After watching GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER yet again a few days ago, I started thinking about the rich pantheon of giant monsters (or "daikaiju" as the japanese call them) that the geniuses — and to be honest, also hacks, specifically Jun Fukuda — at Toho studios have allowed to run rampant onscreen since 1954. Many are majestic and mystical, some are ass-out ridiculous and some are just plain embarrassing. If you are reading this then you are also part of a dying breed of monster fan, and it’s now time for the hardcore geek-out. Much like the endless debate among comics fans about “who’s strongest?” there are many such debates raging at all times regarding the monstrous spawn of the Land of the Rising Sun, and while you may be well-versed in such matters you probably aren’t at my Sir Kenneth Clark-like level of geekish knowledge on these affairs, so it’s my duty to set the record straight on giant monsters and it’s your duty to disseminate the following utterly useless assessment among those whom you know to be like-minded. Just remember that Gamera, despite the 1990's Toho-produced trilogy, was originally a competitor from Daiei studios, so he and his many low-rent foes ain't gonna be discussed here. So without further ado:
Somehow managing to stay completely awesome for over fifty years (!!!) and many series entries that turned him alternately into both a puppy dog and a pussy, there is simply no substitute or equal for the Big G. Originally envisioned as a symbolic anthropomorphization of the horror of nuclear devastation, Godzilla has since muscled his way into the popular consciousness as the unstoppable juggernaut par excellence of the whole daikaiju breed; armed with an atomic heat ray, regenerative powers that pretty much make him invulnerable, that cool-ass roar, an incredibly bad attitude and the most identifiable signature theme tune this side of James Bond and Shaft, Godzilla just plain rules.
VERDICT: a solid 5 out of 5, despite years of wimped-out versions and that fucking Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
Showing up in the first sequel to the original Godzilla and sticking around ever since (despite being decisively killed during his first appearance, much like Big G himself), Anguirus is basically a gigantonormous hedgehog. No cool powers, no interesting origin, just simply some dude crawling around in a goofy costume and letting loose with a cry not unlike an asthmatic wheeze. Other than its recent appearance in GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK, Anguirus has never been more than the sidekick who accompanies Godzilla when he has to kick some tag team ass on other rubber-suited critters in such anti-epics as GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND (in which it talks! Talks, for Christ’s sake!!!) and GODZILLA VERSUS MEGALON.
VERDICT: a useless motherfucker if ever there was one, Anguirus should have been retired after its first appearance, but is somehow nonetheless considered a welcome presence due to its longevity. Fuck that shit, this Spiny Norman wannabe is lame. 2 out of 5.
Showing up only once after its own self-titled movie, Varan is perhaps the biggest failure of the Toho monsters who were intended to spawn a series. Just like the original concept for Big G, Varan is an ancient monster who shows up in the then-present day to wreak havoc, the difference being Varan can’t carry a movie. Basically another giant lizard, Varan has some sort of super-breath and the ability to fly thanks to membranous wings that stretch from its armpits to its ankles. The original Japanese version of VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962) contains nearly a half hour of monster mayhem footage that was excised for no apparent reason for the American version and subsequently replaced with incredibly boring footage of some American GI and a kimonoed Japanese woman who looks suspiciously like she was found hanging out on Sunset Boulevard; in short, both versions suck out loud. Not seen since DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), let’s hope that this oversized Rocky the Flying Squirrel will continue to languish in well-deserved obscurity.
VERDICT: so lame that it needs a crutch, Varan earns the dreaded 1 out of 5.
The textbook example of how initial potential can be subsequently squandered, Rodan has not fared well over the years but is still kinda fun. After a spectacular debut in the first of the color Toho monster films, Rodan was reduced to a google-eyed, cartoony-looking puppet that didn’t do much but fly around in circles. In the first film, there were two of the damned things, and they are among the few giant monsters that actually ate people. I earnestly hope for some sort of decent handling of this character in future, but it seems unlikely, and that’s pretty sad for a monster that seems to have inspired the lyrics from Gas Huffer’s “Crooked Bird”:
When you hear that crooked bird, just close your shutters tight
Heed the warning written here and live to see the light
If you look into the sky you’ll catch its eye
It will alight…
VERDICT: the monsters seen in the first film get a solid 4, but the later goofy version and the so-called “Fire Rodan” each get a 2.
