Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira?) is a daikaijū, a Japanese movie monster, first appearing in Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film Godzilla. Since then, Godzilla has gone on to become a worldwide pop culture icon starring in 28 films produced by Toho Co., Ltd. The monster has appeared in numerous other media incarnations including video games, novels, comic books, television series, and an American remake. An American reboot is currently in development by Legendary Pictures.
With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Godzilla was conceived as a monster created by nuclear detonations and a metaphor for nuclear weapons in general. As the film series expanded, the stories took on less serious undertones portraying Godzilla in the role of a hero, while later movies returned to depicting the character as a destructive monster.
Gojira (ゴジラ?) is a combination of two Japanese words: gorira (ゴリラ?, “gorilla”), and kujira (鯨（クジラ）?, “whale”), which is fitting because in one planning stage, Godzilla was described as “a cross between a gorilla and a whale”, alluding to his size, power and aquatic origin. A popular story is that “Gojira” was actually the nickname of a hulking stagehand at Toho Studio. The story has not been verified, however, because in the fifty years since the film’s original release, no one claiming to be the employee has ever stepped forward and no photographs have ever surfaced. Kimi Honda (the widow of Ishiro Honda) always suspected that the man never existed as she mentioned in a 1998 interview that “the backstage boys at Toho loved to joke around with tall stories”.
Godzilla’s name was written in man’yōgana as Gojira (呉爾羅), thus the kanji used were for phonetic value and not for meaning. Many Japanese books on Godzilla have referenced this curious fact, including B Media Books Special: Gojira Gahô, published by Take-Shobo in three different editions (1993, 1998, and 1999).
The Japanese pronunciation of the name is [ɡodʑiɽa] ( listen); the Anglicized form is /ɡɒdˈzɪlə/, with the first syllable pronounced like the word “god”, and the rest rhyming with “gorilla”. When Godzilla was created (and Japanese-to-English transliteration was less familiar), it is likely that the kana representing the second syllable was misinterpreted as [dzi]; in the Hepburn romanization system, Godzilla’s name would have been rendered as “Gojira”, whereas in the Kunrei romanization system it would have been rendered as “Gozira”.
Godzilla’s appearance has changed over the years, but many of his characteristics have remained constant. His roar has remained the same, only changing in pitch. Godzilla’s approximate appearance, regardless of the design of the suit utilized for the creature, remains the same general shape, which is instantly recognizable: a giant, mutant dinosaur with rough, bumpy charcoal-blue scales, a long powerful tail, and jagged, bone-colored dorsal fins. Godzilla’s iconic character design is a blended chimera inspired by various prehistoric reptiles, gleaned from children’s dinosaur books and illustrations from an issue of Life magazine: Godzilla has the head and lower body of a Tyrannosaurus, a triple row of dorsal plates reminiscent of a Stegosaurus, the neck and forearms of Iguanodon and the tail and skin texture of a crocodile. Godzilla’s dorsal plates have themselves altered in size and appearance over the years.
Godzilla’s body and facial structure changed often from film to film. The first films depicted the creature with a more feral head and facial structure, to indicate his status as a feared threat. As the character became more of a heroic figure—particularly to children, who became a large part of Godzilla’s target audience from 1965 until 1978 in the Showa era—the creature’s shown as having human or near-human intelligence in most films. Godzilla was originally believed by many to be green when the original black and white film was produced, and promotional artwork in America and other English speaking countries depicted him as such. The creature was also depicted as being green in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon and a number of toys in the United States prior to the Trendmasters toy line, which depicted Godzilla in his actual coloration. Godzilla actually has a greenish hue in Godzilla 2000 and again in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, but returns to his classic charcoal gray in subsequent films in the Millennium series starting with Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.
Although his origins vary somewhat from film to film, he is always described as a prehistoric creature, who first appeared and attacked Japan at the beginning of the Atomic Age. In particular, mutation due to atomic radiation is presented as an explanation for his size and powers. The most notable of Godzilla’s resulting abilities is his atomic breath: a powerful heat ray of fire from his mouth. Godzilla is also depicted as being resistant to damage thanks to a tough hide and an advanced healing factor, which itself became a focal point in Godzilla vs. Biollante and Godzilla 2000. He is portrayed as being strong and dexterous, sometimes utilizing martial arts techniques in combat. Described as a transitional form between aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates in the original film, Godzilla is able to survive in the ocean for indefinite periods of time and is as adept a fighter underwater as he is on land.
