Most of us have a favorite Godzilla movie from Japan, but did you know that there is more than one Godzilla? Yes, it’s true. Take a seat and let’s fly through the many iterations of Japan’s most famous movie monster.
In Japan, the term “Godzilla” is applied on-film to creatures that are of the same family as first seen in the original 1954 Godzilla movie. In fact, the name “Godzilla” is itself a Westernized version of the Japanese word “Gojira,” the name by which the monster is known in Japan. Regardless of the name, the original Big-G bites the dust at the end of the movie, so moviegoers were surprised when the monster appeared the following year in Godzilla Raids Again. An explained within the film, the two Godzillas are not the same creature, meaning that the second Godzilla (from Godzilla Raids Again) would be the Godzilla going forward on film until stated otherwise.
The second Godzilla’s foot-stompin’ good time comes to a frozen pause in Godzilla Raids Again, when the creature is literally buried under a mountain of ice and snow that slowed its reptilian metabolism to a slow crawl. That’s right, what amounted to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” stops the mighty Godzilla in its tracks in the movie. As you might suspect, the film was unremarkable in every regard, and it features some of the worst effects and sound editing ever brought to a Japanese horror film. It was not only an inferior Godzilla move, it remains a film not widely seen in the US. Its obscurity here in the States means that American audiences largely saw just the first Godzilla movie in 1954 and the third Godzilla movie, King Kong vs. Godzilla, in 1962.
Ah, King Kong vs. Godzilla… That movie is possibly the most internationally famous of the “rubber suit monster movies,” simply by virtue of its inclusion of a Japanese version of America’s famous King Kong ape-monster. In the film, the second Godzilla is first seen as it blasts its way out of an iceberg, sinking an American submarine in the process. The iceberg it was buried in is the same mountain of ice that trapped it at the end of Godzilla Raids Again. Unfortunately for most American viewers, there was some confusion regarding this initial appearance in the film since the monster was as dead as a door nail at the end of the original Godzilla movie (thanks to a one-time-only disintegration weapon), so it seemed to many that the movie-makers were somehow stating that the Big-G was somehow revived by the ice. That belief is not true and exists solely due to a general lack of awareness concerning the events of Godzilla Raids Again.
The end of King Kong vs. Godzilla saw Kong apparently victorious with Godzilla nowhere in sight following the monsters’ underwater battle, one which saw tidal waves and earthquakes ripping across Japan as the monsters fought off-screen. Kong eventually surfaced and swam away, but what happened to the second Godzilla? The answer to that question was answered in the next film, Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964). In that film, Godzilla number two first appears asleep under a mountain of dirt and mud, exactly as one would expect as the result of epic waves and earthquake activity. (Do note there never was a Japanese ending and a separate American ending to King Kong vs. Godzilla. Kong seemed to win in all distributions of the film.)
The second Godzilla would continue to be the Godzilla for the following movies: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965), Godzilla versus The Sea Monster (1966), Son of Godzilla (1967; more about this one below), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), Godzilla on Monster Island (1972), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster (1974), and The Terror of Godzilla (1975).
Please note that I am downing an antacid as I write about Son of Godzilla. The movie introduced “Minya,” the son? adopted child? youthful ward? of the second Godzilla. Minya was largely a fantasy character, one created to appeal to Godzilla’s core audience which had skewed heavily kid- and family-friendly in the years since the original Godzilla stomped people flat in 1954 before an adult audience. Minya played no long-term role in the Godzilla lineage and at no time was it ever referred to as the third Godzilla. The character, like the movie itself, was just forgettable.
Get ready, because here’s where things begin to get complicated. The next Godzilla movie was 1984’s Godzilla 1985, a film in which the producers chose to reboot the Godzilla continuity. As such, all movies featuring the second Godzilla were no longer considered to be canon and were to be forgotten as though the “Men in Black” had flash-erased the memories of moviegoers over the past 30 years. Replacing the second Godzilla was the creature seen in this film, the new second Godzilla, as opposed to the other second Godzilla we saw bef－ FLASH! What was I saying?
