Star Wars Poster Art by Noriyoshi Ohrai

 SW Noriyoshi Ohai 1982

SW Noriyoshi Ohai 1982-2

My Favorite Star Wars Episode IV poster, with the Millennium Falcon appropriately cast as the hero, didn’t come out until 1982. It’s by master artist Noriyoshi Ohrai for the 1982 Japanese re-release. Ohrai also did exquisite posters for The Empire Strikes Back, The Road Warrior, The Goonies, and The Beastmaster, all of them equaling or bettering their American counterparts, in my opinion. He is accomplished in paperback, toy and game illustration as well. Inexplicably, he has no American fan site that I can find.

You can see many of Ohrai’s posters, including the Heisei-era Godzilla beauties, at Film on Paper. See his Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) poster at Pinterest.

The Star Wars (1982) poster is via Pinterest and Film on Paper (detailed views available).

DFC Toys: Dragonriders of the Styx Action Figures (1983)

Dragonriders Wizard 1983

DOTS Ragnar 1983

Dragonriders Knight 1983

DOTS Guliz 1983

Dragonriders Demon 1983

DOTS Dragon Man 1983

Dragonriders Wizard 1983-2

Dragonriders Card Back V2

As I wrote in a previous post, I believe that DFC’s Dragonriders of the Styx Fantasy Playset (1981) is the first traditional playset to be released in response to the popularity of D&D. It must have sold decently, because (1) DFC subsequently released a number of playset variations on the fantasy theme, (2) Dragonriders appeared in major department store catalogs, and (3) a line of action figures followed in 1983 bearing the Dragonriders name. The action figures were released the same year as LJN’s AD&D action figure line. I don’t know which line hit the shelves first.

As you can see, the figures are not terribly impressive, though they’re undeniably campy and historical. All of the individually sold figures are included above. (The Wizard figure also came in a black hat/robe.) All other figures and vehicles will be posted separately. The names of the figures appear on the card back only, which I thought was strange. Obviously they were produced hastily (“The Wizard”? “Dragon Man”?), probably in an attempt to beat LJN’s AD&D line and capitalize on the debut of the D&D animated series in September of 1983.

UPDATE: I’m adding a second version of the card back that includes a typical epic fantasy backstory. I’m also adding some price tags below.

Dragonriders Price-1

Dragonriders Price-2

Destroy All Computer Generated Monsters (Part Two): Mikey Walters’ Top Five Godzilla Films

1. Gojira/Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla 1954

Japanese theatrical poster

What It’s About: Godzilla terrorizes Tokyo in the midst of a love triangle and scientific sacrifice.

Why It’s Unique: The original, classic Godzilla defined the kaiju genre. It has everything from serious drama to groundbreaking special effects.

Favorite Scene: Godzilla’s breath melts electrical towers that were painstakingly constructed of wax to achieve the effect.

Watch the original trailer here.

2. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Godzilla Mothra 1964

Japanese theatrical poster

Godzilla vs. The Thing 1964

American International Pictures falsely advertised Mothra vs. Godzilla for the American release. The poster art is based on an original design by acclaimed artist Reynold Brown.

What It’s About: Mothra and her larvae save Japan from Godzilla, even though, ultimately, greedy businessmen are at fault.

Why It’s Unique: Always a kaiju fan favorite with an excellent Toho kaiju crossover plot. Mothra’s mystical nature is explored, while Godzilla remains a ferocious force.

Favorite Scene: Unique Godzilla reveal as he rises up from underground rather than the ocean. Also, the webs the larvae use to battle Godzilla were an incredible effect for the time, created from liquid Styrofoam.

Watch the original trailer here.

3. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

Invasion 1965

Japanese theatrical poster

What It’s About: Planet X steals Godzilla and Rodan through trickery and unleashes them on Earth along with King Ghidorah.

Why It’s Unique: Alien invaders become a staple of the series and Godzilla does a famous dance.

Favorite Scene: There are some amazing optical effects of the Xians and their huge flying saucer, but Kumi Mizuno steals the show as Miss Namikawa, convincing Glenn her love is real by saving his life.

Watch the original trailer here.

4. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Terror 1975

Japanese theatrical poster

What It’s About: Cyborg love (spoiler alert) helps Godzilla defeat Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla.

