General

  • Recently I had the chance to visit the Sasebo City Museum Shimanose Art Center in order to check out their Yasuyuki Inoue Exhibit (their first tokusatsu-related exhibit in the museum’s history), which ran from July 17, 2021, to August 29, 2021. I originally learned about this exhibit when I stumbled on a flyer in Fukuoka. I subsequently misplaced the flyer, and despite searching for the exhibit online, came back fruitless (I couldn’t remember what was written on it or who it was for or where it took place), and thought I had missed the event. Then SciFiJapan ran an article about the event, and I found an excuse to visit shortly afterward its publication as a rather unfortunate change of plans gave me an open schedule. (more…)

    General // September 7, 2021
  • Toho Kingdom has once again teamed up with Warner Bros. This time we’re able to give away a couple of digital codes for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) for a fun little contest. This contest is different than our usual contest as we’ve put together a fun quiz paired with an exclusive video! Winners who answer correctly (the questions are kinda easy by design) will be randomly selected to win either a Godzilla vs. Kong 4K UHD Blu-Ray set, a Godzilla vs. Kong Blu-Ray/DVD set or a Godzilla vs. Kong digital code! (more…)

    General // June 8, 2021
  • One of the fun things about research is that one usually ends up with more material than can reasonably be used in a single run—and rather than pad out an essay to tedious length, findings can be spread across multiple projects. When preparing for my recent Toho Kingdom article Godzilla vs. Destoroyah: The Legacy of Godzilla’s Demise, I reached out to genre historian Ed Godziszewski and Norman England, the latter of whom directed the documentary Bringing Godzilla Down to Size and covered a number of Japanese special effects sets for Fangoria magazine. Both saw Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) during its domestic theatrical run, and so I wanted their first-hand recollections about the marketing and circumstances surrounding Godzilla’s death. Between the two interviews, I got more than enough material and decided to repurpose some of it for this new essay—along with additional comments that couldn’t fit into the first.

    My earlier piece focused on historical context: recounting how Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was made at a time when Toho’s flagship property was losing steam at the box office; how the monster was failing to acquire international distribution; how the series was put on hiatus to “make room” for TriStar’s GODZILLA (1998); and how, for all its pretensions, the ’95 Godzilla film comes across more like a publicity stunt than a truly thoughtful sendoff for the monster. It is this last point that I would like to emphasize in this follow-up article—along with anecdotes regarding another series of 1990s kaiju pictures that surpassed anything Toho had done with their monster in quite a spell.

    Left: Toho pressbook cover. Right: Destoroyah juvenile form on display at Ariake Coliseum. Images Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    When Toho producer Shogo Tomiyama announced in July 1995 that Godzilla would die in his next movie, the news went around the world, even being reported to American audiences who would not see the picture for a number of years. In Japan, the slogan “Godzilla Dies” was brandished on billboards, posters, and twenty-foot-high signs as part of the pre-release hype.1 The publicity ultimately worked, as the film garnered an attendance of about four million—a step up from the 3.4 million for the previous year’s Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) and not far beneath the whopping 4.2 million of 1992’s Godzilla vs. Mothra. In terms of response from Japanese fans, the studio allegedly received more than 100,000 protest letters demanding the monster’s resurrection2—despite assurance from studio spokesmen that the hiatus was only temporary.

    For some, Godzilla’s death came across as little more than sensationalism: an attempt to get back the numbers on Godzilla vs. Mothra and make the monster ‘relevant’ one more time before the arrival of his Hollywood counterpart. “None of my friends believed this was going to be the last Godzilla movie,” Norman England recalled. “It was obviously PR talk. But a lot of us felt, ‘Well, let’s just get into the spirit of the thing.’ And there was a great deal of publicity for Destoroyah: gas station ads; TV commercials with Godzilla in them; Momoko Kochi, from the first Godzilla (1954), was appearing on the morning shows. I was living in Osaka at the time and went to a suit display at Banpaku Memorial Park, where Expo ’70 had been held. All of that was really fun.” England further stated that the experience of seeing the late Heisei films in Japan was always “more than just the movies. The movies were a little anticlimactic compared to what went on around them.”

    Teruyoshi Nakano‘s Cybot Godzilla on display outside Ariake Coliseum. Image Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    The marketing was still in force when Ed Godziszewski visited Japan in January 1996. “Most of the billboards were still up, and those words [“Godzilla Dies”] were as big as life wherever you looked.” The historian also recalled attending an Ariake Coliseum exhibition put together by Toho and the Tokyo metropolitan government. “They had the Cybot from The Return of Godzilla (1984) outside the main entrance, operating ever so clunkily—and this was the first time that I had seen a pretty comprehensive display of props and suits.” Despite the curious absence of Godzilla Junior, the exhibition featured monster costumes from the new movie, plus suits and statues representing creatures from previous ‘90s entries. “It was definitely set up as a Heisei Godzilla exhibit, as there wasn’t much about the original series of consequence—and that felt fair since they were saying goodbye to this Godzilla with the current film.”

