To celebrate Godzilla’s 65th birthday a celebration was held at HUMAX Cinemas in Ikebukuro Tokyo called “Godzilla Night” on November 2nd, from 7:30 pm to 5:00am the following day. The event consisted of a showing of Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Giant Monsters All Out Attack, Mothra 3, and Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: The Greatest Battle on Earth (the edited down Champion Film Festival Version of Ghidorah: the Three Headed Monster). In addition to the movies, many people involved in the franchise, such as Shusuke Kaneko made appearances and talked about their experiences and involvement with the series.
As a long time Godzilla fan living in Japan, Godzilla Night felt like one of the most important nights of my life. It felt like an ultimate achievement as a Godzilla fan, seeing the films in theater, and getting to interact with the people that were directly involved. When I approached the ticket counter to the HUMAX Cinemas the cashier was a little taken aback, and surprised that someone such as myself had traveled all the way from Yamanashi (an area near Mt. Fuji) in order to see Godzilla films, especially because I was not fluent in Japanese. Most of the seats were sold out, impressive for an all-night endeavor. Taking my tickets and walking towards the elevator, the first thing I noticed was an older woman with a Shin-Godzilla plush in her bag, and a high quality jacket with Burning Godzilla embodied on the back. When the doors opened, I was greeted by the faces of more Godzilla fans, some donned in cosplay of obscure characters, such as a Digital Q reporter from GMK, and a man dressed as Terasawa from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. I realized that for once, I did not to feel weird, or ostracized for liking Godzilla so openly and publicly.
Next, we were all put into a long line, in a small cramped staircase. Everyone was sweating, and most people were decked out in Godzilla shirts and other Godzilla related swag. After about thirty minutes of waiting in anticipation, we were all ushered into a small lobby, filled with special Godzilla merchandise, such as a Gabara T-shirt, and highly sought after CAST figures. After a bit of spending, everyone rushed into the theater and sat down. A presenter came on and introduced the night’s schedule, Funnily enough, the man was my age, and had seen GMK casually as a small child. Evidently, like myself and others in the theater, Godzilla had had a profound impact on his life. Suddenly, the theater lights dimmed, and GMK began. I realized right then and there how special this occasion was.
I saw all three films on a large screen without subtitles. As a result, my viewing experience radically changed. While many newer and modern Godzilla fans have seen films like Shin-Godzilla and Godzilla 2014 on big screens, it’s easy to forget the backlog of Toho films that are on Blu-ray and DVD were originally intended to see in a theater.
I had seen GMK dozens of times, yet this time was special. Because I was not busy trying to follow along with subtitles for GMK, I realized how excellent the sound design of the film is. A lot of more subtle, and ominous music cues in the film, really popped. For example, the soft ominous music when Yuki is researching the Guardian Monsters was way more audible. The entire atmosphere of the film became more mystical.
Monsters, on the other hand, became legitimately terrifying, especially any shot where monsters were presented side by side with humans. For example, in the scene where the business man falls into the cave where King Ghidorah is, the up-close shot of Ghidorah, even frozen in ice, became threatening. When looking at Ghidorah’s head, it is almost as though you the viewer were the man staring at this creature that could break out at any moment. More examples include shots where Baragon fights Godzilla in the background, with humans running around in the foreground. It established a great sense of scale; as if you were viewing the battle from a ground level. The monsters, projected on the screen, become gigantic.
Mothra 3, surprisingly really benefited from being on a large screen. A lot of shots in the film, that look “fake” or “bad” on home viewing looked more realistic on a theater screen. A good example would be any shots of the Elias on Fairy flying above Japan. On a small screen, the contrast of the blurred background and the Elias looks like a really poor green-screen effect. However, on a large screen, the contrast between the blurry background, and the clear shots of the Elias, made the film look realistic, as a true sense of distance is established.
Similar to GMK, the experience of seeing Mothra 3 on a big screen enhances the terror factor. Shots of Ghidorah’s feet, from the ground up, have an overwhelming sense of dread to them. As Ghidorah’s feet advance towards the screen, with the aid of some great stomping sound effects, the viewer is left with the feeling that they too should be fleeing. When Ghidorah dives foot first into Mothra Leo, there is now a tremendous amount of weight behind the action. But terror is not the only advantage the theater screen brings. Seeing Mothra Leo’s furry and colorful body up close, and the individual strands of hair that make up the monster’s suit was one of the most breath-taking experiences ever.
Godzilla, Mothra, and Ghidorah; The Greatest Battle on Earth, was also a treat. I had never seen the “Champion Film Festival version” and it was exciting to see a new cut of the film. I realized that in a way, this event was a continuation of the old Toho Champion Film Festivals. All of the fans were gathered together for a marathon of Godzilla and Toho films.
Additionally, seeing the films without subtitles was a new experience. While I speak Japanese, and had seen the films enough times to understand everything, I was surprised how much I gained for not having to stare at subs. Whether people want to admit it or not, following along subtitles in movies is really distracting, and a lot of the beautiful cinematography is altered by the placement of texts over the images. Due to the lack of subtitles, I was able to watch and notice many more details in each of the individual films.
