On November 3, 2023, the world celebrated 69th anniversary of the release of the original Godzilla movie in 1954. The Showa era of Godzilla films is a remarkable and iconic period in the history of Japanese cinema. This era spanned from the release of the original GODZILLA film in 1954 to TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA in 1975, encompassing a total of 15 Godzilla movies. These films played a pivotal role in shaping the Kaiju (giant monster) genre and left an indelible mark on popular culture. In this retrospective, we will delve into the key elements, themes, and evolution of the Showa era of Godzilla films.
The Showa era Godzilla films were born in the wake of Japan’s traumatic experiences during World War II, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the subsequent nuclear testing in the Pacific. Godzilla was conceived as a symbolic embodiment of the fears and anxieties associated with the atomic age. The monster’s creation was heavily influenced by the success of Hollywood’s monster movies, particularly KING KONG (1933).
Directed by Ishirō Honda, the original GODZILLA was a dark and serious allegory for the devastation caused by nuclear weapons. It introduced audiences to the titular monster, Godzilla, portrayed as a force of nature, anger, and destruction. This film was groundbreaking and set the tone for the Showa era.
As the Showa era progressed, the tone of Godzilla films gradually shifted. While the original movie was somber, subsequent entries started to incorporate more lighthearted elements, including the introduction of other Kaiju like Mothra and Rodan.
One of the most enduring and iconic aspects of the Showa era Godzilla films was the epic battles between Godzilla and other giant monsters. These battles often showcased impressive special effects and miniature model work, with Tokyo frequently serving as the battleground. Godzilla fought a variety of creatures, including Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, and Mechagodzilla.
Despite the shift towards a more family-friendly tone, many Showa era films continued to incorporate social and environmental commentary. MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964) addressed corporate greed and environmental destruction, while DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) depicted a united Earth facing an alien threat, reflecting the spirit of international cooperation.
Showa era films saw the emergence of iconic Kaiju team-ups, such as Mothra and Godzilla working together to thwart threats, or epic battles between Godzilla and his arch-nemesis, King Ghidorah. These rivalries and alliances added depth to the monster dynamics.
The Showa era witnessed significant advancements in suitmation (actors in rubber suits) and special effects. Eiji Tsuburaya, known for his work on “Ultraman,” played a pivotal role in bringing these Kaiju to life through innovative techniques.
Godzilla and the Showa era films became cultural icons in Japan and around the world. The character’s distinctive roar, atomic breath, and appearance are instantly recognizable. Godzilla’s cultural significance even led to his recognition as a Japanese cultural ambassador.
The Showa era films laid the foundation for a long-lasting franchise that continues to this day, with multiple eras and reboots. The legacy of the Showa era is evident in the continued success of the Godzilla franchise, as well as the influence it had on other monster movies and pop culture. It began with a powerful allegory for the atomic age and evolved into a beloved series of epic Kaiju battles, reflecting societal and environmental concerns. These films left an indelible mark on popular culture and continue to be celebrated by fans worldwide for their timeless appeal.
The 1954 film GODZILLA originally titled GOJIRA in Japanese, is a classic and influential monster movie directed by Ishirō Honda. It is a dark and powerful allegory that tells the story of a colossal, prehistoric sea monster awakened by nuclear testing and its devastating rampage through Tokyo.
The film opens with a series of mysterious shipwrecks and unexplained disappearances of fishing boats off the coast of Odo Island. These incidents are shrouded in fear and superstition, with locals attributing them to an ancient sea creature known as Godzilla.
In response to the shipwrecks and the plight of the islanders, a team of scientists, including Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) and his daughter Emiko (Momoko Kōchi), travel to Odo Island to investigate. They uncover giant radioactive footprints and find the islanders’ fears confirmed when they witness a nighttime storm and the massive silhouette of Godzilla himself.
Dr. Yamane theorizes that Godzilla is a prehistoric creature that was awakened and mutated by nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. His hypothesis is met with skepticism, as the government and military are unwilling to acknowledge the role of nuclear weapons in creating this menace.
As Godzilla makes landfall on the Japanese mainland, the military attempts to stop the creature’s relentless advance. However, their conventional weapons prove ineffective against the monster’s immense power. Godzilla’s path of destruction through Tokyo is depicted with harrowing scenes of chaos, destruction, and civilian casualties.
Amid the chaos, the film delves into the personal lives of its characters, particularly the romantic entanglement involving Emiko, her fiancé Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), and her love interest Ogata (Akira Takarada). Dr. Serizawa holds a powerful secret: a devastating weapon known as the Oxygen Destroyer, capable of destroying all life in a localized area.
