The staff of Toho Kingdom sound off their top Toho film picks. For these lists, each staff member is selecting their top six Toho movies. Why six? Because five is too short and ten feels way too long. In terms of criteria, this is strictly based on which films the staff member would consider their favorite. It doesn’t necessarily tie into the merits of the production itself, so for example don’t be surprised to see more Godzilla movies than Akira Kurosawa films here.
Each list is separated by the staff member who submitted it. As part of the hiring process, the top six films are asked of the incoming staff member. An odd, but consistent ritual from the early days. As a result, some of these will discuss the movies and why they were selected while others will just be a raw list of the six films.
Also note that this article is currently a work in progress with more picks and descriptions forth coming.
Anthony Romero’s Picks
1. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
This isn’t just my favorite Toho film, but my favorite movie of all time. I watched it at just the right period in my adolescence, particularly as it hit during the “eXtreme” period of the 1990’s when X-Force was turning heads. The swearing, violence and other elements convinced a young me that this was a more “grown up” Godzilla movie. While that might have been the initial lure, what kept me coming back for more were the special effects, pacing, music and the great representation of the title monsters. For me this was a near perfect Godzilla film and while I have grown to recognize its numerous faults, its pound for pound my favorite movie and the one I have watched way more than any others.
2. Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
I never expected to fall in love with this film when I first saw it on DVD. While I know this is an extreme dark horse pick as one’s favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie, I adore this late 1970’s production. Rain or shine, it’s a great piece of escapism to turn on and get swept up in the adventure the characters are having. Although there is some tension to be had, it’s primarily a very fun movie with excellent pacing that keeps the viewer’s interest from the casino break-in to the end credits.
3. Yojimbo (1961)
I often flip-flop between this and the next film, but usually side with this 1961 entry for how approachable it is. It’s incredibly easy to turn it on and enjoy it as the pacing is incredible, a reoccurring theme for my list actually. The character development is fantastic, but the way it juggles dark comedy, action and even tension is all phenomenal. The plot is also fantastic, the idea of pitting two gangs against each other, even if it has been remade over and over again.
4. Seven Samurai (1954)
Generally regarded as the best Japanese movie and who is to argue? The concept of a group of initially mismatched samurai coming together to defend a village is simple yet executed so well. It’s often been emulated, but the magic of the original has never been replicated. The characters are so well fleshed out that none feel disposable, and as the events of the movie unfold the emotions it triggers only increase. The only reason this movie isn’t higher on my list is the run time. It’s over three hours, so you really gotta dedicate yourself to it for each viewing.
5. Matango (1963)
This movie feels slightly overrated these days …although I would like to say I loved it before it became cliché to love it. Or at least would like to make that claim, although have seen publications from before my time confessing their admiration for the movie. While the 1963 film isn’t ground breaking, it’s just well made and sticks with you for the unique portrayal of how society norms can break down in some situations while the Matango mushroom species is thrown into the mix to engage those with a tendency for science fiction.
6. The Return of Godzilla (1984)
My sixth choice tends to rotate I find. For a time it was Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and then the incredible documentary Tokyo Olympiad (1964). However, if I ask myself the question: if I was stuck somewhere for years and could only bring six Toho films, which would make the cut? Well with a question like that I have to side with the first 1980’s Godzilla film. The darker atmosphere of the movie stands out for me, as does the menacing portrayal of Godzilla. One element that really keeps me coming back, though, is the incredible score by Reijiro Koroku.
Joshua Sudomerski’s picks
1. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)
2. The Cat Returns (2002)
3. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)
4. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
5. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
6. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Chris Mirjahangir’s picks
1. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
2. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
3. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
4. Godzilla (1954)
6. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Tyler Trieschock’s picks
1. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
For me, my favorite movies are the ones that can put a smile on my face and Tokyo S.O.S. does this by bringing the best parts of a Godzilla film in one action-packed premise. Godzilla returns, with my favorite design to this day, and all hands are on deck to best the nuclear leviathan. Kiryu, Mothra, even the JSDF, bring about some stellar effects driven sequences trying to halt the King of the Mon… Huh. Déjà vu. Throughout the entire film, Godzilla feels like a threat, blowing through every obstacle in his way until his final battle with Kiryu ends his reign of terror in a satisfying conclusion. Couple this action with a stellar send off for Kiryu, and the cheesy dialogue or weaker story can’t help myself from calling this my favorite Toho film.
2. Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996)
If I could sum up this movie in one word it would be: Blockbuster. And I mean that in every meaning of the word. The plot is pretty bare and the human characters are at their weakest in the trilogy, excluding Ayako Fujitani and Toshiyuki Nagashima as Asagi Kusanagi and Colonel Watarase respectively, but wow does everything else appear in style. Once the action begins, the stakes consistently raise with fantastic camera work, effects, choreography and more ending with an over the top finale which will finally give you a chance to take a breath. I love all three of the Gamera movies, but the cheesiness of the first and the slower pace of the third don’t make them too rewatchable. Gamera 2 though is where I think director Shusuke Kaneko struck the perfect balance and it’s my 2nd favorite due to this.
3. Godzilla (2014)
Gareth Edwards came the closest to a perfect Godzilla film for me and rewatching the film recently, after watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), I have to say I have more appreciation for it. Yes, there is less action, and Aaron Taylor Johnson is bit reserved in his acting, but these gripes aside, excluding the original, I believe this movie has some of the most memorable acting, cinematography, editing, sound, and action in the series. I’ll never forget watching this on the big screen with my best friend, tearing up at Cranston’s monologue, shaking in my seat from Godzilla’s arrival at the airport or feeling pure awe upon watching the atomic ray decapitate a monster. I’ve heard many say this film is awful and while people have every right to their opinion, in this case I would tend to agree as this film leaves me in awe every time I happily watch it.
Shusuke Kaneko made a Godzilla movie. After the Gamera Trilogy, was there any real doubt this movie wouldn’t be at least great? No… thought so.
5. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
I recently rewatched Godzilla vs. Biollante and if director Kazuki Omori did one thing to make me really enjoy this film, it would be that he made it unique to all that came before and after. Godzilla returns, with my favorite design of the Heisei era, and all hands are on deck to best the nuclear leviathan. The Super X II, Biollante, even the JSDF, bring about some stellar effects driven sequences trying to halt the
King of the Monsters. Biollante especially is breath taking in its execution and while the Kaiju action is relatively brief, it is memorable. While not every concept lands, and there are a ton thrown at you throughout the movie, its darker tone and solid characters make it a far more memorable movie than I gave it credit for and it earns a place in my favorite Toho films of all time because of this
6. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
The first Godzilla movie I watched and it holds a special place ever since. Yes, the human plot is insane, but that insanity is a fun guide through a monster filled brawl of a movie. From Godzilla’s constant battles with Rodan, to the fun character moments of the humans and Kaiju alike, to the final battle with Ghidorah, make this movie my favorite Showa era Godzilla film.
Patrick Galvan’s picks
1. Seven Samurai (1954)
One of the landmarks of 20th century art, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece about poor villagers hiring seven ronin to help defend their home from a gang of bandits accomplishes so much within its 207-minute runtime. No time is wasted fleshing out a large cast of instantly memorable characters—all while developing the tension, drama, humor, and searing humanity of which Kurosawa was a master. The many imitators of Seven Samurai often mimic its premise as an excuse for showing off action set pieces, but this most remarkable film goes a step further and is worthy of its status as one of the greatest films of all time.
