July 15, 2011 at 6:59 PM

Godzillapalooza

"...if Kong is the greatest monster, then Godzilla is the greatest monster brand..."

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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Of the 720 hours that June afforded us all, I happily spent 18 of them in the company of the big green guy.

Not that weird emerald colossus who grows corn, but the 400'-tall Gojira--a coinage meaning half-gorilla, half-whale, go figure--whose explosive exploits have been chronicled in 28 films from 1954-2004 (excluding Roland Emmerich's underrated 1998 NYC remake).

Thanks to Comcast Cable's On Demand, I revisited nine of them last month, with not only Godzilla (his Americanized moniker) but also Mothra, Rodan, and Toho Studio's glorious three-headed dragon King Ghidorah.

Though all were the oddly dubbed, re-edited U.S. versions, often broadcast in full-screen instead of Tohoscope, they lost nothing, since I saw them as I originally did...on color TV in the den.

The point is to watch stuntmen in rubber suits get into sumo-style rasslin' while reducing a miniature Tokyo to chopsticks, over and over again. The lizard always delivers.

Gojira was the first kaiju, or "giant monster movie," a sub-genre of the tokusatsu fantasy film. It was the Asian answer to Hollywood's enormously successful "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (1953).  

Based on Ray Bradbury's wistful short story "The Fog Horn," The Beast... concludes with the misunderstood saurian perishing in a flaming Coney Island roller coaster. (Generally, I always feel very sorry for the poor beasties in Harryhausen's filmography).

Across the Pacific, only nine years after WW2's end, the movie inspired director Inoshiro Honda to style his Gojira as not only the literal result of atomic radiation but also a symbol of cultural guilt. He clearly asserts Japan has brought this new calamity upon itself in a grim, sad tale of destruction, suffering, and atonement.

While the successive films have large issues grounding the narrative--nuclear disarmament, perils from space, imminent environmental disaster--nothing has the same apocalyptic tone as that debut entry, Godzilla King of the Monsters. They are fun. This is not.

By the way, I do know that Godzilla really isn't the king of the monsters. Undoubtedly, that is King Kong, and I mean the one, the only, the eighth wonder of the world himself.

But if Kong is the greatest monster, then Godzilla is the greatest monster brand. The dude, age 57,  has legs.

So, although seven years have elapsed since #28, surely someone is polishing a final draft screenplay for #29.

At least, I sure hope so.

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