"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Sunday, November 2, 2014

King of Monsters Debuted on November 3, 1954

ゴジラ生誕60年のアニバーサリー !

You're not getting older, Big G — you're getting better!

Has it really been 60 years since Godzilla was loosened upon the world? I remember when the Big G turned 25 in 1979, and since I was born long after 1954, it felt like he had been around an eternity from my young perspective. There was no time before him from my frame of reference. I grew up with Godzilla and he was already eternal. Little did we know that when I was growing up, Godzilla’s time was nigh; the first cycle of films that started in 1954 would be winding down by 1975. How could Godzilla not continue? His popularity in the US was at an all-time high — we still hadn’t gotten any of the films following GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) — he dominated local television, the pages of Famous Monsters and The Monster Times, and our thoughts.

As young Godzilla freaks, we drew pictures, created new monsters, and played with his toys (or made our own from dinosaurs figures) — even using the Aurora plastic model kit — but if you were lucky to live in Hawaii or California, you could buy what the kids in Japan had: 8” tall, soft vinyl “monster dolls” (we used to call them) with the iconic “Bullmark” logo branded on the bottom of their feet. As some of us got older, and remained fans, we organized, we started fan clubs, newsletters, fanzines, and hosted screenings. I was lucky to be retained as the “Godzilla/Japanese Film Expert” for our local horror host, Bob Wilkins, who had me talk about these films and television series on his shows, “Creature Features” and “Captain Cosmic,” thus pushing me in this direction.

The later films came, starting with GODZILLA VS. MEGALON in 1976 (our nation’s bicentennial), and his fans were legion, making the film a box office hit: There was no doubt that the Big G was the "King of the Monsters." Until the summer of 1977. STAR WARS exploded box office records around the world and Godzilla became an old hat, “So, 'last year.'” Even so, I — and others like me across North America — didn’t give up on our mon-star. Long before the Internet, we kept in contact through letters, fanzines, and phone calls. Still, even though Godzilla had been popular, he was looked down upon by many people — whether it was by those who still had a grudge against Japan or science fiction fans who saw the films as subpar — and so those of us who remained loyal, also had to be fiercely protective (not defensive) of the character and the films.

There were promises of revival movies that never materialized: “The Resurrection of Godzilla,” “Godzilla vs. the Devil,” and several US attempts, including a semi-remake, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters! 3D” (written by Fred Dekker and to be helmed by Steve Miner, which was more Gorgo than Godzilla). Finally, by the swelling nostalgic popularity at home, with record merchandise and home video sales, Toho announced an all-new Godzilla for 1984… It was a tenuous return, but one that would eventually spawn another thirteen films over the next two decades. In the 1990s, a new generation of US fans discovered the Big G and loved him. Old Timers discovered these new films, and new fanzines sprung up, as well as several conventions devoted to kaiju eiga.

This brave new fandom did not fade away, it has become stronger through cable and home video, the web, events and social networks. This has also grown to be embraced by those who just love monster movies and fantastic cinema — unscathed by the Roland Emmerich debacle — the reception to both editions of my book, “Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters” (Chronicle Books) has been phenomenal. New comic books, following in the footstomps those of the ‘70s and ‘90s, have taken off with a new, rabid following. And this summer's megabucks spectacle from Gareth Edwards won hearts and minds across the globe.

Everyone seems to have gone gaga for Godzilla. The Big G, kith and kin, have finally become “cool” (but we knew that already). After all, not only is Godzilla the first and greatest true kaiju ever to grace a motion picture screen, he is the one and true "King of the Monsters" — long live the king!

Dedicated to the memory of my childhood pal, Eric Worth