Why It’s Unique: Last film of the Shōwa series with excellent continuity from the previous Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974).

Favorite Scene: There’s a beautiful “real sky” shot of Titanosaurus (kaiju were rarely shot outside of a studio), and Mechagodzilla often becomes a giant fireworks display as he blasts his array of weapons all at once.

Watch the original trailer here.

5. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Giant Monsters 2001

Japanese theatrical poster

What It’s About: Godzilla is revived by the spirits of World War II Japanese soldiers and can only be stopped by a trio of kaiju guardians.

Why It’s Unique: Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Baragon are “re-cast” as mythical guardians.

Favorite Scene: A terrified woman, helpless in traction, screams as the possessed, white-eyed Godzilla stomps past her hospital room. As she breathes a sigh of relief, Godzilla’s tail swings around to destroy the entire building!

Watch the trailers here.

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Part one of Destroy All Computer Generated Monsters is here.

Movie poster image credits: Wikipedia, Wrong Side of the Art, and Skreeonk

Dr. Pepper Commercials Featuring Godzilla, 1985

Godzilla 1985 was released in Japan a year earlier as Gojira, the first film to feature the big guy since 1975′s Terror of Mechagodzilla. Like the original Gojira from 1954, the U.S. version was heavily edited, and heavy-handed scenes with Raymond Burr were inserted.

There were three versions of the Dr. Pepper commercial: the long version above, a shorter version, and a Diet Dr. Pepper version introducing Godzilla’s bride-to-be. I remember all of them, and I remember how disappointed I was in the movie, which I saw in the theater. (If I recall, a Dr. Pepper machine appeared prominently in one of the American scenes.)

Trailers and promos for Godzilla 1985 are below.

The Art of Earl Norem: ‘The Circus Bear That Assassinated the Nazi Butchers of Stalag 13′ (1968)

Norem 1968

Norem True Action Feb 1976

Welcome to the world of men’s adventure magazines, a genre that peaked during the placid ’50s, and continued to sell well through the late ’70s. The spread comes from a 1976 issue of True Action magazine, but Norem’s original illustration (top image) is from 1968. The story was probably reprinted several times. And why not, when you have art this good?

Nothing gets me through a Wednesday quite like an indignant circus bear bitch-slapping a cadre of deranged Nazi stooges.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind T-Shirts (1977)

Close Encounters Tee 1978

Close Encounters Tee 1978-2

(Via eBay sellers American Ringer and Hattrick Vintage Shirts)

The Lord of the Rings Key Ring (Tolkien Enterprises, 1978)

LOTR KR 1978

LOTR KR 1978-3

I just got it, I love it, and I’m thinking about giving it away as a prize for the next Pop (Culture) Quiz.

The 1979 Tolkien Enterprises Merchandise Catalog is here.

UFO Past & Present: A Sticker Book (Whitman, 1978)

Whitman UFO 1978-1

Whitman UFO 1978-2

Whitman UFO 1978-3

Whitman UFO 1978-4Whitman UFO 1978-5

Whitman UFO 1978-6Whitman UFO 1978-7

Whitman UFO 1978-8Whitman UFO 1978-9

Whitman UFO 1978-10Whitman UFO 1978-11

Whitman UFO 1978-12

Whitman UFO 1978-13

Whitman UFO 1978-14Whitman UFO 1978-15

Whitman UFO 1978-16Whitman UFO 1978-17

Whitman UFO 1978-18Whitman UFO 1978-19

Whitman UFO 1978-20Whitman UFO 1978-21

Whitman UFO 1978-22

Along with the sticker book, Whitman published two coloring books in 1978: UFO Seeing is Believing and UFO Space Strangers. There was also a comic book series the same year, UFO & Outer Space, reprinting select issues of the long-running 1968 series UFO Flying Saucers.

The books followed in the wake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and shows like In Search of… that sensationalized ‘the unexplained’.

The astronauts of Gemini VII and Gemini X really did sight UFOs. Too bad they weren’t the awesomely kitschy craft seen here.

