Giant Robots versus monsters. Jaegers versus Kaiju. And one of the Jaegers uses an oil tanker to beat the Kaiju. What’s not to like about Pacific Rim? However, it would be wrong to think that the movie hasn’t put any thought into its production. Because there’s this one word that makes monster-movie-fans worldwide perk up: Kaiju. And find out how you can be part of the First Wave of Uncanny Book-Clubbers!
Because, you see, Kaiju is not some made-up word. It has existed for the past 59 years. And the reason for its existence is that guy up there. The King of Monsters himself – Godzilla – has given birth to an entirely new word. Thus, Kaiju is Japanese and translates to “Strange Beast”. And here’s how that came about.
During World War II, Japan ended up being the only place in human history to date to have been hit by atomic bombs during wartime. This shaped the Japanese mind. Cities were suddenly something that could “just go away occasionally”. This is evident in Japanese animation where there frequently happens to be a Neo-Tokyo like in Akira or even a Neo-Tokyo 3 like in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Nobody really knew what would happen to animals contaminated by radiation. Mutations were a national concern. And in 1954, a young director named Inoshiro Honda decided to make this into a movie.
On November 3rd, 1954, “Gojira” premiered. The film saw a giant lizard stomping through Tokyo on a rampage, burning the city with its radioactive flame-breath. The movie was a hit despite some critics panning it for making the nation’s defeat at the hands of the Americans into something you munch popcorn to. However, “Gojira” had a pacifist message, stating that humanity should not develop new weapons.
Even though Gojira died at the end of the movie, moviegoers wanted more. One year later, Osaka gets trashed in “Godzilla Raids Again”. And with that movie, Godzilla had established his place in cinemas and gotten his title as “The King of Monsters”. Speaking of names, you might have noticed that this article refers to Godzilla as both Godzilla and Gojira. These aren’t two creatures. In fact, they’re one and the same. The reason why we know him as Godzilla and the Japanese original name is Gojira is that there appears to have been a mishap when translating the Japanese kanji into roman letters.
Anyway, other companies wanted a piece of the cake, too. So Godzilla got competition. Toho made themselves into a monster-factory: They launched the prehistoric bird Rodan into the skies above Japan and had the moth Mothra find its two female guardians. Competitor Daiei created the turtle Gamera, spawning a franchise that is still going strong. Tsuburaya Productions launched their Ultra Series in 1966, starring a hero named Ultraman that also still exists today. And there were many others, some forgotten by history and others fondly remembered by a select few who treasure their bootleg VHS-Tapes.
Since 1954, Godzilla has rampaged through Japan 28 times, causing billions in property damage and being responsible for many a bag of popcorn being eaten in cinemas. Basically: Men in silly rubber suits stomping around model cities had carved themselves a niche. The niche that came to be known as Kaiju movies.
Kaiju, however, had little success outside of Japan. In 1997 acclaimed director Roland Emmerich made his own Godzilla movie, after the King of Monsters had battled the likes of Biollante, King Ghidorah and Ebirah. In Emmerich’s version, Godzilla was a pregnant female and looked a lot like a dinosaur. Critics didn’t like the movie, fans didn’t like the movie. It did spawn a rather good animated series, though. And after Cloverfield came and went largely unnoticed outside of its marketing, Hollywood seemed bored by giant monsters. Even Toho stopped producing Godzilla-movies in 2004 after “Godzilla: Final Wars”.
However, one fan-turned-writer/director revitalized the genre. Without all that many giant monsters. Gareth Edwards gave us “Monsters”, a movie where the Bible Belt of the United States has been overtaken by giant aliens. This was an underground success and a movie you shouldn’t miss. As a result, Gareth Edwards is directing the 2014 Hollywood-reboot of Godzilla.
Before all that, though, there’s Pacific Rim. Director Guillermo del Toro was inspired by Tetsujin #28, also known as Gigantor, an animated Kaiju franchise. So here we are, hopefully on the brink of a revival of giant monsters on silver screens and Sunday afternoons watching reruns on weird TV-channels you wouldn’t turn on if they weren’t showing Godzilla’s old adventures.
So why am I writing about this? Because on the first official meeting of the Uncanny Book-Club, we’re going to see Pacific Rim. We’ll score some good seats and then watch the carnage unfold. However, before we do this, we’ll sit down and discuss where we’re going with this Book-Club. And you can be part of that! Check either our Facebook-Page or our Event-Calendar for details!