With Tokyo in ruins and Godzilla approaching, Dr. Serizawa decides to use the Oxygen Destroyer to save his country, but he insists on sacrificing himself to prevent its misuse. In a heart-wrenching scene, he cuts his own air supply and activates the weapon underwater, resulting in a massive underwater explosion that disintegrates Godzilla.
The film concludes with the tragic yet triumphant end of Godzilla, but it leaves viewers with a somber reflection on the cost of nuclear weapons and the destructive potential of humanity’s scientific advancements. Dr. Yamane laments the loss of Godzilla, suggesting that mankind has not learned its lesson from the creature’s existence.
GODZILLA (1954) is a powerful and enduring classic that transcends its Kaiju genre roots. It serves as a poignant commentary on the consequences of nuclear warfare, echoing Japan’s post-war trauma and the fears associated with the atomic age. The film’s profound message and memorable portrayal of Godzilla have secured its place in cinematic history.
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955)
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, also known as GOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU in Japanese, is the sequel to the original 1954 GODZILLA film. Directed by Motoyoshi Oda, this 1955 film marked the beginning of the Showa era of Godzilla movies.
The film opens with two pilots, Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Koji Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki), working for a fishing company off the coast of Japan. While on a routine flight to spot schools of fish, they encounter a new terror: Godzilla. This is the first evidence that another Godzilla exists, and the world is once again faced with a giant monster threat.
Shortly after the encounter with Godzilla, another ancient creature named Anguirus emerges from the ice in the Arctic Circle. Anguirus is a spiky, ankylosaur-like monster who is in conflict with Godzilla. Their battles create further destruction and terror.
The Japanese government, recognizing the threat posed by Godzilla and Anguirus, takes immediate action. Attempts are made to contain the monsters, including constructing a network of electrical towers to create a barrier and diverting them away from populated areas. However, these efforts prove to be only temporary solutions.
Godzilla and Anguirus ultimately converge on Osaka, leading to an epic battle that leaves the city in ruins. The fight is intense and destructive, showcasing the destructive power of these Kaiju. Godzilla ultimately emerges as the victor.
Amidst the monster battles, the film also focuses on the personal lives of the characters, particularly the relationships of Shoichi, Koji, and their love interests. These human elements add depth to the story and provide a contrast to the chaos caused by the Kaiju.
As the battle between Godzilla and Anguirus reaches its climax, a plan is devised to trap them in a man-made volcanic eruption on a remote island. The plan involves luring the monsters to the island and then triggering an eruption to bury them in molten lava.
The film ends with a spectacular volcanic eruption that engulfs both Godzilla and Anguirus. The eruption signifies their apparent demise, bringing relief to the people of Japan. However, it also serves as a reminder of the ongoing threat of these colossal creatures.
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN sets the stage for the many Kaiju battles and themes that would define the Showa era of Godzilla films. It establishes the formula of Kaiju showdowns and the recurring themes of humanity’s resilience in the face of destruction. While it may not have the same depth and allegorical power as the original 1954 film, it remains a significant entry in the Godzilla franchise, introducing the concept of multiple monsters and the evolving tone of future films in the series.
KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)
The 1962 film KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is a crossover classic that brings together two of the most iconic monsters in cinematic history. Directed by Ishirō Honda, this movie marked a significant milestone in the Showa era of Kaiju films.
The film opens with an introduction to Pacific Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese pharmaceutical company looking to boost its television ratings. They hear rumors of a giant creature on Faro Island, which is said to be King Kong. The company sees this as an opportunity for a sensational television event and decides to send an expedition to capture Kong and bring him back to Japan.
On Faro Island, the expedition encounters the enigmatic and native culture of the island, including a ceremony that seems to revolve around Kong. They witness the massive creature, Kong, who is initially portrayed as a benevolent and misunderstood monster. The team successfully sedates Kong and transports him back to Japan via a raft.
Meanwhile, in the waters off Japan, a submarine accidentally releases Godzilla, who has been dormant in an iceberg since his last appearance. Godzilla’s return to activity is attributed to nuclear testing. As he makes his way towards Japan, Kong is also en route, having been successfully transported to the mainland.
As the two monsters finally clash in the outskirts of Tokyo, the film showcases a titanic battle. Kong and Godzilla engage in a series of epic confrontations, demonstrating their unique abilities and strengths. Kong’s intelligence and agility are pitted against Godzilla’s atomic breath and immense power. These battles are a central highlight of the movie.
Alongside the monster battles, the film focuses on the human characters, including Mr. Tako (Ichirō Arishima), the head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, and several scientists and reporters. The characters are caught in the chaos and are tasked with finding a way to stop the monsters. The film also continues the theme of nuclear concerns, as Godzilla’s resurgence is linked to nuclear weapons testing.