These particular abilities are portrayed consistently among Godzilla’s many incarnations, though he also possesses skills, often employed as weapons of last resort that are only seen on rare occasions to beat certain enemies.
The Showa-era Godzilla film series began with the release of Godzilla in 1954 and lasted until 1975, spanning fifteen films. This currently amounts to over half the Godzilla movies in existence.
In the original film, Godzilla is portrayed as a terrible and destructive monster born from nuclear materials. Following the first movie’s success, Toho quickly followed up with the sequel Godzilla Raids Again. In this film, Godzilla battles the monster Anguirus beginning the trend where Godzilla would fight other giant creatures. In the fifth film, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla takes the role of a hero – a role he plays until the end of the Showa series. As the protagonist, Godzilla is frequently charged with protecting Japan against other monsters, aliens, and other evil characters.
The Showa-era movies played on the fears and interests of audiences during the period in which they were made. For instance, Godzilla was designed to warn people about the negative side effects of nuclear weapons. Likewise, Godzilla vs. Hedorah carried a message about the dangers of pollution. As space exploration and the Space Age were popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of Godzilla’s films featured fights with alien monsters or an alien invasion. For instance, in the movie Destroy All Monsters, an alien race takes control of Earth’s monsters only to later lose control and be destroyed by their captives.
The Heisei-era Godzilla film series lasted from 1984 to 1995 totaling seven films for the second series.
The Heisei-era films differed drastically from the Showa-era films in a variety of ways. The most prominent difference being that Toho did away with portraying Godzilla as a hero. While occasionally Godzilla would take the role of an antihero, he was still hazardous to humanity. The Godzilla suit was updated to look more realistic and much more intimidating than previous outfits. Another significant difference is the series was given an overall plotline with story arcs. Each movie happened in some sort of sequence, and referenced previous movies to further the plot of the series.
As in the Showa era, the first movie of the Heisei era, The Return of Godzilla, had Godzilla as the only monster to make an appearance. All succeeding Heisei-era movies would have Godzilla fight other monsters. In this series’ final movie, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Godzilla dies after undergoing a nuclear meltdown.
In the same way the Showa era spoke to audiences of its time, the Heisei-era Godzilla films took on popular themes of the 1980s and 1990s. In Godzilla vs. Biollante, the movie explores advancing technology and the negative effects of genetic engineering. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah touched on US-Japanese relations stemming from World War II and introduced a time-travel plot. Other themes included commenting on research into hazardous material and making environmental statements.
The Millennium series of Godzilla films are the third and currently last of the film series. The six films were released from 1999 through 2004.
The Millennium series attempts to bring some Showa-era trends back including, with one exception, the lack of continuity between movies. Godzilla is, however, still a hazard and a destructive force in the Millennium series.
In 1998, TriStar Pictures produced a remake that was released between the Heisei and Millennium series. Directed by Roland Emmerich, director of Independence Day, and starring Matthew Broderick, the film – Godzilla – takes place in New York City and has no continuity to any of Toho’s productions. Despite negative to mixed reviews from film critics and a negative reception from fans of the original Japanese Godzilla, the film was a financial success, taking in nearly $380 million worldwide, and spawned an animated television series called Godzilla: The Series, which drew much better reception all-around. Toho would later reclassify the Godzilla in this movie as Zilla, and feature it briefly in their film Godzilla: Final Wars. Production members[who?] of Final Wars stated in this American incarnation did not merit having “God” in the name.
For release in 2012, Legendary Pictures acquired the rights to the character with plans to produce a new American Godzilla movie. Producers of the new film will be Dan Lin, Roy Lee, and Brian Rogers while Yoshimitsu Banno, director of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Kenji Okuhira, and Doug Davison will be executive producers. Very little is known about the project so far other than the film will feature a computer generated Godzilla and will fight multiple monsters. At the 2010 San Diego Comic Con, Legendary Pictures representatives were on hand to pass out t-shirts depicting a new Godzilla design. On January 4, 2011, Gareth Edwards, director of Monsters, was announced as director. The original script writer David Callaham has been replaced by a new yet-to-be-announced writer.