 

Destroy All Computer Generated Monsters: Real Kaiju Wear Suits (Part One)

Destroy All Monsters 1968

All 11 kaiju featured in Destroy All Monsters, 1968. From top to bottom and left to right: Rodan, King Ghidorah, Varan, Kumonga, Gorosaurus, Mothra, Anguirus, Godzilla, Baragon, Minilla, and Manda

The idea here is pretty simple: Kaiju, a Japanese film genre focusing on giant, mythic monsters, turns 60 this year. Before Hollywood tramples the elusively deep tradition for a second time (third, if you count Pacific Rim), I wanted to go back and talk about the real deal, especially with the curious beginner and lapsed fan in mind. We all watched and adored Godzilla and his cohorts as kids. With a little patience and imagination, the experience can be even more rewarding as an adult.

There will be four parts in the series. In part one, I talk with Mikey Walters about the origins, characteristics, and themes of kaiju, as well as the evolution of the Godzilla character. In parts two through four, presented on consecutive Fridays starting next week, Mikey will offer his personal essential kaiju film lists, which include (1) his favorite five Godzilla films, (2) his favorite five non-Godzilla kaiju, and (3) his favorite five “guilty pleasure” kaiju.

For reference, most kaiju movies are classified according to release dates roughly corresponding to Japanese historical eras: the Shōwa era (1954 – 1975), the Heisei era (1984 – 1995), and the Millennium era (1999 – 2004). Each era has its own flavor, method, and continuity (or continuities). I should also mention that, in English, ‘kaiju’ can refer to the film genre, or it can refer to the actual monster(s), depending on the context. In the original Japanese, kaijū refers to the monster (literally ‘strange creature’), and kaijū eiga refers to the monster movie.

You’ll find a helpful Godzilla filmography at Wikipedia, and there’s an exhaustive list of kaiju films, with accompanying photos, at Listal.

Mikey Walters has been a fan and student of kaiju for many years, and has been studying the Japanese language since 2004. He has talked about the genre extensively on his own blog. This project was made possible by all the time, energy, and knowledge he so generously devoted to it. (Please note: the inflexibly purist views expressed in the title and first paragraph above are mine, not his.)

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Godzilla CSHedorah CS

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2W2N: `Kaiju’ in the English world usually translates, in spirit, as ‘giant monster on the rampage’. Is it really that simple? What are the defining characteristics of kaiju? Does the genre have to feature suit work, for instance? Can an American movie ever properly be called kaiju?

WALTERS: My thoughts on the kaiju genre have grown out of my admiration of Japanese tokusatsu (special effects) films, which I discovered in my childhood. That admiration has developed into a true obsession over the years. There are many excellent sources of scholarly research on kaiju films, both online and in print, of which I’m completely in awe (see a partial list at the bottom of this Q&A). However, I can certainly offer my opinions as a fan and student of the genre.

As mentioned, a kaiju film certainly has to have a giant monster in it, but I feel there are more qualities that make the genre unique. First, while most would label these movies as science fiction, I think the creators of these films thought of them as fantasy. In science fiction, situations need to feel consistently real or at least possible, but in fantasy, it’s okay to bend the rules. Since the plots of most kaiju movies are like morality plays (more on that in a moment), it makes sense that they should almost feel like fairy tales. Eiji Tsuburaya, Toho’s special effects master who worked on most of the classics, was keenly aware of this, and wanted the audience to feel like a participant in the fantasy. In fact, he often opted for less realistic effects shots to make this point. In Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), for instance, there is an infamous scene where Baragon destroys a farm and an obviously miniature horse is knocked over. Tsuburaya could have used an optical print to matte in a real horse, but he wanted the audience to be aware of the fantasy and stretch their minds and emotions to accept it and be a part of it. (I can’t resist mentioning that this horse was included as an accessory with the recent Revoltech Baragon toy as a wonderful nod to serious fans!)

Frank and Baragon 1965

Frankenstein and Baragon go at it in Frankenstein Conquers the World, 1965

Second, I think most kaiju films contain a positive moral or message of some sort. Sometimes this message is the classic one of mankind or science going “too far,” such as the nuclear testing that created the original Godzilla, or environmental abuse, such as the heavy-handed scenes of pollution that spawned Hedorah (a.k.a. the Smog Monster). But more often, these films are about the unity, spirit or will of mankind, not to overcome kaiju, but to somehow coexist with them. Kaiju are usually thought of as a force of nature and often seen as mystical, as if their presence, regardless of the calamity and destruction they bring, is “ordained” to bring mankind together.