Despite being pretty much ruined after its 1960’s appearances, Mothra started out in what is arguably the best of Toho’s monster/fantasy epics and was at the time the only Toho monster that was actually a god (or goddess if you include the first two appearances). The American version tries to pass off the ludicrousity of a Giants Stadium-sized moth by attributing such gigantism to the ever-popular atomic radiation excuse, but in the original japanese version Mothra had actually been worshipped as a deity by those South Seas Islanders for quite a while; long enough for a culture to have grown around said worship, along with the presence of those tiny twin chicks who are explicitly stated in the Japanese dialogue to be a couple of faeries. No other monster since Godzilla has caused so much fucking destruction that it can be considered a force of nature; rules of science and modern weaponry simply do not work against Mothra since such human concepts pale before the power of primal Earth magic. Mothra’s origins and qualities are strongly Shinto in many respects, and who other than those wacky Nips would come up with such an idea as a world-shattering caterpillar? I mean, we’ve all seen it swimming across the ocean, looking like nothing so much as giant “floater” doody, as the navy endlessly bombards it with everything they’ve got and Mothra just swims blithely on in a single-minded mission to rescue her priestesses. Cities crumble in its wake, and though a goddess of peace, Mothra’s main lesson is simple: “Don’t fuck with my faeries.” And who can forget when she decides it would be easier to get around if she could fly, so she constructs a huge cocoon on the Tokyo Tower?
When the army hits the cocoon with an atomic heat ray and the now winged Mothra emerges with nary a scratch — and a cry that makes me think she’s screaming an especially mocking “Nyaah Nyaah!” — you realize that she just can’t be stopped. Once she gets the faeries back she ceases all ass-kicking and heads home, happy as Michael Jackson at a Cub Scout gathering. Sadly, that Mothra croaked during her next appearance but her mantle was carried on by her twin offspring, neither of whom come off as anywhere near as tough as their mom. In subsequent features there is only one Mothra, with no mention of what happened to the other (shades of Rodan!). And do not get me started on the 1990’s revival wherein Mothra is a fucking alien who protects the Earth or some such bullshit! NOTE: don't miss the rerun of CHEERS where the guys go to a Toho festival at the drive-n and Frasier snobbily blurts out "What the hell is that? A giant moth?" and is promptly given a patient and informed guided walk-through by the bar's resident idiot, Woody, on just who the monsters are.
VERDICT: The original Mothra is one of the all-time great monsters, so she gets a rock-solid 5. The subsequent critters to bear the name are all pretty and shit, but they just don’t have the godlike awesomeness of the original. They all get a 3.
Easily the most visually splendid of the Toho menagerie, Ghidorah (or Ghidrah if you prefer) is pretty much like some Lovecraftian space alien, only on crack and with the ability to breathe focused microwaves. Sheer, balls-out evil, Ghidorah has always managed to be a hell of a lot of fun even when the movies that he’s in suck out loud. And I defy you to find a cooler entrance than when it first showed up as unformed energy erupting from a psychedelic fireball in the Kurobe Gorge; I once watched that one on mushrooms and HOO BOY was it cool! However, I won’t discuss MechaGhidorah since who needs to see such a kickass monster turned into what amounts to a cyborg nitro-burnin’ funnycar?
VERDICT: Visually awesome, a total badass, Satan in a three-headed rubber suit. Need I say……5?
A lackluster sort-of Tyrannosaurus who looks exhausted after taking a really major jalepeno dump. It evidenced some sort of super-kick against King Ghidorah for about two seconds in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, but other than that feeble display Gorosaurus really serves zero purpose.
VERDICT: A stone-cold bore, but he gets a 2 from me because he isn’t offensive, just boring. "Borosaurus," perhaps?
Okaaaay… The real (read “American”) Kong is the greatest movie monster ever. Period. Kimono Kong showed up only twice and during its first appearance it was one of the flat-out most bogus-looking creatures ever to stomp a city, and he was a fucking drunk to boot! And as much as I hated the comedy of KING KONG VERSUS GODZILLA, I have to confess that I love the famous publicity photo of Kong with his arms outstretched while Godzilla is burning off his nuts with an atomic heat ray blast (which I have yet to locate online). The suit is a bit better in KING KONG ESCAPES since it no longer looks like a black Donald Duck in a fur coat, but he’s still not all that.
VERDICT: Even the Dino DeLaurentis version is better. 2
I fucking hate Minya, him and his mutated/retarded-looking ass. End of subject.
VERDICT: 1 is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do…
Is it just me, or does this critter resemble a huge, goofy puppy with a horn on his forehead? All it does is burrow around a lot, occasionally breathe fire and look really silly — which is hard to do when you’re starring opposite a 130-foot-tall Japanese Frankenstein. Oh well, at least it eats people.
The origins of this monster remain somewhat cloudy; he’s either a creature that generated out of the disembodied heart of the Frankenstein monster which is irradiated at Hiroshima, or he’s an orphan who ate said irradiated heart and subsequently gets hit by the ugly stick and sprouts up like a motherfucker. I go with explanation number one, but it is specifically mentioned that his features are not Caucasian, so who the fuck knows? Anyway, other than the fact that he’s a giant Frankenstein with astounding regenerative powers this guy has nothing going for him; sure, he kicks Baragon’s ass, but so could pretty much any monster. Sadly, Japenstein has been relegated to the vaults of memory since his one and only starring turn.
