Book: A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series, Second Edition


A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series

English Book Title

A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, Second Edition


David Kalat




Back cover



By: Nicholas Driscoll

For me, David Kalat’s A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series was, for a very long time, an annoying void in my reading history. Though I had read a lot of other non-fiction books from Ryfle to Galbraith to Thorne to Ragone to Brothers, for the longest time I didn’t purchase a copy of Kalat’s work because… it was expensive! During the period in which I did the most book reviews (back in maybe 2008-2010), I didn’t have a ton of cash to throw around, and I only finally purchased and read the second edition of Kalat’s book slowly over the last couple of years. We here at Toho Kingdom have had a short review of the first book on the site for some time, but it lacks detail and the second edition (according to an interview with TK’s own Patrick Galvan) apparently contains only about 15% of the writing from the original book. That’s a HUGE change! So let me share a few thoughts on Kalat’s highly respected (and I think rightly so) Godzilla book.

First, the contents. Kalat includes a new preface to the book explaining why he wrote the new edition, then a lengthy introduction to the material and Kalat’s particular and serious treatment of the kaiju genre, a note on the text explaining things like Kalat’s chosen way of writing Japanese names and how he chose which film titles he used, and then the meat of the book divided into five sections. Each section is broken up into individual chapters, and each chapter usually covers one movie, though some chapters cover a specific topic such as Tsuburaya Studios. The first section, titled “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” covers films from 1954-1963. This section is basically about the birth of the kaiju genre. The films covered include the first three Godzilla films, but also Rodan (1956), Varan (1958) and Mothra (1961). Unfortunately, Kalat does not continue covering non-Godzilla Toho tokusatsu films after that—nothing on Space Amoeba (1970) for example. The rest of the single-movie centered chapters focus exclusively on Godzilla films. The second section, titled “Monsterland,” covers Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) to All Monsters Attack (1969). “Something Funny’s Going on Here” covers the often criticized 70s films, with an additional chapter called “Godzilla vs. Ultraman” covering (briefly) the rise of giant hero TV programming in Japan and abroad. Part four, “The Return of Godzilla,” covers the Heisei or Versus films, and the final section, “The Godzilla Millennium,” covers the Millennium films, ending with Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)—which, and I love this, is one of Kalat’s favorite Godzilla movies (again according to the Galvan interview).

Let’s start with the strengths of the book—and there are many. Most of the chapters are very detailed, giving fantastic background facts about (for example) the changing economics and other movements in popular entertainment (such as the influence of J-horror on GMK). Some of these facts and details and analysis will sound really familiar, but part of the reason for that is because so many have referenced Kalat’s work again and again in the West. Nevertheless, many interesting monster morsels emerge for the fan’s enjoyment. I did not realize, for example, that there is a scene in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) in which the actors can be seen waiting for the director to call “action” before moving—and that this scene was not edited out until 1990! Kalat is also a very good writer who ably and clearly writes both in his criticisms and his explications of the cultural and historical backgrounds of each film. Kalat’s book is easily one of the best for the writing—and there are plenty books which do not measure up to his pen. Recently a YouTube show called The Godzilla Files gave a review of Kalat’s book, and he gave a great recommendation of reading Kalat’s individual reviews before or after watching each movie rather than just reading cover-to-cover. While I personally did not do this, each review definitely has enough detail to enrich a particular monster movie viewing.

Now on to the negatives. Unsurprisingly, as a completely unauthorized book, there are no pictures, which is not necessarily a bad thing—but for some fans who specifically want pictures, that might be a letdown. For me, the lack of pictures was not such a big deal, but the layout of the pages (two columns on each page, so as to maximize text) makes the book feel like a textbook and I found it tiring to read sometimes. The individual chapters/reviews also vary considerably in quality. Some are very detailed (such as the chapter on the original Godzilla [1954], which basically gets four chapters covering the origins, Japanese version, and American versions) and some are almost depressingly short (Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. [2003], which only gets two pages). I also sometimes got a strong sense that Kalat was writing critical reviews of some of the movies, and giving just impartial facts about others. Usually I found his analysis very strong, but occasionally Kalat kind of drops the ball—such as in his chapter on Son of Godzilla (1967) in which he gives a long overview of the portrayal of the scientist in American monster films, but strangely offers no examples, making the analysis feel empty. I also found his analysis of the story of Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) overlong and nitpicky in the extreme. For me, when I read these kinds of books, I am not overly concerned with the logical consistency of every detail in the story, but rather I am usually much more interested in the background of the film, interviews with cast members, insights into the creative process, etc.

This is not really a serious complaint, but Kalat also included a note about Motoyoshi Oda’s Ghost Man (1954) film, and speculated that it might belong to the “insubstantial man” cycle. Because of this note, I bought and suffered through the movie, which… is definitely not part of the “insubstantial man” cycle, but it is a deeply disturbing movie filled with naked corpses of women and I wish I had never seen it!

Still, my complaints for the most part are as “insubstantial” as the Human Vapor, and really, Kalat’s tome deserves the accolades it has received. It really is one of the best Godzilla books in the English language, and deserves a spot on the shelf of the dedicated Godzilla fan who wants to learn more about the individual films and the history around them. If this book is any indication, Kalat’s J-Horror (which I recently picked up) should also be a real treat. Recommended.