Godzilla (Gojira) (ゴジラ) is a giant, amphibious, dinosaur-like fictional creature first seen in the Japanese-produced 1954 tokusatsu (kaiju specifically) film Gojira produced by Toho film company. In total, 28 films have been made by the Toho Film Company and a further two made unofficially (not related to the Toho Film company). For a list of these films, see the official filmography below. The most notable unofficial movie is the 1998 film Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich. Despite being the highest-grossing film of the year factoring in overseas profits, the film has been widely panned by cult followers of the Godzilla franchise, critics on both sides of the Pacific, and movie-goers in general and has since been dubbed GINO (Godzilla In Name Only).
Ironically, the Americanized Godzilla featured in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) was killed by the “true” Godzilla from a hit to the tail, and its radioactive breath. In this film, the American Godzilla appeared simply as “Zilla”. Godzilla has three primary abilities: regeneration, amphibious mobility, and an atomic fire beam. Godzilla is also extremely durable and can resist almost all physical assaults. The atomic fire beam is Godzilla’s trademark skill. Although much of Godzilla’s significance as an anti-war symbol has been lost in the transition to pop culture, the nuclear breath remains as a visual vestige of the creature’s early Cold War politics.
Table of Contents
Born on the coastal regions of Oto Island (located near the Bikini Atoll, where he was affected by nuclear tests), Godzilla became a modern god, feared by the fishing villagers on that island, and ultimately, all of Japan. Standing at a towering 50 meters (164 feet), he is a powerful demon of destruction. Among his popular characteristics:
- His iconic design (a charcoal-colored dinosaur-like figure with small pointed ears, rough bumpy scales, powerful tail, and bony white dorsal fins shaped like maple leaves).
- He is virtually indestructible, impervious to all modern weaponry.
- He can release a powerful atomic energy beam, usually blue but in some films red, from his mouth (which is ominously signaled when his dorsal fins glow/flash in the same color as the atomic beam).
The name “Gojira” is a combination of “gorilla” and kujira, which means “whale” in Japanese. The name was allegedly originally a nickname of a large worker at Toho Studios. But since Gojira was neither a gorilla nor a whale, the name “Gojira” was devised in a different way for the film’s story; Gojira’s name was “originally” spelled in kanji (呉爾羅), but for sound only. The combined characters, oddly enough, mean “give you net”!
Gojira was first released in the United States in 1955 in Japanese-American communities only. In 1956, it was adapted by an American company into Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, edited and with added, principal scenes featuring Raymond Burr, and this version became an international success. As a result, the monster came to be known as “Godzilla” also in Japan.
Godzilla was originally an allegory for the effects of the hydrogen bomb, and the unintended consequences that such weapons might have on Earth. The Versus and Millennium Series have largely continued this concept. Some have pointed out the parallels, conscious or unconscious, between Godzilla’s relationship to Japan and that of the United States; first a terrible enemy who causes enormous destruction, but then becoming a good friend and defender in times of peril.
Films have been made over the last five decades, each reflecting the social and political climate in Japan. All but one of the 29 films were produced by Toho; a version was made in 1998 by Columbia Pictures and set in the United States by the directors of Independence Day (ID4) and is somewhat despised by Godzilla fans, many of whom refer to it as GINO (Godzilla In Name Only), a term that would refer to all monsters modeled after Godzilla. Toho immediately followed it with Godzilla 2000: Millennium, which began the current series of films, known informally as the Mireniamu or Millennium series.
Much of Godzilla’s popularity in the United States can be credited with TV broadcasts of the Toho Studios monster movies during the 1960s and 1970s. The American company UPA contracted with Toho to distribute its monster movies of the time, and UPA continues to hold the license today for the Godzilla films of the 1960s and 1970s. Sony currently holds some of those rights, as well as the rights to every Godzilla film produced from 1991 onward. The Blue Öyster Cult song “Godzilla” also contributed to the popularity of the movies. Also made an appearance in the Nike commercial where Godzilla went one-on-one with NBA star Charles Barkley.
The Godzilla timeline is generally broken into three parts.
Showa Godzilla Series (1954-1975)
Named for the Showa period in Japan (as all of these films were produced before Emperor Hirohito’s death in 1989). This Showa timeline spanned from 1954, with Godzilla (1954) to 1975 with Terror of Mechagodzilla. With the exception of the serious Godzilla (1954) and the semi-serious sequels Godzilla Raids Again and Mothra vs. Godzilla , this period also featured a somewhat more lighthearted Godzilla. This phase started with King Kong vs Godzilla, which had the highest ticket sales of any Godzilla movie. Starting with Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (made 10 years after the first Godzilla film), Godzilla became a semi-playful antihero, and as years went by, he evolved into an anthropomorphic superhero. The Showa period saw the addition of many monsters into the Godzilla continuity, three of which (Mothra, Rodan and Varan) had their own solo movies, as well as a movie for the Toho-ized King Kong. This period featured a rough continuity, although the chronology is confused as some of the later movies were set in an arbitrary future time, often 1999.
In all films of this original series, Godzilla was 50 meters tall, and weighed 20,000 tons. The American release Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) incorrectly stated Godzilla’s height to be 400 feet, a harsh inaccuracy that lingers today.
Versus Series (1984-1995) AKA: Heisei Series
The timeline was revamped in 1984 with The Return of Godzilla; this movie was created as a direct sequel to the 1954 film, and ignores the continuity of the Showa series. Known as the Versus Series, (unofficially known to American fans as the “Heisei Series”, for the ruling emperor of the time), the continuity ended in 1995’s Godzilla vs Destoroyah after a run of seven films. The reason for the continuity shift was based on a realization that the marketing of the movies had removed the reason it was so loved. When it was discovered that Godzilla was popular with children, sequels were toned down in obvious screen violence, and Godzilla was made out to be a good guy instead of an indestructible abominate mistake of Men. Characters such as Minilla, the “son of Godzilla” (a dimunitive chubby replica who blew smoke rings) were introduced. However, the further Godzilla was taken away from his roots, the less popular he became. Hence, The Return of Godzilla brought the series back to form.
Godzilla has changed sizes in this series. He starts out as 80 meters tall in The Return of Godzilla, but in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, he becomes 100 meters tall.
The Millennium Series (1999-2004) AKA: Alternate Reality Series
The Millennium Series is the informal term for the Godzilla movies made after the VS Series ended with Godzilla vs Destoroyah. Unlike the previous two series, this era does not feature a continuous timeline. Only two of the films in this era, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, are directly related to one another. The rest follow entirely different timelines. The common theme to this era is that all movies use Godzilla (1954) as the jumping-off point.
In the 1998 movie, Godzilla Godzilla was a reptile mutated after a French atomic test, on a French Polynesian island. This movie brought a drastic change to Godzilla’s appearance, resembling a bipedal iguana or Komodo dragon. The Godzilla in this movie was also almost entirely computer-animated. Set in New York City and produced by Columbia Pictures, this movie is not considered to be part of any of the above three series, but the Gotham attack was referred to in the movie Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. The monster that appeared in New York was not, in fact, Godzilla, but an entirely different yet similar monster. This monster made a return appearance in Godzilla’s 50th anniversary film, Godzilla: Final Wars. Renamed Zilla, the monster attacked Sydney, Australia and is later killed by the real Godzilla.
Since the films are different, the sizes are different in some cases. Godzilla’s most prominent size in this series is 55 meters. The exceptions: In Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, he was 60 meters, and in Godzilla: Final Wars, he was 100 meters (he was supposed to be 50 meters in that film, but budgetary cutbacks in miniature sets forced this size change).