    Godziszewski, however, was similarly unconvinced that the monster’s death would be permanent. “Toho’s #1 rule was always that Godzilla can never die, and given that (as I always say) no one is ever really dead in science fiction, it just seemed like misdirection. But this misdirection bought Toho more publicity than they could ever have garnered with just another ‘versus’ film.”

    Monster costumes from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993) and Destoroyah flying form on display at Ariake Coliseum. Images Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    Norman England saw Godzilla vs. Destoroyah on opening day—December 9, 1995. “My friends and I had this tradition where we’d go out for coffee after seeing a new film and talk about it. None of us were really happy with the movie. We felt the opening scenes with Burning Godzilla attacking Hong Kong were visually interesting, and the shot at the end of Godzilla Junior in the smoke looked nice. But the story, the plot, there was nothing to really talk about. My friend Akio had given up on the series after Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). We practically had to beg him to come with us. And, man, the look of annoyance on his face after seeing Destoroyah was just incredible. ‘The movie was crap,’ he said. ‘This is garbage.’ He put us in a position where we had to defend the movie, because he was so down on it.”

    Godziszewski’s memories were a tad more positive. “In retrospect,” the historian told Toho Kingdom, “it seems a ‘death’ was the best way to wrap things up. The suspense for me was just how they would do it. I will admit I was thrown off for a moment when they killed Junior. I gave them some points for the way the ending was handled: having Godzilla’s radiation revive and mature Junior into the new Godzilla. I thought that was a clever way to have your cake and eat it, too. Godzilla’s death was well handled and had some emotional impact. The theater, which was still fairly packed even though the film had been out for almost a month by then, was dead silent. Not just politely quiet; the kind of silence where people are holding their breath. I felt the theater audience really was affected. That’s one of my strongest memories of seeing the film.”

    Writing board, Sides A and B. Images Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    Aside from the ending, though, Godziszewski recalled fairly mixed reception to the 1995 extravaganza. “The reaction from my friends was all pretty much the same: it was a nice way to wrap up the series for the time being, but the film itself was so wildly uneven that it wasn’t anyone’s favorite.” And in summarizing Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Norman England described it as “an event film. It was more about what it represented than what it actually was.”

    Also working against the film, reception-wise, was a superior product from rival studio Daiei. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko and made for a fraction of the cost of the previous few Godzilla movies, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe opened to glowing praise in March 1995. Variety’s Todd McCarthy wrote favorably about this “action-packed monster mash that zestily revives the Japanese megabeast tradition,” noting that it “could find a certain niche [in the U.S.] with clever marketing and placement.”3 Sure enough, Kaneko’s film was given limited theatrical distribution and a home video release in North America in 1997—whereas Toho struggled to sell the Heisei movies to international buyers. “I would say up until Gamera,” England commented, “the Heisei Godzillas were thought of as the best Japan could do, and that’s why Guardian of the Universe was so shocking to everybody. ‘Oh, we can do better! It’s not that Japan can’t make good films. It’s just that the people at Toho can’t make a decent kaiju movie.’”

    Over the next few years, as Godzilla went into hiatus and Toho turned to Mothra to fill gaps in its New Years’ schedule, Daiei released two more Kaneko-directed Gamera pictures that similarly met acclaim. Japan Times film critic Mark Schilling had written lukewarmly about Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (“This is all rather silly”)4 and unenthusiastically about 1996’s Rebirth of Mothra (“This is less the quoting of a classic and more the mouthing of a tired cliché.”)5 but found much to praise in Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999), the finale of Kaneko’s trilogy:

    “Those who have lived through a few Japanese natural disasters, including the inevitable earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, can better understand why monster movies have had such a deep and enduring impact here. The bombings of World War II added to the general insecurity—the feeling that one is living under threat from large, inhuman, and horrifically destructive forces—but they certainly didn’t create it. Gamera 3 expresses the psychology of that insecurity, including its mythological underpinnings, with more clarity than the usual genre outing.” Schilling also championed the “awesome battle scenes, edited for maximum impact” and, in comparing Kaneko’s film to the recently released TriStar GODZILLA, wrote: “Gamera […] still has it all over that overgrown iguana from Manhattan.”6

    In wrapping up, I would like to close with one final contribution from Ed Godziszewski, who offered this personal anecdote of the impression Gamera made outside the kaiju fandom circle: “My wife always cringes watching even small bits of the ‘90s Godzilla films, because the acting is so incredibly bad. But I will always remember how she ducked into my room when I first got a copy of Guardian of the Universe. At first, she rolled her eyes. ‘Now they’re doing Gamera, too?’ But within a couple of minutes, she was hooked, and before you knew it had watched the whole thing. All she could say afterward was: ‘It’s not that this is a good monster movie. It’s a good movie, period.’”