Third, and I realize this is a chicken and egg situation, kaiju films have developed many strong traditions, both in the realm of special effects and character archetypes. While more recent Japanese kaiju movies have increasingly improved special effects with the use of CGI, they have never abandoned the artistry of suit actors stomping through a detailed miniature set, and it would probably be unthinkable for them to do so. This tradition not only honors the special effects masters who invented the techniques, but also maintains the fantasy that I mentioned before. Many movies include certain characters like the “grizzled general with a past,” or the “sensitive child who loves kaiju,” among many others, and while kaiju films are not known for character development, these archetypes do seem to have a natural arc that is resolved along the way.

It’s hard to make a judgment call on American kaiju films, but my opinion is that it can’t truly be done, simply because American audiences demand too much realism and are unwilling to “partner” with the filmmakers in the fantasy. Pacific Rim (2013) was a fantastic love letter to the genre, and felt more like a real kaiju film than any other American attempt (even including the character archetypes), but the special effects were just too modern and broke the traditions I think are necessary. That’s not to say I didn’t love the movie, but I often found myself hoping for simpler cinematography so I could determine my own sense of participation in the battle.

2W2N: The giant monster genre started in 1933 with the hugely successful King Kong. The movie had a tremendous influence on the two men who would perfect their respective techniques and define the genre forever: Eiji Tsuburaya and Ray Harryhausen. Do you know how Tsuburaya came to “suitmation” instead of stop-motion? Was it because Japanese effects artists were so much more advanced with miniatures?

Rodan 1956

The titular hero of Rodan, 1956, was the second kaiju to get his own feature film

WALTERS: Tsuburaya was certainly a huge fan of King Kong (and later The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which Harryhausen made in 1953, just before Godzilla‘s premiere in 1954), and actually dreamed of mastering the stop-motion process. There were several reasons that Tsuburaya settled on suitmation. First, Toho wanted Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese) made quickly and inexpensively, and Tsuburaya estimated that it would take years to bring his monster to life using stop-motion. Incredibly, Godzilla was shot in only three months, so he certainly made the right choice.

Second, and probably more important, because suitmation defined the kaiju’s “real world” size as the size of the suit actor, the scale of the miniature environments was drastically larger than would have been possible with a stop-motion armature. You can imagine the difference between a skyscraper built to the scale of a 12-inch puppet versus the scale of a 5-foot man! Tsuburaya was already known for his fantastic ability in miniature photography. (He is famously known for shooting a miniature recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a scene from the 1942 Japanese film The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malay, that was later mistaken to be actual footage by the U.S. military!) These larger sized environments allowed for extreme detail that simply would not have been possible at a smaller scale, allowing Tsuburaya and his skilled crew to realistically recreate Tokyo landmarks and even place individual roof tiles for Godzilla’s stomping pleasure.

It’s interesting to note that Toho did allow Tsuburaya to experiment with stop-motion in a limited sense. In fact, the original Godzilla does contain two stop-motion segments: one of a truck crashing onto its side, and one of Godzilla’s tail. There’s no reason the truck crash couldn’t have been shot in live action, although sometimes I think Tsuburaya “prepares” the viewer for a cut to a miniature scene by using a transitional scene like this. Later, in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Tsuburaya experimented again during the giant octopus attack. One quick scene uses stop-motion as a tentacle grabs a doomed native, while the rest of the sequence uses a live octopus. These scenes are fun to see, but ultimately I think Tsuburaya and Toho realized they were defining a new genre with their films, so they abandoned the stop-motion experiments.

Biollante 1989

Biollante 1989-2

Top: effects technicians prepare to operate the multitude of wires used to animate Biollante’s tentacles. Bottom: action sequence from Godzilla vs. Biollante, 1989.

2W2N: I want to go back to the kaiju themselves. They’re certainly forces of nature, as you said, but don’t they also represent us, our struggle to cope with our own destructive impulses? There’s no exact analogy in American film, but I’m thinking of George Romero’s zombies/ghouls, or even Jason in the Friday the 13th franchise. We can’t kill the monsters because the monsters are part of us, because inhumanity is part of humanity. To be more specific, is it off base to say that the kaiju genre—initially, at least—was just as much a statement against Japanese imperialism as it was against the atomic bombings that ended the Empire?