VERDICT: Frankenstein earns a 2 solely for the sheer goofiness of him being a giant ugly Japanese dude in a Tarzan suit. And that Fred Flintstone fashion sense is pretty damned kooky; I mean, where did he get animal skins that big?
The name says it all, however the merits of this character vary widely from film to film. Its two Seventies appearances come off as nothing more than feature-length toy commercials and its design only drives that point home more bluntly, but since the Godzilla series had degenerated into straight-up kiddie flicks by that point that comes as no surprise. Aggressively silly, Mechagodzilla was pretty much a saurian version of Giant Robot from the TV series Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, complete with those missile launcher fingers. The nineties were kinder to Mechagodzilla as his revamp in 1993’s GODZILLA VERSUS MECHAGODZILLA proves in spades; now basically a vehicle controlled by yet another anti-Godzilla paramilitary team rather than the tool of evil space aliens, Mechagodzilla is a seriously ass-kicking piece of hardware who gives Big G a run for his money.
Things only get better with the latest incarnation, which features a semi-cyborg version infused with Godzilla’s own DNA. Visually impressive and packed with weaponry up the ass, this is an opponent worthy of the Big G. And that Absolute Zero Ray…fucking awesome!!!
VERDICT: The early version was a joke, but the two most recent variations are cool enough to warrant a solid 5, especially the most recent one.
Predating Mechagodzilla by nearly ten years, this robotic version of Kimono Kong was developed to dig for radioactive ore that the real Kong couldn’t handle. It inevitably gets into a rather ho-hum fight with the real deal and that was that. Not very interesting but at least it looked cool.
VERDICT: 2 purely for the visual.
Known as Kumonga in Japan, Spiga occupies a unique place on the roster of the Toho beasts because it is actually scary. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, we’re talking about that big-ass spider in SON OF GODZILLA; remember it now? That motherfucker had me under the coffee table when I was a wee Bunche and it still looks sinister. Basically a big, hairy marionette, Spiga had a grace of movement unusual for a giant monster and that only makes it more disturbing.
VERDICT: Spiga gets a 4 for being different.
A classical Asian dragon brought to life by a none-too-convincing puppet, Manda is pretty useless as a threat. Other than getting its ass kicked by the super-submarine Atragon and derailing an elevated train in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, Manda is wicked boring.
Better known as the Smog Monster, Hedorah is pretty badassed for something that looks like a crazed egg fu-yung surmounted with a big pair of greasy testicles. Able to spew incredibly corrosive farts that melt people on contact — no, seriously! — and armed with an appetite for industrial smokestack bonghits, Hedorah is the personification of pollution (which its name literally translates as) and for that reason alone it needs a serious ass-kicking. It’s also apparently female, since after Godzilla decisively kills it, Big G gorily reaches into its abdomen and removes its eggs.
VERDICT: Visually unpleasant, greasy, wiggly and about as close to a Cthulhoid critter as you’ll find in one of these flicks, Hedorah is major bad news and sort of resembles a walking ocean of frat boy vomit, in fact I swear you can almost smell it. Its movie may have been pretty bad, but I really, really love this monster. 5
More commonly referred to as “the Sea Monster,” this giant escapee from an Arthur Treacher’s shrimp special has nothing going for it other than looking pretty realistic. Godzilla kicked its ass pretty easily, but then again what do expect from a monster whose name literally translates as “shrimp-rah?”
VERDICT: Earns a 3 purely for its visual and that mean batting claw.
The group name for those big-ass praying mantises in SON OF GODZILLA. These guys were visually interesting, but that’s about it.
This guy was the big, electric bully monster in the infamous GODZILLA'S REVENGE, and his appearance was the second major harbinger of the kiddie-oriented direction that the series was headed in (the first bad omen being Minya). Fantastically silly-looking, colored like a rotting banana and possessing one of the most annoying monster noises ever, this guy was a loser from the second he showed up on screen. I mean, how tough can you be when you live to pick on Minya? Yeah, I know that standing up to bullies was pretty much the point of that film, but these are fucking monsters for Christ’s sake, not humans, and to see them act like people is just plain ludicrous.
VERDICT: 2 solely for the fact that just seeing this guy makes me laugh.
The visually stunning “battle version” analog of the 1990’s Mothra. Craggy, covered with horns and looking sort of like a Big Daddy Roth hot rod adapted to bug form, Battra was the one good thing to come out the movie that spawned it.
A strong contender for the stupidest-looking Toho monster, Gigan has the distinction of being able to almost single-handedly restore fun to even the worst of Big G movies (see GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND). Let’s break him down: a one-eyed bird head, foofy fairy wings, tusks, horns, gigantic singular claws instead of hands and feet, and la piece de resistance — a big fucking buzzsaw that stretches from its neck to its nuts. Always evil and with a bad attitude, Gigan exists to goofily kick ass and is a joy to behold. Easily the best thing to come out of the kiddification of the series.