Between each of the three films were substantial breaks, supplemented by appearances by people who were involved with the Godzilla franchise. Similar to seeing the films on the big screen, seeing the actors and directors talking about the films they were in changed my perspective about the films.
One of the biggest surprises, was that Ryudo Uzaki (Admiral Tachibana in GMK) was a comedic delight. He continually made jokes, and laughed. It was a big contrast to his character’s no-nonsense attitude in GMK. During one of the intermissions, him and Mr. Kaneko re-enacted the final scene of GMK, with Mr. Uzaki (and the crowd as well) looking out towards the projected oceans and saluting the valiant efforts of the Guardian/Yamamoto Monsters.
Additionally, Akira Ohashi, the suit actor for the Heisei Gamera and GMK King Ghidorah, and Mizuho Yoshida, the suit actor for Godzilla in GMK, were both full of energy and excitement. The two went into lengthy detail about the difficulties and challenges of being a suit actor. Despite this they both overwhelmingly optimistic. At one point, Mr. Ohashi shared a story about how the Ghidorah suit took an incredible strain on his body, especially towards the end when Ghidorah slams into Godzilla from above. Maneuvering the three heads, and legs, all at once, with Ghidorah’s more slouched over body, was a monumental task. They also shared some details about the Baragon’s actress having difficulty walking at one point, due to how angled Baragon’s feet are. Yet, despite all this, the two were jovial, making jokes, monster noises and posing for the fans.
The highlight of all this, was when “Godzilla vs. Gamera” happened. Given that Mr. Kaneko directed both the Heisei Gamera trilogy and GMK, as well as the fact that both Godzilla and Gamera’s suit actors were present, the inevitable occurred. At one point, Mr. Ohashi and Mr. Yoshida, stood up, and “fought” as Godzilla and Gamera respectively. While Mr. Kaneko stated that the creation of such a film was highly unlikely it was fun seeing the two suit actors do what they do and have fun.
The surprise guest of the night, Robert Scott Field, the actor who played M-11 in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, stole the show. The announcer called him up from the crowd, and he quickly ran up and joined the likes of Shusuke Kaneko and the others. There was a sort of surrealism of seeing M-11 from the Heisei Series, stand next to Admiral Tachibana from the Millennium Series.
Mr. Field was not only impressive because of his fluency in Japanese, but also his incredible energy. Even at 3am! As someone who has studied Japanese for years and is still only at an intermediate level, I could not help being taken aback by his grasp of the language. One of the more interesting segments, was when he gave “Godzilla English Lessons to the audience”. During which, Mr. Field read lines of dialogue from Godzilla movies throughout the ages, that were originally in English in their Japanese versions and doing impersonations. These ranged from impersonations of Dr. Shinigami from Godzilla vs. Biollante, to Joseph Brody from Godzilla 2014. Following that, he explained the meaning behind some of the Godzilla film’s English titles, such as Godzilla on Monster Island and Godzilla’s Revenge, both of which confused the audience.
Between all these events, in the lobby, a bunch of special items were on sale. Through a lottery ticket system, I was able to secure a few rare CAST figures, including a small ANEB missile from Godzilla vs. Biollante and the broken statues from GMK. To my dismay, I was unable to get the Vampire Plant or the Millennian UO CAST figure. Thankfully, I felt better after Mr. Field walked out and said hello to me.
While a lot of the other casts members seemed to be a bit apprehensive about taking many photos with fans (understandably so due to how many people there were), Mr. Field went out of his way to talk to many people and pose with them. I can’t stress how friendly he was, and he complemented me for coming all the way out. I was a bit dumbly star-struck and awkward, but it was still an awesome experience! On a personal note, he’s motivated me to keep studying Japanese and one day be fluent like him. As a high-school English teacher in Japan, I was also inspired by how animated and enthusiastic he was explaining things in English to a large crowd.
But perhaps, the most important part of the night, was the actual celebration of Godzilla’s Birthday. A minute before midnight, we began a gigantic countdown. This was truly the greatest part of the night. While everyone had indeed come to see the films, and meet the cast, everyone was also here to celebrate Godzilla’s birthday, including the cast members and directors who had made the films. At that moment, it became abundantly clear, that people like Mr. Kaneko, were also huge Godzilla fans, and the entire moment of counting down was a large euphoric communal experience. The entire night made me understand how much fun people involved making Godzilla films had and how much they themselves loved Godzilla.
I realized at this moment how much of an impact Godzilla had had on my life. I had originally seen GMK when I was 6 years old on American Television, and now here I was, living in Japan, watching GMK on a big screen and counting down Godzilla’s birthday. I had had one of the ultimate fan experiences, one that I will never forget.
To anyone a bit envious, fear not, there will be another Godzilla Night next year. Because these events are centered on Godzilla’s birthday, they will always take place around the first week of November. Even if you can’t come all the way to Japan, should you ever have the opportunity to see a Godzilla film on a big screen, please do so. Watching the films on a big screen, like they were intended to be viewed, with other Godzilla fans, is such an important experience.