To resolve the conflict and save Japan, the humans devise a plan to use electricity to awaken Kong and attract him to Godzilla. The idea is that Kong, being sensitive to electricity, would be motivated to take on Godzilla. They also prepare to administer a powerful narcotic berry juice to Kong to keep him docile.
In the climactic battle, Kong and Godzilla engage in a final showdown, with Kong gaining the upper hand thanks to his sensitivity to electricity. The battle ends with Kong defeating Godzilla and the two monsters tumbling into the sea. Kong emerges victorious.
The film concludes with Kong returning to Faro Island, with some ambiguity about whether Godzilla is truly defeated or not. As Kong swims away, the film ends with a sense of open-endedness.
KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is a significant entry in the Showa era of Kaiju films, merging two of the most iconic monsters in cinematic history. The film’s emphasis on spectacle, the clash of titans, and the blend of humor and action made it a popular classic and a notable milestone in the Godzilla franchise.
MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964)
The 1964 film MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, also known as MOSURA TAI GOJIRA in Japanese, is a significant entry in the Showa era of Godzilla films. Directed by Ishirō Honda, this movie features the clash between the iconic Godzilla and the benevolent Mothra, another beloved Kaiju, introduced in her own film in 1961.
The film begins with a typhoon striking the coast of Japan, leading to the discovery of a massive egg on the shore. The egg becomes a topic of public interest and concern. It is revealed that the egg belongs to Mothra, a giant, moth-like creature known for her benevolence and protective nature.
A group of greedy businessmen, including Kumayama and Torahata, see the egg as an opportunity for profit. They negotiate with the indigenous islanders to take possession of the egg, planning to put it on display as a tourist attraction. The islanders are opposed to this exploitation, as they view Mothra as a guardian deity.
Meanwhile, Godzilla is accidentally awakened from his slumber by a landslide caused by the typhoon. As Godzilla makes his way to the mainland, the Japanese government and the media are alarmed by his return, given the destruction he has wrought in the past.
A team of protagonists, including the journalist Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada), photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi), and the tiny twin Shobijin fairies (Emi and Yumi Ito), who serve as Mothra’s spokespersons, become central to the plot. They advocate for the return of Mothra’s egg to her and seek to prevent Godzilla’s rampage.
The Shobijin, on behalf of Mothra, request that the businessmen return the egg to the island. The businessmen initially refuse, but after Godzilla’s continued destruction and the intervention of the military prove ineffective, they eventually agree to return the egg.
As the egg is returned to its rightful place on the island, Mothra’s twin larvae hatch. Mothra, now accompanied by her offspring, takes flight to confront Godzilla. The battle between Mothra and Godzilla is a spectacle of destruction, with Mothra using her silk and her offspring aiding her in the fight.
The battle takes a toll on Mothra, and she is eventually defeated by Godzilla. However, in her final moments, Mothra makes a powerful statement about the importance of peace and cooperation. Her offspring survive and ultimately defeat Godzilla, trapping him in a cocoon of silk and allowing him to be washed away by the sea.
The film concludes with the surviving protagonists reflecting on the lessons learned from the conflict. Mothra, despite her sacrifice, has left a message of hope and the importance of harmony in the face of destruction.
MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA is notable for its commentary on the exploitation of nature for profit and the importance of respecting the environment. It also highlights the theme of cooperation and the potential for redemption even in the face of destruction. The film remains a beloved entry in the Godzilla franchise and a memorable clash between two iconic Kaiju.
The 1964 film GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, also known as SAN DAIKAIJU: CHIKYU SAIDAI NO KESSEN in Japanese, is a pivotal installment in the Showa era of Godzilla films. Directed by Ishirō Honda, this movie features the debut of King Ghidorah, a formidable three-headed dragon-like Kaiju, and the return of several beloved monsters.
The film opens with a focus on Princess Selina Salno of Sergina, a fictional country, who miraculously survives a plane crash. She starts to display strange behaviors, claiming to be a prophetess from the planet Venus. Selina’s predictions, including warnings of impending disasters, capture media and public attention.
Meanwhile, volcanic activity on Mount Aso in Japan causes Rodan, a Pteranodon-like Kaiju, to awaken from his dormant state. Rodan’s return is marked by destructive displays of power, and his reappearance is met with alarm.
Mothra, the benevolent moth-like Kaiju, becomes aware of the impending threat of King Ghidorah, a malevolent three-headed monster from space. She decides to intervene and seeks the assistance of her two tiny Shobijin fairies to convey her message to humanity.
At the same time, Godzilla emerges from the ocean, creating chaos and destruction as he makes landfall. His resurgence is once again a cause for concern and prompts the military to take action.