WALTERS: That’s a difficult question, since true kaiju films are very much a product of Japanese culture, and it’s impossible for someone raised in another culture to fully relate to the Japanese mindset, especially as it was in 1954 at the release of the original Godzilla. Without a doubt, nearly every kaiju film ends with a variation of the lament: “The human race has pushed science too far! Our own arrogance has awakened the beasts!” However, I think “awakened” is a key concept. Most Earth-born kaiju (excluding kaiju from space used for invasion purposes, such as King Ghidorah or Gigan) already existed and were simply slumbering, inside a mountain or at the bottom of the ocean, and were awakened by mankind’s interference. So we didn’t actually create the kaiju, we only angered them (or perhaps enlarged them via radiation) by our hubris, abuse of science, or disregard for the environment.

Planet X-1

Planet X-2

Top: Eiji Tsuburaya prepares miniatures for the abduction scene in Invasion of Astro-Monster, 1965. Bottom: The Xians deposit Godzilla and Rodan on Planet X.

There’s no question that the original Godzilla was a statement against nuclear weapons, but in addition to the obvious references to H-bomb testing on Bikini Atoll or the hardships of life in a post-nuclear tragedy (brought out in an interesting conversation on a train in a scene that was cut from the U.S. release), the plot involving Dr. Serizawa and the Oxygen Destroyer seems to mirror the idea that mankind has incredible destructive power. So perhaps the end of the movie does speak to your point—”we can’t kill the monsters because the monsters are part of us”—because although Serizawa has destroyed all of his research material that led to the creation of the Oxygen Destroyer, he still realizes that he must destroy himself as well. Because he does not trust himself to keep his scientific discovery a secret forever, as a representative of mankind and science, he made sure the one and only use of his discovery would result in his own death.

2W2N: Good points. I’m probably trying a little too hard to push my own Western interpretation. Let me go in a different direction, since you mentioned Serizawa. I thought of the character recently while watching Robert Oppenheimer’s famous TV interview in 1965, when he describes his feelings about developing the atomic bomb with a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The footage is absolutely chilling. I know this is a tough question, but do you think Serizawa and his final sacrifice were meant to be a statement about the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project?

Mothra 1961

Mothra sacrifices herself to protect her soon to hatch larvae in Mothra vs. Godzilla, 1964

WALTERS: You aren’t kidding when you say it’s a tough question! It’s hard to say that there’s a real connection between the Manhattan Project and Serizawa, but I do think there’s a statement about humanity, since director Ishirō Honda often liked to show that, regardless of our destructive nature, there is hope if we grit our teeth and do the right thing, no matter how tragic. Whether it’s self-sacrifice to destroy a rampaging kaiju, or even altering the Earth’s orbit with huge rockets to avoid colliding with a star in Gorath (1962), making the hard decision can redeem us, at least temporarily.

I have to admit my historical knowledge of Oppenheimer is lacking, but I think Serizawa’s situation differs in a few ways. His discovery of the Oxygen Destroyer is an accident, and he immediately decides to keep it a secret until he can find a way for it to benefit humanity. I think he only tells Emiko about it as a weird way to impress her, since he’s insecure in the love triangle. He is so adamant in his decision not to use the Oxygen Destroyer that nothing can convince him to do otherwise, until he hears a children’s choir on TV singing for peace. Later, as he starts to burn all his research, Emiko cries because I think she already knows Serizawa will sacrifice himself, because he knows how to make the hard decision to avoid Oppenheimer’s later regret. In the Heisei series, this becomes incredibly ironic, because the use of the Oxygen Destroyer in Tokyo Bay mutates prehistoric creatures that eventually form Destoroyah.

Satsuma 1985

Crew members force suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma into his Godzilla costume, 1985. Satsuma would often pass out on set due to overheating.