     

    Bibliography

    1. Ryfle, Steve. Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of “The Big G.” Toronto: ECW Press, 1998, p. 307
    2. Ibid., p. 313
    3. McCarthy, Todd. “Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe.” Variety, 4 September 1995
    4. Schilling, Mark. Contemporary Japanese Film. Boston: Weatherhill, 1999, p. 189
    5. Ibid., p. 265
    6. Ibid., p. 186
    General // June 6, 2021
  • On July 15, 1995, Toho producer Shogo Tomiyama made an announcement to the Reuters news service that went around the world: the second run of Japanese Godzilla movies—which had started in 1984 and encompassed six entries—was going to end later that year. The studio line-up for the franchise included one more picture, slated for release that December, to climax with a scene described by the filmmakers as “unforgettable.” As CNN correspondent May Lee reported to American audiences who wouldn’t see the picture for several years: “Godzilla will die.” Despite not achieving international distribution, the finished movie, Takao Okawara’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), drew in a domestic attendance of about four million and to this day remains one of the better known and more widely discussed entries in the series.

    (more…)

    General // May 23, 2021
  • SpaceGodzilla is threatening to plunge the world into an endless night. But when Godzilla arrives to face the cosmic tyrant, he quickly discovers that this creature from another planet not only shares his face, it holds a dark secret — and the key to his final destiny. (more…)

    General // May 15, 2021
  • An April Fools day prank is a tradition here at Toho Kingdom. One can see our history on the matter here with our jokes over the past decade, although it has been going on for longer than that. In the earlier days of the Internet, aka the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, it feels like a lot of April Fools pranks were actually successful on the web, tricking people about the authenticity of their story. I’ll say part of this was due to naivety, with things being harder to fact check then, and also probably a less global understanding of what April Fools was, as it’s more of a Western tradition. These days, people are wisely cautious once the first of April rolls around. Realizing this, a lot of jokes are less believable as they are outlandish.

    Long story short, our jokes typically have fallen into this outlandish category. That includes last year’s prank, which turned the site into a 1993 newspaper, which are more about being creative as opposed to fooling people. This year, we tried something different. Crafting a story that was fake, but with enough detail that it could be real. The subject was a clash between the MonsterVerse Godzilla and Shin Godzilla, although in comic form to make it more believable. It was a tightrope as this was the only time that a major Godzilla film literally released the day before April Fools, so of course couldn’t contain anything that would be perceived as a spoiler.

    Long story short, the joke was played legitimate, although I’m doubtful how successful it was. At the end of the day, it at least made for a good excuse to mash up images of the MonsterVerse Godzilla with Shin Godzilla.

    (more…)

    General // April 1, 2021
  • Having already attended and greatly enjoyed the Second Annual Atami Kaiju Film Festival (熱海怪獣映画祭) in 2019, I was watching with interest to see how (or even if) there would be a third in 2020. Atami itself had some kind of kaiju-related event last year, but the festival was postponed to March of 2021. Despite the fact that I am in the middle of moving, despite the fact that parts of Japan are in a state of emergency due to the coronavirus, despite the fact that I had a heart attack last year and thus am more at risk, I still decided to attend the festival. (more…)

    General // March 20, 2021
  • Back in 2019 I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the second annual Atami Kaiju Film Festival (熱海怪獣映画祭) in the resort town of Atami. Known for its beautiful seaside views and hot springs, and sometimes called the “kaiju city” according to promotional materials I read about the festival, amongst giant monster fans, Atami is most famous as the place where King Kong and Godzilla faced off in the climax of King Kong vs. Godzilla—that’s the Atami Castle that gets destroyed at the end, you see. Gappa the Triphibian Monster also has some scenes that take place in Atami, as does a particular episode of Ultraman. The festival has as its genesis a conversation with Kazunori Ito, the screenwriter of the reboot Gamera trilogy, wherein he expressed a desire to create a new sort of kaiju-centric movie event in Atami. The first festival in 2018 was very small indeed and featured only one film showing—Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, which had originally been written while Ito stayed in Atami. Things blossomed from there.

    (more…)

    General // March 14, 2021
  • Looking for a little monster themed Valentine’s fun? Toho International has released Godzilla themed Valentine’s Day cards online. Five cards were made available in total, depicting Mechagodzilla (Showa), SpaceGodzilla, King Ghidorah (Heisei), Biollante Rose and Godzilla (Millennium). Each artwork depicts the monster along with a saying.

    The cards can be downloaded below, available in 1800×1800 in size once clicked so they can be printed off in good quality. …or alternatively, text or email the images to others as an e-Valentine. (more…)

    General // February 10, 2021
  • Despite being a Godzilla fan for as long as I can remember, it was never apparent what my favorite Godzilla era was until a few months ago. I always thought the Heisei series was my favorite, and it could very well be someday; it is deserving of praise and recognition—not to mention it had a first impression on me. Then I thought it was the relatively new MonsterVerse. While Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (OK, not a Godzilla film, but it felt wrong not to include it, and it’s arguably the best installment in the MonsterVerse), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) are stellar films that have introduced a whole new generation to the kaiju genre. But aside from a few aesthetics in terms of cinematography, setting, and sound design, it hasn’t yet shaped me as a cinematic storyteller. Finally, the answer became crystal clear, and just so happens to be the one that started it all. (more…)

    General // January 1, 2021