Two grown men put on monster suits and then proceed to beat the shit out of each other in a miniature city setting while a crew of Japanese filmmakers capture their melee on celluloid. Add impressive matte shots of fleeing Japanese citizens, some optical special effects and explosions, a rousing film score and you have yourself a Japanese monster movie; better known to die-hard fans of the genre as a Kaiju flick. For the last 57 years, Japan and studios like Toho and Daei have been supplying monster geeks with a steady flow of these wonderfully fun films. DG has put a list together of the ten best Kaiju films of all time, just for the bastards who love a good monster bash. Enjoy.
10. WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966)
Family feuds Kaiju style can be an ugly affair. Brotherly rivalries even more so as evidenced in one of Toho’s liveliest entries. Gargantua brothers Gaira (an evil green ogre with the shaggiest of hair) and Sanda (a sympathetic giant with the face of a surfer) battle it out in Tokyo after negotiations to stop eating humans come to a standstill. Their lengthy fisticuffs is one of special effects master Eiji Tsubruaya’s wildest city demolitions. A sequel to the lackluster FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, WOTG is a Kaiju flick that never stops to breath. Gaira remains one of the foulest of all Kaiju; demonstrated to great effect in a scene where he eats a woman and spits out her clothes!
9. RODAN (1956)
RODAN , the first Kaiju filmed in color, not only holds the distinction of introducing Toho’s famous pteranodon, but also for featuring one of the most impressive giant monster assaults on a major city in Kaiju history. The footage of the flying reptile’s attack on Fukuoka City is so well done that it was to be included in many future Toho monster movies when stock footage was utilized to cut down on production costs. Rodan, who would go on to be featured as a regular player in the Godzilla series, would never again be as cool of a character as he/she (there are two of them in this film) is here. A wicked suit design and bad ass attitude help make the monster one of Toho’s more memorable creations.
8. MOTHRA (1962)
Kaiju’s second most popular player next to Godzilla debuted in this colorful monster romp. Fans looking for hard edged GOJIRA or RODAN destruction scenes may be disappointed by the flick’s softer approach (though Mothra does her fair share of city smashing), but what the film lacks in edge director Ishirio Honda makes up for with fantasy like wonderment. The giant moth and her singing miniature fairies (real life twins The Peanuts) helped usher in a new era of colorful, farfetched 60s Kaiju flicks that successfully combined daffy monster action, outlandish plots and recurring themes that focused on the Japanese take on Western capitalism.
7. GHIDORAH: THE THREE HEADED MONSTER (1964)
Kaiju’s most popular bad boy makes his initial appearance in Toho’s first all-star monster bash. The golden, three headed space dragon was so popular with audiences that he went on to become Godzilla’s most popular foe and returned in many future outings when a grumpy space monster was needed to do battle with the Big G. His debut in this film is highlighted by not only having him butt heads with Godzilla but with Mothra and Rodan as well. Ghidorah’s “lighting bolts out of the mouths” method of destroying cities is incredibly cool.
6. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)
Toho originally planned this film to be the last in their Godzilla series. To go out with a bang they produced a film about a massive alien invasion and loaded it with eleven monsters, trips to the moon, female space aliens, ray gun shootouts and the granddaddy of all man in suit battles. Though some of the studio’s cost cutting on their Kaiju flicks was becoming more apparent at this point (some of the city rampages are extremely lacking in destruction) the film has an epic feel to it and is the last of the studios efforts from their golden age. The final ten on one monster fight between King Ghidorah and a whole slew of Toho’s most famous beasties is one of Kaiju’s crowning moments.
5. GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995)
Back in his heyday, Gamera the giant flying turtle never had it so good. This kick ass reboot of the campy Daiei series produced in the late 60s and early 70s eliminates all of the ultra cheesy trappings that populated those flicks. They have been replaced with engaging characters, impressive special effects, a streamlined Gamera and a modern Kaiju battle full of colliding monsters and grade A destruction. Most importantly, there are no whining kids for Gamera to protect; an annoyance so prevalent in the original films. GOTU helped usher in a new generation of Kaiju that impress technically while still managing to retain the charming qualities of the genre’s golden era.
4. GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH:
GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001)
Director Shusuke Kaneko brings the same craftsmanship he was inserting into to the Gamera reboot series to the Big G’s twenty fifth film: easily the best modern day Godzilla flick to date. By making this a direct sequel to the original GOJIRA, the filmmakers were able to release the pissed off Godzilla of old on the world again, and holy shit, is he a wrecking force in this one. Never has he looked so damn evil (eliminating the pupils in his eyes is a very nice touch). Some of the best special effects in the series highlight the rampages and monster battles, none as impressive as in the final battle with Mothra and King Ghidorah. The giant moth and space dragon get to play the good guys in this one, acting as mythical guardian monsters to Godzilla’s rampaging atomic terror. It’s also nice to see Baragon from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD back in a Kaiju. Like the new Gameras, this flick was a hit with critics, even (drum roll please) Leonard Maltin!
3. MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964)
A 400-foot mutated dinosaur and a giant moth as battle opponents? The premise sounds ripe for a Mystery Science Theater type ripping. This fourth entry in the Godzilla series proves that two such unlikely animals can exchange an exciting series of attacks on one another and pull them off in grand style. By eliminating some of the goofy humor that dominated the previous entry (the campy yet fun as hell KING KONG VS. GODZILLA) director Ishirio Honda and special effects guru Eiji Tsubruaya deliver a sequel that perfectly combines the solemn tones of GOJIRA and the fantasy like elements of MOTHRA. Godzilla never looked better than he did here, and his cranky “I must destroy everything I see” attitude is on full display during his rampage. Never again in the original series would he appear so menacing. The American title for the flick was GODZILLA VS. THE THING (don’t ask).
2. GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRIS (1999)
The third and final entry in Shusuke Kaneko’s superb reboot of the Gamera series can be best described as Kaiju euphoria. An overly dark tone, extremely menacing monster and one of the most amazing special effects sequences ever staged in a film of this type help make GAMERA 3 the most emotionally charged Kaiju since the original GOJIRA. Kaneko masterfully constructs a monster flick that for once offers up a powerful human drama that almost overshadows the grandeur of the monster action. Themes of loss, hatred and revenge are peppered throughout the film, with Ai Maeda giving an amazing performance as a young girl with an intense animosity for our favorite super turtle (his battle with the Gyaos from the first film in the series resulted in the death of her family). Human drama aside, this is a monster movie, and the Kaiju action is simply mind-blowing. Gamera’s final battle with the squid-like Iris in a train station is the most impressive special effects sequence ever constructed in a man in suit flick. Yes, Kaiju euphoria.
1. GOJIRA (1954)
Surprised? Didn’t think so. The adage that the first is the best really hits home with Ishirio Honda’s brilliant masterpiece. Simply put, GOJIRA, the film that introduced Godzilla to the world, is not only the greatest Kaiju flick ever made, but one of Japanese cinema’s most legendary films. A dark analogy about the horrors of nuclear war, with our favorite mutated dinosaur standing in for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, GOJIRA thrills on multiple levels and takes the viewer on a dark ride full of city smashing and destruction. The Big G’s destructive walk through Tokyo remains cinema’s ultimate monster rampage. Eiji Tsubruaya’s city miniatures and matte shots are second to none. Aided by cinematographer Masao Tamai’s black and white photography and Akira Ifukube’s brooding score, Honda and Tsubruaya staged a rampage so powerful that I imagine Japanese movie goers had nightmares for weeks considering how close the film was made to the original bombings. A classic worth many repeated viewings.
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