2W2N: The self-sacrifice required by duty and honor is certainly sacrosanct in Japanese culture, isn’t it? Let’s talk some Godzilla, since he’s (is he really male, or is that presumption on my part?) the most popular kaiju by far. Rewatching all the films from the Shōwa era, it’s really interesting to see how the character develops and the mood of the films changes. In the first two movies, Godzilla is something of a plot device, albeit a magnificent one, that generates the human drama. The third, King Kong vs. Godzilla, is a traditional monster mash. But by the time we get to Mothra vs. Godzilla, things have changed entirely. There are multiple kaiju now, and they’re unquestionably front and center. The tragedy of Serizawa (and Kobayashi, in Godzilla Raids Again) is replaced by the tragedy of Mothra. The mythology surrounding the creatures starts to build. The fantasy elements begin to take over.

How and why did the direction change so quickly?

WALTERS: Godzilla Raids Again (1955) was rushed into production quickly (it’s quite amazing to think that a special effects oriented sequel could be in theaters only a year after the original), so inventing another kaiju (Anguirus) for the new Godzilla to battle was perhaps the easiest way to get things rolling. This quickly established the kaiju vs. kaiju format, and I think the fact that audiences enjoyed these massive matches influenced the direction of future movies. While I love to think of kaiju movies as art films (and I feel like this interpretation is valid in many ways), there’s no doubt that Toho was looking for box office success and made an effort to give the public what it wanted.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) is quite unique (and the best of the series to many fans) in its mythology, but it benefits greatly from the fact that Mothra was fully introduced in her own 1961 film, so she brought a significant backstory that made a great story even richer. But the biggest change in direction for the series comes in the very next film, Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), when Godzilla does his famous “victory dance” after driving off King Ghidorah, now considered to be the moment when Godzilla becomes anthropomorphized into a superhero. From then on, Godzilla starts displaying human traits and even human movements that Japanese audiences would recognize from contemporary celebrities, and once Toho started to realize how children loved cheering on Godzilla, the tone of the movies changed drastically, until it seems like every film ends with Godzilla walking into the sunset while children wave and scream goodbye. I still enjoy these lighthearted scenes in the series, but I think they also drove away the “serious” audience and caused a somewhat necessary end to the Shōwa series before the Heisei reboot in 1984.

Tsuburaya FF #13 1980-2

Tsuburaya FF #13 1980

Tsuburaya on the set of Invasion of Astro-Monster. Photos: Fantastic Films #13 (January, 1980)

2W2N: A couple of moments stand out for me in terms of Godzilla becoming a real character and superhero/anti-hero. The first is in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), when Mothra tries to convince the warring Godzilla and Rodan to join forces and defend the Earth against Ghidorah. Godzilla responds that he has “no reason to save humans,” who are always “bullying” him, and Rodan agrees. But they do eventually team up when Ghidorah starts to bully Mothra. All of this is archetypal anti-hero behavior.

The second, from Invasion of Astro-Monster, comes after the Xians have dumped Godzilla and Rodan on Planet X. As the Earth astronauts are taking off, Godzilla gives this plaintive wail, and we understand that the Earth is his home too, and that he’s not just a mindless beast to be bartered and enslaved. It’s the first time I really felt sorry for the big guy.

What do you make of Destroy All Monsters (1968)? It’s certainly a lot of fun, but how does it fit into the franchise and the kaiju mythology? It was originally supposed to be the final Godzilla movie, correct?

WALTERS: I love both of the moments you mentioned, and they seem to drive home the feeling that Godzilla morphs into a “protector of the Earth,” not necessarily a “protector of humanity.” By the time Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) comes around, Godzilla is definitely fighting to save the planet from a creature literally made from mankind’s own sludge and waste, and although he does work with the humans to help with their Hedorah-drying electrode plot, I distinctly get the sense that Godzilla is annoyed the whole time. It’s really interesting how Godzilla’s “purpose for being” changes multiple times, especially as the Heisei series kept restarting the continuity. In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), he is almost a spiritual protector of Japan, as seen in the flashback scenes of the young Godzillasaurus fighting back U.S. troops to protect Japanese forces on Lagos Island; and later, in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), by far the most mystical plot of the entire series (not to mention the film with the longest title), he’s revealed to be “powered” by the spirits of Japanese soldiers lost in World War II, a far cry from his days on Monster Island buddying around with Jet Jaguar!

