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G Is for Godzilla

Gojira, Gigantis… in the Latin, godzillasaurus. Belching atomic flame and using Tokyo as a wrestling ring, Toho’s famous rubbery dinosaur has many names, but within the mental lexicon of science fiction fans, he will always be the Big G.

There are few indisputable facts about Godzilla, and one of these is his origin. Lurking deep in the subaqueous depths of the Pacific Ocean, outside of the tranquil Odo Island, Godzilla hibernated from the dawn of time until modern days, until one of the earliest H-bomb explosions irradiated him, yielding a monstrous avatar of the atomic age. Godzilla rampaged through Japan, destroying any obstacle in his way, before finally being melted by an experimental oxygen destroying device. On these facts, everyone agrees, although some of the details have become fuzzy with time: For example, no one can agree whether or not a young Raymond Burr was a witness to Godzilla’s initial reign of terror.

Behind the scenes, though, Godzilla’s origin as one of the greatest giant monsters in scifi is cloudier. Even the origin of his name is a mystery: Originally, the concept was to do a movie about a monster that was a cross between a gorilla (gorira) and a whale (kujira), and so one theory argues that Godzilla’s Japanese name, Gojira, is a simple portmanteau. Other rumors claim that Gojira was the nickname of a brutish stagehand at Toho Studio. Whatever the truth, Americans sidestepped the issue entirely with their Anglocized renaming of the monster, thus giving the world the wildly popular “-zilla” suffix: to denote monstrous, reptilian scope.

Other aspects of Godzilla upon which few experts can agree are both
chronology and canon. There have been over 28 Godzilla films since the
monster’s debut in 1954… with over a dozen separate continuties
between them. Until 1975, the original Toho series of film’s followed a
relatively linear continuity: Godzilla was followed by Godzilla Rides Again — the first Godzilla film to establish the formula of facing the Big G against another giant monster, mano a mano
— and would continue to fight both with and against other Toho
monsters such as Mothra, Rodan, Megalon, Mechagodzilla and King
Ghidorah up until The Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975. He even sired a son named Minilla. Then the series was put to rest for 10 years.

When Toho returned to making Godzilla movies in the mid-’80s, they
rebooted the series with The Return of Godzilla, a direct
sequel to the original. Although Toho decided to take a decidedly less
campy tone with the subject matter, Godzilla continued to pile-drive
his rubbery, monstrous peers through cardboard skyscrapers. This time,
though, Godzilla’s rationale had changed: While as Toho’s original
films had cast Godzilla as a protector of Japan, his ’80s incarnation
looked upon the titular monster as a protective and territorial beast,
fighting other monsters off his island for mindless, instinctual
motivation alone. Godzilla also found the time to sire another son,
Godzilla Junior.

Eventually, Toho tired of this Godzilla incarnation as well, and
decided to merge the approach of the
last two cycles of films with their Millennium Series. Each film in
this series was a stand-alone sequel to the original Godzilla film, with some films casting the Big G as a sympathetic patriot of Japan ( Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla: Final Wars) and others as a destructive, mindless dinosaur ( Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla ). The Millennium Series ended with Godzilla: Final Wars, and the next film in Toho’s series will not be until 2014, to mark the 60th anniversary of the original film.

Of course, Toho isn’t the only company to take a stab at telling the
tales of Godzilla. In 1978, Hanna-Barbera released a Saturday morning
cartoon show, The Godzilla Power Hour, which featured yet another Godzilla progeny, Godzooky. Marvel Comics also did a series of Godzilla
comics in the ’70s, which resulted in the curious fact that Godzilla is
considered a canonical entity in the Marvel Universe… standing
alongside Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of the only science fiction films to actually exist in the same universe as Spider-Man and Galactus.

And then, there was the remake: TriStar Pictures’ Godzilla,
released in 1998. The less said about this abomination, the better.
Needless to say, fans of the Toho films were not about to accept a
radioactive iguana as a real successor to the Big G. Finally,
Toho stepped in to smooth out the disagreement: The American Godzilla
would be canonically known as Zilla (Jira: The Anti-Godzilla) and fight
the real Godzilla in the final Toho Godzilla film, Godzilla: Final Wars.

The outcome was the only one imaginable: Godzilla clobbered his
American rival. There’s a few things Japan will always do better than
America, and giant rubber monsters is one of them.

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