Japan and their history of giant monsters

British fans of horror and monster movies can rejoice, as the Japanese Shin Godzilla is finally making its way to UK cinemas this August. Unsurprisingly, the film follows the infamous Godzilla monster wreaking havoc in Japan. We say unsurprisingly, because ancient sea monster Godzilla has been stomping across cities for over sixty years.

An enormous number of films have been made about this creature, including spin-offs and accompanying characters such as MechaGodzilla, Minilla and even Baby Godzilla – yes, you read that correctly. To celebrate Shin Godzilla’s arrival in the UK, we’ve taken a look back at some other great Japanese movie monsters, and have even done some research on why these films were, and still are so popular.

In Japanese cinema, there is a fairly prominent genre of films named ‘tokusatsu’, which is essentially just special effects based entertainment. Since the creation of the first Godzilla film, a whole subgenre names ‘kaiju’, translating to ‘strange creature’, has been formed. This means, the Japanese have an entire genre of films dedicated to large monsters attacking cities.

What’s most interesting, however, is that this admiration wasn’t born of Japanese myth or folklore; its origins lie entirely in the films they have made. It’s mostly down to Toho Studios producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was a fan of the American made monster films like King Kong. These films were successful in the box office worldwide, and inspired Tanaka to try the studio’s hand with a monster. Tanaka considered the widespread Japanese fear of atomic weapons as a result of past disasters, and soon brought to life the radioactive Godzilla.

When the Godzilla film was first released in 1954, it was a huge success, and it spawned the world’s longest running continuous franchise. More than this, it generated a multitude of new and exciting large monsters, and we’ve gathered some of the best.

Naturally, Godzilla takes the medal for best monster, but it’s fair to say it’s faced a lot of competition in sixty years, for example in opposing studio Daiei’s Gamera in 1965. Gamera was essentially a very large and very angry turtle that tried to crush Tokyo. Somewhat more impressive than the domestic turtle, Gamera could shoot fireballs and fly. A little more out there was Ghidorah, who was a part of Godzilla’s universe. This creature was a three-headed dragon that featured in the same film as a huge bird with hooks instead of hands.

Potentially the friendliest giant monster in the realm of kaiju was Mothra. Mothra was released in 1961 and was led by – you guessed it –a giant moth creature. Mothra was the eco-friendly warrior of the Godzilla universe who appears less of a monster, and more of a hero. Our final favourite is Rodan, the volcanic pterodactyl. Rodan was one of the most popular creatures after Godzilla, and for good reason; he could spit uranium.

These creatures were all giants both physically, and in the box office. These films are the epitome of the fantasy genre, but aren’t geographically restricted, as the success of Shin Godzilla in the US suggests. It’s safe to say, we’re looking forward to welcoming another Godzilla into the family.

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