This is where all things Godzilla begin to pose a challenge for writers. For the purposes of keeping things numerically sane, the 1984 Godzilla is largely referred to as the third Godzilla, and I will refer to it as such in this paper. As such, and in addition to Godzilla 1985, the third Godzilla was the featured monster in the following: Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993; more about this below), Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), and Godzilla vs. Destroyer (1995; more about this below).
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla saw the first appearance of the third Godzilla’s offspring, “Godzilla Junior.” I kid you not. Unlike the fantasy-oriented Minya character that was seen in the second Godzilla’s continuity, this younger Godzilla was every bit the heir apparent to the name “Godzilla” in its appearance and its refusal to quit during a fight. That stubbornness would prove costly to the younger Godzilla as it dies due to injuries received in a precipitous fall at the hands (claws? wings?) of the evil Destroyer in Godzilla vs. Destroyer. The movie also saw the end of the third Godzilla as the radioactivity that empowered it finally reached critical mass and consumed it. However, as it melted down its power was enough to revive the fallen Godzilla Junior, so as the third Godzilla met its maker, the fourth Godzilla, the former Godzilla Junior, rose.
At this point, you’ll need to fasten your seat belts because the Godzilla series went for a wild ride from here on out. The next movie, Godzilla 2000 (2000), saw yet another reboot of the franchise, one which erased even the much-revered original Godzilla film of 1954 from continuity. As such, the Godzilla in this movie is a re-do of the first Godzilla, making it first Godzilla number two, but in numerical terms it is the fifth Godzilla.
The next six films would feature more Godzillas as most were set in their own “alternate universe” continuity and apart from all others except the 1954 original. Yes, this reboot brought the original Big-G back into the conversation. As such, the Godzilla seen in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) is the sixth overall Godzilla and the third version of the first Godzilla, and the one seen in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) is the seventh Godzilla and the fourth version of the first Godzilla.
The disassociated “alternate universe” stories ended in 2001 and all previous films were again considered null-and-void, meaning the original Godzilla was no longer the featured creature at that point. As such, the version of Big-G seen in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla III (2002) and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) is the eighth overall Godzilla and the fifth version of the second Godzilla, and the one seen in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) is the ninth Godzilla and the sixth version of the second Godzilla. Final Wars also features Minya, who is again denied an official berth as a true, numerical Godzilla. Do note that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla III acknowledges the existence of the original Godzilla by incorporating its bones–which were previously shown to be disintegrated in the original 1954 Godzilla film–into the structure of Mechagodzilla. FLASH! What bones?
This brings us to the most recent entry in the Godzilla series, Godzilla Resurgence. YAY! A fully CGI Godzilla rendered via motion-capture technology, and it looks awesome! It is somewhat reminiscent of Big-G’s “meltdown look” from Godzilla vs. Destroyer, but darker, far more menacing, and with more realistic (if such a term can be applied to a Godzilla movie) proportions than ever seen before. The filmmakers took pains to show how thick and powerful the legs of such a massive creature would have to be, and though the Big-G was always bottom-heavy (see for yourself by checking the legs and gut of the creature as seen in all of the above Japanese films), its support structure is shown to be extra, extra heavy-duty in this entry. The Godzilla seen in Godzilla Resurgence is yet another complete reboot, right down to the 1954 original. This means that the Godzilla in this movie is the fifth version of the first Godzilla, and the tenth overall.
Ten Godzillas! Some writers count more, some count fewer. It all depends on how you view the alternate universe and replacement Godzillas. As for me, I am comfortable in my assessment. I count ten and I’m satisfied.
You are now free to move about the cabin and grab some monster-size headache relief.
All the best,
- Barry’s Temple of Godzilla, http://www.godzillatemple.com/
- Kaijupedia, http://giantmonsters.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page
- Toho Kingdom, http://www.tohokingdom.com/
- Wikipedia (“Godzilla Franchise”), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godzilla_(franchise)