By Last Caress.
From the Japanese for “Strange Beast”, Kaiju is a genre of films which generally feature an oversized monster smashing up parts of a city; Tokyo, usually, although it could be New York, Seoul, London or anywhere. And who amongst us hasn’t dreamt of being enlarged by radioactivity to 300ft in size and then pulverizing our local town to f*cking rubble? I know I have. I’m fantasizing about it right now, in fact: Take that, Asda! Up yours, Debenhams! Hit ME with extortionate parking fees would you, Eastgate Shopping Centre?? Ha!
Anyway, enough of that. This weekend, I thought I’d try to watch a bunch of my favourite Kaiju pictures. Twelve of them, no less. Over three days. I can almost hear the divorce lawyers up and down the county firing up their laptops and emailing my wife to see if they can be of assistance at all. Well, tough luck, you grasping leeches; in recognition of my wife tolerating a dozen monster movies this weekend, I’ve agreed to sit with her while we watch Me Before bloody You, which I think is a more-than-fair exchange.
Right: Let’s get ready to rumble, eh?
KING KONG ESCAPES
Kicking off my Kaiju Marathon Weekender is King Kong Escapes, released in 1967 and directed by Kaiju maestro Ishiro Honda, writer/director of the original Godzilla (1954) as well as many others. Part Bond, part monster mash-up, part pile of crap (in the good way), King Kong Escapes finds the nefarious Dr. Who – no, not that one; this one is more of a “Dr. No” knock-off – trying to extract the radioactive Element X from the frozen Arctic Tundra using his creation: Mechani-Kong, a robotic version of our favourite 50ft gorilla. When the radiation fries Mechani-Kong’s circuits, Dr. Who – no, not that one! I’ve already told you! – opts to seek out the real thing, currently lording it on Mondo Island. A lot of fun, King Kong Escapes was Kaiju production specialists Toho’s second and best crack at a Kong movie, following on from 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, also directed by Honda.
GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE
Produced by the Daiei Film Co in 1965 in order to capitalize on Toho’s flourishing Godzilla franchise, Gamera told of a giant, prehistoric rocket-powered turtle – no, really – who, awoken by atomic testing, comes to wreak havok upon Japan. However, in the mid/late sixties Toho elected to make Godzilla an anti-hero, and Daiei quickly followed suit with Gamera, making him a hugely kiddie-centric creature. Targeting their Kaiju at a youngster demographic proved detrimental to both franchises however; Terror of Mechagodzilla (Honda 1975) was Godzilla’s last picture for ten years, and Gamera: Super Monster (Yuasa, 1980) was Gamera’s last for fifteen years.
Leap forward to 1995 and Daiei decided to get Gamera out of mothballs for a trilogy of movies, the first of which was Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, directed by Shusuke Kaneko and repurposing Gamera as a bioengineered protector of mankind, created by Atlanteans to battle another creation of theirs which turned on them, the batlike bioweapon Gyaos (first seen back in 1967 in Gamera vs. Gyaos). The Gamera movies of the 1990’s start well and get progressively better, and as a trilogy represent some of the best material of the Kaiju genre.
GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA
We’ve already seen a mechanized version of King Kong, and now it’s time to say howdy to a mechanized Godzilla in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Tezuka, 2002), arguably the best Mechagodzilla pic (it’s either this one or its direct sequel, 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.) and not to be confused with either Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Fukuda, 1974) or, um, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Okawara, 1993), often referred to as Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II so as to avoid confusion, even though it’s not a sequel in any way and is in fact the third Mechagodzilla pic. Hm. Anyway, this one sees the Japanese military create a biomechanical simile of Godzilla from the skeleton of the original Godzilla who was defeated in the original 1954 picture, to combat another Godzilla should one ever arise. And arise, one certainly does. An absolute blast, this picture; for my money it’s everything a Godzilla movie should be.
Finishing off day one of my Kaiju Marathon Weekender is a US picture: Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008), produced by Star Trek/Star Wars‘ J.J. Abrams and written by Drew Goddard, director of 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods, in which the footage on a camcorder found in the ominously-titled “Area US447, formerly known as Central Park” chronicles the trials and tribulations of a small band of friends frantically trying to escape Manhattan while a Kaiju smashes the island to pieces. Despite being over 250 feet tall, the nameless Kaiju of Cloverfield was designed by the filmmakers to be an infant of its species, smashing its way through New York City because it’s lost, confused and panicked; in many ways a way scarier prospect than the carnage wrought by something which knows what it’s doing. I love Cloverfield, I think it’s a mightily impressive Kaiju pic, considerably darker than one might assume it to be and a terrific way to wind up proceedings for today.
Four more tomorrow!
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