Back in the 1990’s, publisher Keibunsha was releasing a Godzilla magazine in Japan. These would include interviews, coverage of media like video games and highlight upcoming or recent Toho movies. Overall it was a really good publication for fans of the era.
One of their issues from 1994, which covered Yamato Takeru (1994) and had speculation on Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), included results for an interesting poll. Essentially, Keibunsha asked 402 fans what their favorite Toho special effects films were that didn’t feature Godzilla. Keep in mind the era, meaning this survey was not conducted online. Fans had to mail in their choices to the publisher’s office in Japan. As a result, this is a pretty impressive sample size. Each response was allowed to pick their five favorite films meeting this criteria. If you tabulate the numbers below, you’ll see they fall short of 402×5. As a result, some fans might have submitted fewer than five choices or might have included films that didn’t qualify like a Godzilla movie.
I’ve often heard English speaking fans curious on how their Japanese speaking counterparts view certain elements of the fandom. It’s certainly something I’ve been curious about. Therefore I thought sharing these results might be interesting to others as a time capsule view into how Japanese fans saw things in the 1990’s when the Godzilla franchise was dominating the box office.
Top Toho SFX Films
Note that these will be ordered from lowest to highest. Many movies also were tied for number of votes so expect to see entries grouped together. I’ll provide some commentary every few entries. If you just want the list, scroll to the bottom to see it sorted with the highest votes first.
#26: Space Amoeba (1970) = 13 votes
The very bottom entries. Not many votes for these productions. Given how inaccessible it was back in 1994, it’s not surprising to see Latitude Zero (1969) placed here, which is pictured above. Seeing H-Man (1958) placed so low, though, is a shock considering it feels well regarded by English fans today. Of note is also that Tokyo Blackout (1987) is ranked. It’s the only movie on the list that isn’t produced by Toho, although they did distribute the late 1980’s film.
#16: Princess from the Moon (1987) = 36 votes
A number of 1980’s entries rank low here. Worth highlighting is Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974) considering it was, and is, inaccessible. 1994 was “only” 20 years after its theatrical run and it did air on TV in Japan in the 1980’s, so 27 fans might have had fond memories of it.
#15: Dogora (1964) = 49 votes
#14: Gunhed (1989) = 54 votes
#13: Varan (1958) = 66 votes
This is the halfway marker. I can’t be alone in my surprise to see both Varan (1958) and Gunhed (1989) placed here. Neither entry feels particularly loved by the English speaking fandom, although Varan as a character certainly has supporters. One could say that this was only five years after Gunhed, pictured above, was in theaters which might have helped it. However, keep in mind recency didn’t seem to boost the other 1980’s productions, which all ranked very low.
A pair of disaster films and The Human Vapour (1960) come next. Probably no surprise to see Submersion of Japan (1973) rank here, considering it was a box office phenomenon and really kicked off the whole disaster genre in Japan. The Last War (1961), pictured above, ranking at #10 is a little satisfying. It feels generally glossed over by English fans, although to be fair the 1961 movie is not overly accessible outside of Japan.
#9. King Kong Escapes (1967) = 84 votes
#8. Matango (1963) = 93 votes
#5. The War of the Gargantuas (1966) = 137 votes
#4. Mothra (1961) = 154 votes
The list feels less surprising as we get closer to the top. That said, I actually would have expected The War of the Gargantuas (1966), pictured above, to rank higher. It’s often well regarded by Japanese filmmakers who grew up with the movie, in particular around Gaira and the horror elements he brought to the kaiju genre. Still, fifth place is a strong showing that positions it alongside the movie which introduced audiences to Mothra.
#3. Atragon (1963) = 163 votes
#2. The Mysterians (1957) = 168 votes
Both of these entries feel like the quintessential ones that are much more popular with fans in Japan than those out. That’s not to discredit their popularity with English fans, but it feels like their reverence in Japan is well known. Heck, 1994 as a year was a good example of this, with Moguera set to appear in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) and the Gotengo featured in the Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters video game. Atragon (1963) would also get an anime remake the following year, with the wildly different Super Atragon (1995). In fact, even today one can see examples of their popularity. Like for those keeping track, the top five on this list were all among the first that Toho released to Blu-ray. Toho also featured two units from The Mysterians (1957) at launch in the Godzilla Battle Line video game, which is noteworthy as at the time those were the only units outside the Godzilla films.
#1: Rodan (1956) = 249 votes
At number one we have Toho’s first color kaiju movie and the introductory movie for one of their most popular characters. While the winged monster often feels dwarfed by King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla in modern media, it’s nice to see fans respond favorably to Ishiro Honda’s 1956 movie. Of note is that there’s not a small gap between this and the other entries. In fact, 81 votes separate this from #2, making it a pretty clear choice for the top spot.
Results Sorted Top to Bottom
#1. Rodan – 249 votes
#2. The Mysterians – 168 votes
#3. Atragon – 163 votes
#4. Mothra – 154 votes
#5. The War of the Gargantuas – 137 votes
#6. Gorath – 112 votes
#6. Frankenstein vs. Baragon – 112 votes
#8. Matango – 93 votes
#9. King Kong Escapes – 84 votes
#10. The Last War – 72 votes
#11. The Human Vapour – 70 votes
#11. Submersion of Japan – 70 votes
#13. Varan – 66 votes
#14. Gunhed – 54 votes
#15. Dogora – 49 votes
#16. Princess from the Moon – 36 votes
#17. Battle in Outer Space – 31 votes
#17. The Three Treasures – 31 votes
#19. Prophecies of Nostradamus – 27 votes
#19. Magnitude 7.9 – 27 votes
#19. Bye-Bye Jupiter – 27 votes
#22. The War in Space – 22 votes
#22. Tokyo Blackout – 22 votes
#24. H-Man – 16 votes
#24. Latitude Zero – 16 votes
#26. Space Amoeba – 13 votes
#27. ESPY – 4 votes
#27. Conflagration – 4 votes
Now this list might seem exhaustive, but it doesn’t feature all of Toho’s special effects productions. In fact, the publisher highlighted a few that got no votes, like Half Human (1955) and The Secret of Telegian (1960).
Thoughts on these results? Any surprises? Feel free to leave a comment.