths, thirty stories high, breathing fire, his head in the sky – like many westerners of around my age my first meeting with Godzilla, the unrivalled King of the Movie Monsters was via the Hanna-Barbera cartoon made in the 1970s. Whilst I look back on it now with a bit of disdain – that little twat Godzooky can quite frankly go fuck himself for all I care*- but as I kid I loved it. Particularly because it focused on and expanded the element of King Kong that most appealed to me – monster on monster action. Then came the faithful day when I stumbled across my first Toho film on the telly. As it happens it featured my two favourite beasties at that time, as it was actually Godzilla Vs King Kong that provided my true introduction to the magical world of kaiju on kaiju action. Quick aside – do you know what King Kong is called in Japan? Kingu Kongu. Love it. As I was saying, I was hooked from the get go – if King Kong had been my first love, it seemed Godzilla was going to be the monster I ended up in a deep, committed lifelong relationship with. Much poring over dodgy satellite TV channels and mail-ordered VHS tapes (and later strange-reigioned DVDs) followed and over the years I filled my head and abused my eyes with all 28 Godzilla films, a slew of other Toho-produced masterpieces and basically anything else I could get my hands on to sate my unnatural urges for monster based mayhem. Honestly, sometimes I’m amazed I managed to end up married to an actual woman, I really am.

It’s hard for me to define exactly why I enjoy this oft-ridiculed branch of world cinema as much as I do. People can point at the crude plots, the dodgy acting and the not-very-special effects and I can’t really argue with them on those points. If I had to try and articulate what I love about the genre, the first word that would probably come to mind is BIG. The Kaiju themselves are meant to be gigantic beings, with the destructive potential to level a metropolis. I like it when creative types think big – Edgar Rice Burroughs description of the vast underground ocean in the Barsoom books, or the planet-sized villa Unicron from the Transformers cartoon for example. I like it when science fiction or fantasy works endeavour to fill us with that sense of awe we get from encountering something truly larger than we as normal humans can easily comprehend. Although the Kaiju might be created by special affects that are clumsy when compared to the CGI wonders of modern Hollywood blockbusters with their $100 million dollar plus budgets, I can still appreciate the effort made to instil that sense of humongousness. Add to that the imagination and inventiveness seen in the various monster designs and the simple joy of seeing them battle each other in spectacular, over-the-top combat and the appeal grows. Top it all off with a healthy dose of fun and not taking themselves to seriously, and maybe enjoying this special brand of hokum isn’t that strange after all.

At this point it would be a bit remiss of me to not mention the 1998 Hollywood Godzilla movie by Roland Emmerich. Flushed with the success of Independence Day (not a film I rate particularly highly to be honest) Emmerich and his arch-conspirator Dean Devlin thought they’d have a go at another disaster movie, this time based on the king of the monsters. The result is something not held in particular high esteem by kaiju fans (or even by normal cinema-goers for that matter, judging by it’s consistently lousy reviews) who often mockingly refer to the monster in it as GINO – Godzilla in name only. I think if I pick out what I didn’t like about this film it reinforces what I do like about the originals – for example, GINO wasn’t really big enough and even took to hiding in New York’s sewers at one point in the movie.  This kind of nonsense totally does away with the sense of awe I mentioned before. This bloody monster should be visible from miles around, smashing through the city like an unstoppable tide of destruction – not hiding behind buildings or sneaking around in the sewers. If it ain’t huge then I’m not interested, as the actress said to the bishop. Then there was the baffling Aliens style sub-plot involving baby Zillas, allegedly intended to add a more human element to the story and give the non-giant stars of the show more to do. This is a massive and obvious error in my book. If I come to see I giant monster film I’m there to see the giant bloody monster, not Matthew bloody Broderick running around some a subway station being pursued by the velociraptors that were too ugly to get a part in Jurassic Park. Hollywood has a chance to redeem itself on the Godzilla front however, as Legendary Pictures have a film in production set to release in 2014 (Godzilla’s 60th anniversary year as it happens). I haven’t seen a lot about it at this point but the teaser artwork of G himself looks a lot more faithful to the original than GINO the bloody mutant iguana was, so I choose to take that as a good sign. Actually at this point there’s another offering from our American cousins which is peaking my interest more than Godzilla 2014 – Pacific Rim, due out next year is Guillermo del Toro film featuring giant beasties battling humans in massive mech-suits, and should be with us next year. He’s a director I like (heck, I even enjoyed Blade 2) and the Hellboy films hint that he should be able to bring a good mix of action, drama and knowing humour to the table that I think will work really quite well in the kaiju genre.

Toho Studios have stated that the appropriately-titled 2004 film Godzilla: Final Wars that was released to commemorate the Big G’s 50th anniversary is the last they will make. The current generation of Japanese youngsters just aren’t that into the increasingly old-fashioned monster movies which are becoming less and less financially viable in their own homeland – previously their only really reliable market. There’ll always be movies of this kind made in Japan and elsewhere, but it’ll be a shame if they no longer feature the King of the Monsters. Legendary Pictures, you may be our only hope on that front. Don’t make the same mistakes that Emmerich’s GINO made, stay true to the source material and you’ll do fine. Incidentally, I feel like I should mention that the CGI abomination GINO actually made an appearance in the aforementioned Godzilla:Final Wars. That film was intended as something of a crazy finale to the Godzilla series, and so featured the Big G squaring of against almost all of his classic opponents in turn. At one point GINO turns up in all his CGI glory and attacks the suitmation-created original. After about 20 seconds the American imposter has been bitch-slapped to the ground and utterly incinerated by Godzilla’s Atomic Flame Breath. Now, I’m no film student skilled in reading the subtle meanings of hidden subtexts in avant-garde camera angles or any of that toss, but I think I recognise a big “Fuck You Roland Emmerich” when I see one.

Next week I’m going to follow on with the Kaiju theme and use it to slide smoothly into some waffle about board games. You just see if I don’t

* A Knowledgeable sort of chap might point out that the Godzilla-spawned, cootsy-wootsy kaiju known as Minya that features in genuine Toho films such as Son of Godzilla, Destroy all Monsters and Godzilla: Final Wars is as bad or worse than Godzooky. I respond to this line of argument mainly by putting my hands over my ears and singing ‘la la la la can’t hear you’ a lot.

 

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