2. The Return of Godzilla (1984)
When asked to name my favorite Godzilla movie—not necessarily the best but the one that reaches me the most on a personal level—this is the one that always turns up. Directed by Koji Hashimoto, one of Ishiro Honda’s former assistants (and someone who got the job based on a recommendation from his senior), The Return of Godzilla successfully brings Godzilla into a new generation while answering the question of why, aside from monetary reasons, the monster should have been resurrected in the first place. It is also one of the few Heisei pictures to really show off its budget: in addition to Teruyoshi Nakano’s dynamic special effects, the picture has an overwhelming sense of scale, gigantic interior and exterior sets, and a lush audio track that, played with a good sound system in the film’s original stereo release, allows for one of the most immersive experiences the Godzilla series has to offer.
3. Godzilla (1954)
What is there to say about the original Godzilla that hasn’t been said before? It’s one of the best monster movies in history, because it is so much more than a monster movie.
4. Two in the Shadow (1967)
Two in the Shadow was the third film directed by Mikio Naruse I ever saw, but the first to make me realize I had stumbled upon one of the great unsung masters of Japanese cinema. In the final picture he made before his passing in 1969, Naruse takes a plot that, on the surface, might sound like cheap melodrama (a woman falls in love with the man who accidentally killed her husband, and he with her) and slowly develops a believable relationship between two people who want to be together but are forever haunted by the tragedy which binds them. Some critics have argued that Naruse hit a slump in the 1960s. I would argue otherwise: that many of the films he made in the last few years of his life were quite wonderful, with Two in the Shadow closing off his career on a note of near-perfection.
5. Matango (1963)
Ishiro Honda’s strengths as a director stemmed from his natural talent for coercing strong performances from his cast and his interest in social commentary, and when these strengths joined forces in service of a good script, the results were often mesmerizing. All of which is on full display in Matango, a picture employing minimal action set pieces in favor of suspense, tension, and intricate character study.
6. High and Low (1963)
This may seem to be a recurring theme with my choices by now, but it is always admirable when a director takes what could’ve been simple escapism and goes the extra mile to produce something of genuine depth, something which engages the minds of the audience and pushes them to think while they are being entertained. High and Low might’ve been a fine police procedural under the care of most directors; and in Kurosawa’s hands, it becomes infused with unflattering and sometimes terrifying portraits of social conditions in postwar Japan. As the director Takashi Miike recently told interviewers from the Criterion Collection, “If you study Kurosawa’s filmmaking, you see […] [h]e was exploring the idea of the truth and what the real answers were while he was making the film.” And let it be said the closing shot of this picture ranks as one of the most haunting and hauntingly perfect pieces of celluloid this reviewer has ever come across.
Mathew Webber’s picks
1. Shin Godzilla (2016)
2. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
3. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
5. Matango (1963)
6. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
Nicholas Driscoll’s picks
1. Spirited Away (2001)
2. Swing Girls (2004)
3. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
4. Rodan (1956)
5. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
6. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Thomas Fairchild’s picks
1. Spirited Away (2001)
Years ago, I walked into my Japanese language learning class, not knowing what to expect, and saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Since then, it’s become my all-time favorite film. I covet it so much that for my film making classes, we used to celebrate our production wrap-ups by watching Spirited Away. I’ll never forget the looks of wonder on my students’ faces seeing Miyazaki’s masterpiece for the first time. You owe it to yourselves to see this wondrous work of art.
2. Godzilla (1954)
Ishiro Honda’s Gojira is a cultural milestone. It was instrumental in introducing Western audiences to foreign films, which has since changed pop culture as we know it. More importantly, it helped post-war audiences empathize with a nation still reeling from nuclear trauma. Unlike its predecessors, Gojira’s titular monster is more than just a glorified city-stomper or a giant superhero, he is a victim of the horrors of nuclear war. Godzilla is an animal infected by human hubris, a creature that was minding its own business until a hydrogen bomb turned him against his will into a rampaging monster. But are the humans in this film entirely to blame? No, and that may be the most daunting takeaway. Even if we’re not to blame for the sins of our forefathers, the onus is on us to act because doing nothing seals our fate.
2. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)
The third and final chapter in Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy proved this genre could compete with modern cinema. G3 will always be one of my favorite monster movies. It has everything: pulse-pounding action scenes, amazingly choreographed monster fights, pitch-perfect kaiju designs (Iris is a sight to behold), compelling human character involvement, a riveting score by Kow Otani, and—last but most certainly not least—it established Gamera as being Godzilla’s equal.
4. Godzilla (2014)
Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014) currently stands as my favorite Godzilla film. Its divisiveness boldly challenges age-old tropes while introducing new concepts and ideas that reinvigorated the Godzilla mythos. I was initially disappointed by Godzilla’s lackluster screen time; however, my perspective has since changed. I’m a firm believer in the quality over quantity rule. This depiction of Godzilla has become one of my favorites, striking me as a hybridized version of his Showa/Heisei counterparts. LegendaryGoji is as ferocious as he is majestic. In the pantheon of monsters, he is truly king. The humans are, for the most part, compelling. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal of a veteran trying to get home to his family is palatable. My military friends report feeling a stirring connection to him. Ken Watanabe’s performance as Serizawa was substantial and further expanded upon in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). I’m more disappointed by the treatments of Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen’s characters than by Godzilla’s screen time. Cranston either should’ve been the protagonist or received a respectable extension; Olsen did the best she could with a two-dimensionally written role. Her character should’ve been given a few extra scenes of development (e.g., during a monster attack, we see her risking her life by treating civilians). The MUTOs were surprisingly complex antagonists; I hope to see them return in future MonsterVerse installments. Alexandre Desplat’s score is top-notch and complements Seamus McGarvey’s exemplary cinematography. My appreciation of this film rises every time I see it.
5. Shin Godzilla (2016)
Firstly, let’s take a second and applaud this film for being the first Japanese Godzilla film sporting a magnificent-looking, fully computer-generated Godzilla. Shin Godzilla requires multiple viewings to appreciate fully. Its nuanced commentary on bureaucracy and governmental oversight made for a compelling drama. Technically, there is a human protagonist, and he is a competent main character to follow; however, I see the human cast as a whole acting as a representation of Japan. In the face of atomic destruction, be it at the hand of an irradiated monstrosity or by foreign human powers, Japan persevered through unity, perseverance, and innovation. Japan, like Godzilla, evolved. But in this race between two dominant species, whose evolution will beget the end of the other? Whereas Godzilla is capable of self-evolution, suggesting his transformations are only the beginning, humanity may have reached its limits. While the film deconstructs human politics and societal norms, it grudgingly concedes it’s still the best system we have going for us. For the first time in this planet’s history, a species’ fate is in its hands. What the human race will choose to do with this knowledge, according to Shin Godzilla’s overarching theme, remains elusive.
6. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
There’s so much to love about this film. It fully embraces its sci-fi premise while boldly taking the Godzilla series into a new direction. Not only does this film star one of my favorite Godzilla designs (BioGoji is iconic), it succeeds in doing the unimaginable: introducing a brand-new monster that overshadows Godzilla himself. Biollante is arguably the most unique, intricate creature Godzilla has ever faced. While I’d love to see her return with a modern VFX makeover, I can’t imagine it topping her first appearance. Moreover, the human characters are interesting, the score is resonating, and the look and grit is a celebration of the ‘80s decade of film. Besides, Godzilla vs. Biollante will always hold a special place in my Tokusatsu-loving heart because I was watching it when my wife informed me that I was going to be a father.
Andrew Sudomerski’s picks
1. Godzilla (1954)
2. Throne of Blood (1957)
3. Akira (1988)
4. Kong: Skull Island (2017)
5. Virus (1980)
6. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)
François Coulombe’s picks
1. Samurai Saga (1959)
2. Godzilla (1954)
3. A Whistle in My Heart (1959)
4. Ikiru (1952)
5. The Legend of the White Serpent (1956)
6. Sandakan No. 8 (1974)
Feeling like mentioning your own top Toho film picks? Feel free to list them in the comments below.