Television and printed media
In Japan, Godzilla was a frequent guest star on the tokusatsu series Zone Fighter. In it, Godzilla occasionally fought alongside the protagonist against other monsters, including Gigan and King Ghidorah, two monsters who had previously appeared in Godzilla films.
Godzilla made his American series debut in the 1978 Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning show Godzilla. In this series, Godzilla had a nephew, Godzooky. In addition to his trademark atomic breath, which simply changed to fire in the cartoon, he was given the power to shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Godzilla could be summoned by his human friends, sea-explorers on the ship USS Calico, with a signaling device or by the cry of Godzooky. The series ran until 1981. Several monsters were created for this show, including The Firebird, not the same as the one in Destroy All Monsters. That one was really a alien spacecraft that crashed through buildings and set them on fire.
A second series, based on the American Godzilla, aired on Fox Kids. The series featured the surviving baby Godzilla from the end of the live action film, which now had grown to full size. Godzilla traveled around the world with a team called HEAT, including scientist Nick Tatopoulos, battling monsters. Godzilla had the abilities and physical forms of his parent, but the creators of the show gave him more powers and an attitude more resembling the original Japanese Godzilla.
In Japan, Godzilla (along with a plethora of other Kaiju) appeared in a animated toy show called Godzilla Island that ran from 1997-1998.
Godzilla has been featured in comic books, most often in American productions (from Marvel Comics in the late-1970s, and from Dark Horse Comics in the 1980s and 1990s). Japanese Godzilla manga comics are also available.
The Marvel series told original stories and attempted to fit into the official Toho continuity, while avoiding direct references to it. It integrated Godzilla into the Marvel Universe. It was published from 1977 to 1979, fitting between the Showa Period movies and the Heisei Era. This series described the adventures and confrontations of Godzilla in the United States.
Between 1996 and 1998 Random House published four books by Marc Cerasini featuring Godzilla and other kaiju of the Toho franchise: Godzilla Returns, Godzilla 2000 (unrelated to the film of the same name), Godzilla at World’s End, and Godzilla vs. the Robot Monsters. The release of a fifth book, Godzilla and the Lost Continent was planned but was canceled when Random House’s license for Godzilla expired.
On September 23, 2004 Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters by William M. Tsutsui was released by Palgrave Macmillan. The book was released to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Godzilla and looks into some of the ways Godzilla has become a simple part of everyday life for fans.
In 2010, IDW Publishing announced that they gained the rights for the license to Godzilla, and will release a new series titled Godzilla: Monster World (since renamed Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters) in March 2011. They have promised appearances by Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan, and other popular monsters from the Toho shared universe as well as fresh new monsters. Eric Powell and Tracy Marsh co-wrote Kingdom of Monsters with Phil Hester supplying the art. Artist Matt Frank will also supply variant covers for multiple issues, each focused on a specific monster, such as Anguirus, Mothra, Rodan or King Ghidorah. The first issue was released in March 2011 and focused on introducing Godzilla, who destroys Japan, and the Japanese Prime Minister even orders for nuclear weapons to be dropped on him, causing his trademark atomic ray. The first issue sold out within it’s first day. Godzilla, Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Kumonga, Hedorah, Gigan, Titanosaurus, Battra, SpaceGodzilla, and Destoroyah are expected to make appearances in the comic.
Godzilla’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Godzilla is one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese popular culture worldwide and remains an important facet of Japanese films, embodying the kaiju subset of the tokusatsu genre. He has been considered a filmographic metaphor for the United States, as well as an allegory of nuclear weapons in general. The earlier Godzilla films, especially the original, portrayed Godzilla as a frightening, nuclear monster. Godzilla represented the fears that many Japanese held about the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the possibility of recurrence.
As the series progressed, so did Godzilla, changing into a less destructive and more heroic character as the films became geared towards children. Since then, the character has fallen somewhere in the middle, sometimes portrayed as a protector of the world from external threats and other times as a bringer of destruction. Godzilla remains one of the greatest fictional heroes in the history of film, and is also the second of only three fictional characters to have won the MTV Lifetime Achievement Award, which was awarded in 1996.