The King of the Monsters first roared into Japanese theaters in 1954. Awakened by the power of the atomic bomb (in a clear allegory to Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the prehistoric beast called Gojira wreaked havoc with every gigantic footstep, crushing buildings and setting fires with his breath. And somehow, after more than 20 films over more than 40 years, this great green goliath has become an unlikely movie star, one of the most famous faces in the cinema.
The original Gojira was a modestly-budgeted monster movie in the grand tradition of King Kong and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Unlike the stop-motion work in those films, however, Gojira had to rely on a more economical approach to its star. Simply put, a guy in a rubber suit stomped on small city models, setting off sparks and explosions. Amazingly enough, it worked, and a legend was born.
Gojira caused no small stir in its homeland, where the sting of World War II was still very real. The movies success there prompted Embassy Pictures Corporation to re-dub and re-cut Gojira for American audiences. Scenes of a love triangle between Serizawa, Emiko and naval officer Hideto Ogata were trimmed, new footage was added of Raymond Burr as American reporter Steve Martin (who knew?), and the movie was released in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! The monsters new name stuck with American audiences, and the name Gojira became the province of purists and trivia buffs.
Almost immediately after the first Godzilla/Gojira film, Japans Toho Studios filmed a sequel. The American version was released by new distributor Warner Bros., who once more changed the beasts name to avoid any legal problems. Gigantis was the new star of Counterattack of Gojira, which pitted the beast against the first in a long line of fellow giant monster foes, the armadillo-like Anguirus (a.k.a. Angilas).
The big G got his name back (well, his American name anyway) for his next film, King Kong Vs. Godzilla, which, as the title made clear, featured a battle royale between the most famous giant monsters in motion picture history. Contrary to urban legend, however, the American and Japanese version did not feature different, national-pride-saving endings. The fight ended the same way in both, though I wouldn't dream of ruining the outcome for you here.
Godzillas enemies and allies came fast and furious throughout the rest of the thunderlizards career: the giant winged insect Mothra, flying monster Rodan, the three-headed Ghidrah, the crawfish-like Sea Monster, waste beast The Smog Monster, Ghidrahs buddy Gigan, giant roach Megalon, robotic doppelganger Mecha-Godzilla and more. Surprisingly, the once-fearsome Godzilla started to become mankinds protector, as the series began a more open appeal to the kiddies. A Godzilla Saturday morning cartoon was produced by Hanna Barbera around this time, which also introduced a bizarre Godzilla relative (son?) named Godzooky.
The original Gojira story was retold in 1984, and U.S. audiences received the film as Godzilla 1985. Intended to spark a movie revival of the franchise (which was still alive and well in Japan), the movie failed to make the same impact as one of Godzillas oversized feet. Despite the return of Raymond Burr as Martin, the movie was the last of the Godzilla series to be seen in most U.S. theaters for several years.
The giant dino remained a favorite of Saturday matinees and late-nite TV creature features, however, and his popularity in Japan continued. New Gojira features continued to be made, putting the star in combat with Biollante, King Ghidorah, Space Godzilla and Destoroyah. Godzillas American fans (those without access to imported videos) had to wait until 1998 to see their hero in action again. This time, the original Japanese monster was the headliner in a big-budget American blockbuster, simply titled Godzilla.
After a long drought, the Toho version of Godzilla staged a U.S. comeback in his millennial film, Godzilla 2000, released stateside in August of 2000. After more than four decades in the business, Godzilla shows no signs of aging (hes already over two million years old), and the modestly-budgeted monster mayhem is likely to continue well into the new millennium.
Toho's 28th original Godzilla movie, entitled Godzilla Final Wars, will celebrate Godzilla's 50th Anniversary and, according to the studio, will bring the Godzilla series to a close. Yeah, sure, we've heard this one before.