VERDICT: A solid 4 for sheer entertainment value; so what if he doesn’t make a lick of sense?
Pretty much forgotten these days, this bizarre alien only showed up once in the movie bearing its name. It was pretty much a huge, floating jellyfish-thing that ate diamonds, which was a downer for the jewel thieves who were the protagonists of the movie. No personality to speak of, but it was really cool looking. Too bad the movie's boring like no other Toho flick before or since...
VERDICT: 4 for the visual.
SANDA and GAIRA
The brown and green Gargantuas, respectively, from the much-beloved WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. One good and shy, one evil and man-eating, everybody loves these guys because of their tragic brotherly interdependence. These guys score very high on the character meter despite a total lack of superpowers other than their size (although the Gaira can survive underwater). By the way, in a detail obscured by the American version of their film, Sanda and Gaira are the result of cells shed by Japanstein in the ocean and the woods
VERDICT: A solid 4 for each of the big boys.
A so-called “gentle monster” who is controllable by humans. That’s pretty much it, folks.
Another of the great silly monsters, Megalon is basically a “mega-roach” with a bad attitude, drill hands and a hankering to kick ass. His one film really sucks the hairy nutsack until he shows up with Gigan in tow to tag team Godzilla and everyone’s favorite blatant Ultra-Man ripoff, Jet Jaguar. That fight is a classic of sheer stupid fun, and should not be missed. And when all is said and done Megalon is a pretty hardassed monster!
VERDICT: A well-deserved 4.
The first of the giant Toho robots (from 1957’s THE MYSTERIANS), Mogera is pretty much a blending of a giant robotic mole and feudal samurai armor design with ocular death rays thrown in for good measure. Reinvented as “the ultimate weapon” in the disastrous GODZILLA VERSUS SPACE GODZILLA, Mogera has never been terribly interesting and deserves its place in relative obscurity.
VERDICT: Mogera gets a 2 purely for its first appearance, wherein it looked cool wandering around the countryside blowing shit up.
For some reason the Japanese really like big octopi — hey, me too! — and they turn up frequently in giant monster movies and their small-screen equivalents. The three best known of these in the Toho stable (referred to in print as “Oodako” or, loosely translated, "big-ass octopus") are the ones that showed up in KING KONG VERSUS GODZILLA, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and the infamous — and hilarious — excised footage from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. With no superpowers to speak of other than obvious gigantism, the big-ass octopus is always fun to see, but it is rather disturbing to see a live octopus slithering along miniature sets obviously gasping to breathe. The Toho crews claim to have eaten the live animals used once their scenes were over, but it’s still harsh to observe. Remember, kiddies: cruelty to animals is never cool.
VERDICT: Since tentacled wigglies are always welcome, big-ass octopus gets a solid 3.
Imaginatively named Ookondoru — or “big-ass condor” — in Japan, this loser showed up once in GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER in order to be swiftly flash-roasted in midair by Big G, and again in stock footage for GODZILLA'S REVENGE. Not worth discussing, and I couldn't even find a shot of it online, so I subbed it with a shot of the title monster from THE GIANT CLAW (1957), a monster even more bogus than Big-Ass Condor, and THAT'S saying something.
An Okinawan monster-god who is another in the long line of protector deities, King Seesar is utterly without interest.
VERDICT: Seesar gets a 2 purely for its crazy, carnival-like appearance.
A gene-splicing of Godzilla, a rose bush and a young Japanese girl…Surprisingly, no LSD was involved in the creation of this visually amazing kaiju, and it has a visual that is both beautiful and incredibly weird. Basically a treestump with a crocodile head, a radiation-absorbing organ on its chest (?) and a multitude of tentacles with mouths on their ends, this is one strange mamma-jamma.
VERDICT: A solid 4 for its visual and conceptual uniqueness.
A big, pissed off dragonfly with a deadly stinger. Hands Big G a pretty heavy ass-whupping, but that’s about it.
VERDICT: Earns a 3 for sheer toughness.
This is that alien thing from GODZILLA 2000 that starts out looking like a tentacled bicycle seat
and ends up as a pretty dull Ultra-Man reject with a death ray that emits from its shoulder.
VERDICT: Earns a 2 for its first form, but that’s about it.
Spawned from the DNA of Godzilla that went through a black hole and emerged from a white hole, Space Godzilla is one wicked fucking stupid monster. Those idiotic crystal shoulders… That’s it, my patience has finally run out.
Oh, and before I forget, my research yielded this rare shot from the "lost" 1960's Godzilla opus, GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEMEN MONSTER (1969) or, as it was retitled for U.S. distribution, GODZILLA'S ASS-FUCK RAMPAGE.
Sometimes it pays to be a cinema scholar!