Mecha KG 1991

The big guy faces off against Mecha-King Ghidorah in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, 1991

Getting back to the Shōwa continuity, Destroy All Monsters is certainly epic, but also unusual simply because the kaiju who we’ve seen to be so mighty and awe-inspiring have allowed themselves to be corralled onto Monster Island where they all just live in peace. During most of the movie, as they ransack all the great cities and monuments, the kaiju are under Kilaakian mind-control, so even their usual out-of-control rampaging nature has to be spurned on by external forces. There’s no denying that the final battle with King Ghidorah is one of the best (even including bloodshed, which was somewhat rare at the time), so when the kaiju finally do wake up and have to fight together for their own survival, as well as Earth’s and humanity’s, it’s worth the wait. You are correct that Toho considered making Destroy All Monsters the final movie, maybe just to get the entire dream team (Honda, Tsuburaya, and longtime composer Akira Ikufube) together again at least one more time.

2W2N: You’ve been a serious kaiju student and enthusiast for going on 10 years, to the point where you enjoy listening to and analyzing CDs filled with “kaiju roars and growls” and various sound effects from the movies. What is it about the genre that you find most fascinating and inspiring?

WALTERS: Of course there are many reasons that I love these films, such as the wonderful imagination that spawned so many unique kaiju (as evidenced by the more than 100 kaiju toys on my shelf), or the fun juxtaposition of seriousness in the midst of often incredible situations, but what really brings me back to the genre again and again is the true craft of the special effects. Regardless of how many books I read or behind the scenes clips I watch, I am constantly thinking about the hard work of building the kaiju suits, the detailed miniatures, setting up each shot, and planning it all in the first place. I love seeing the “brush strokes” of the artists’ work, and their pioneering and ingenious efforts are mind-boggling to me. In the same way that I prefer hand-drawn animation to CG, there’s just something about seeing enough of the “rough edges” to know that what I’m watching is a masterpiece. To me, kaiju are so incredible because it took unbelievably talented artists like Tsuburaya to bring them to life.

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Mikey’s suggestions for further reading include Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla, and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film (2014), by August Ragone; A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series (2010), by David Kalat; The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla (Ragone’s blog); and Toho Kingdom.

A special thank you to Black Sun and The Sphinx, two additional resources featuring incredible kaiju-related photos, many of which were used above.

This article is © 2014 Michael Walters and 2 Warps to Neptune. All images © their respective creators. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the copyright holders.

Godzilla Fan Club Newsletters, 1977

Godzilla NL 1977-3

Godzilla NL 1977-1

Godzilla NL 1977-2

In Famous Monsters of Filmland #132 (March, 1977), an advertisement appeared for a Godzilla Fan Club. The ad was placed by a gentleman named Richard Campbell.

Nathan Fox, a young Godzilla nut who saw the ad and immediately subscribed, saved all five newsletters (called “fan letters”) produced by Campbell and his team. The detail I left out is that Campbell was 17 or 18 at the time he placed the ad and produced, by hand, the fan letters, all of which have been scanned by Fox in various formats. Read the amazing story and see the letters at Fox’s site.

Could this have been the first American Godzilla fan club? It’s unlikely, but if there had been others in plain sight, I doubt Campbell would have placed his ad (you can see that on Fox’s site as well).

As I’ve said many times before, we were a generation of fans when being a fan meant more than compulsively advertising the fact to the world. It meant building working monuments and monographs to our sources of inspiration.

UPDATE: Japanese film and pop culture scholar August Ragone (Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla, and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film) weighs in on Godzilla fan clubs in the U.S.:

Yep, I had one. The “Godzilla Fan Club” was promoted on both “Creature Features” and “Captain Cosmic” on KTVU-2, since I was serving as their teenaged “Godzilla/Japanese Film Expert.” The beloved host, Bob Wilkins, set it up for me and we ran with it…

The first kit was printed in blue and included a fan club member’s certificate (with artwork by Dennis Lancaster), a newsletter with a cut-out membership card, and a photo of Godzilla. The second wave included a new certificate (with all new artwork by Lancaster), a new newsletter and new cut-out membership card, and a new photo of Godzilla…

And I do recall seeing another “Godzilla Fan Club” in an earlier issue of “Famous Monsters” — possibly in the early-to-mid 1970s (perhaps between 1974-1976). There may also have been one or two advertised in the Want Ad section of “The Monster Times.”

Thanks again, August!

 


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