Mothra’s Shobijin fairies meet with a group of protagonists, including reporter Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi) and her brother, detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki). The fairies implore the humans to listen to Mothra’s plea for cooperation against the impending threat of King Ghidorah.
King Ghidorah makes a dramatic entrance, descending from the skies and terrorizing the world with his destructive abilities. His three heads and gravity beams prove to be a formidable force that overwhelms the other Kaiju.
With humanity’s survival at stake, Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan are convinced to put aside their differences and join forces against King Ghidorah. The epic battle between the four Kaiju ensues, with clashes of raw power and tactics.
The film’s climax revolves around the Kaiju’s coordinated efforts to bring down King Ghidorah. Each monster contributes their unique abilities to weaken the cosmic terror, with Mothra serving as the unifying force. The humans also play a pivotal role in supporting the monsters’ efforts.
The film concludes with the defeat of King Ghidorah, who is driven back into space. The Kaiju return to their respective homes, and humanity is saved from the threat of the destructive space invader.
GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER is celebrated for its theme of unity and cooperation, as it portrays formerly antagonistic monsters working together to face a greater menace. The film introduced King Ghidorah, who would become one of Godzilla’s most iconic
, and further solidified the enduring appeal of the Godzilla franchise.
The 1965 film INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER, also known as KAIJU DAISENSO in Japanese, is a significant entry in the Showa era of Godzilla films. Directed by Ishirō Honda, this movie features a space-travel theme and the first appearance of the alien race known as the Xiliens.
The film opens with astronauts Glenn (Nick Adams) and Fuji (Akira Takarada) piloting a spacecraft to explore the newly discovered Planet X. Their mission is successful, and they make contact with the inhabitants of Planet X, the Xiliens, who are humanoid aliens.
The Xiliens, led by their Controller (Yoshio Tsuchiya), express a desire to borrow Godzilla and Rodan to help combat a terrible threat on their planet: King Ghidorah, a three-headed space monster. The Controller offers a miracle drug in exchange for Earth’s cooperation.
Back on Earth, Glenn and Fuji return with the Xilien proposition, and it is met with skepticism. Nevertheless, a plan is developed to transport Godzilla and Rodan to Planet X. The monsters are successfully relocated with the help of advanced technology provided by the Xiliens.
On Planet X, Godzilla and Rodan confront King Ghidorah, leading to an epic battle. However, they are mysteriously controlled by the Xiliens, who use magnetic waves to subdue the monsters and force them to cooperate.
As the Earth team investigates Planet X, suspicions arise. It is revealed that the Xiliens have a hidden agenda. They seize control of Godzilla, Rodan, and Glenn’s sister, Miss Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno), as hostages. The Xiliens’ true intention is to invade Earth with the help of the controlled monsters.
With Godzilla and Rodan under Xilien control, they are set loose on Earth, causing destruction and chaos. Humanity is now faced with the threat of their own monsters. Glenn and Fuji, along with the scientists, must find a way to break the Xiliens’ hold over the Kaiju.
The Earth team hatches a plan to disrupt the Xiliens’ control over the monsters. They uncover that the monsters are responsive to a special frequency. The plan involves broadcasting this frequency to break the Xiliens’ control and turn the monsters against their captors.
A climactic battle ensues as Godzilla, Rodan, and the Earth’s defense forces confront the Xiliens and King Ghidorah. The broadcast disrupts the Xiliens’ control, allowing the monsters to fight on humanity’s side.
The film ends with a battle royale, in which King Ghidorah is defeated, and the Xiliens are driven off. Godzilla, Rodan, and humanity emerge victorious, and the monsters return to their natural habitats.
INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER explores themes of trust, cooperation, and the consequences of humanity’s actions in dealing with otherworldly forces. It is notable for its blend of space-travel sci-fi elements and Kaiju battles, adding a unique dimension to the Godzilla franchise.
EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP (1966)
The 1966 film EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP, also known as GOJIRA, EBIRA, MOSURA: NANKAI NO DAIKETTO in Japanese, is a part of the Showa era of Godzilla films. Directed by Jun Fukuda, this movie introduces a new Kaiju, Ebirah, and marks a departure from previous Godzilla films in its tropical island setting.
The film opens with a group of young adults, including Ryota (Toru Watanabe) and Yata (Chotaro Togin), who are shipwrecked on a remote and uncharted island in the South Pacific. They discover that the island is home to a sinister terrorist organization known as the Red Bamboo, which operates a factory on the island.
Meanwhile, in Japan, Godzilla re-emerges after being absent for some time. His return is met with alarm and prompts the government to mobilize its defense forces. However, their attempts to stop Godzilla are unsuccessful.
The island’s peril is compounded by the presence of Ebirah, a colossal lobster Kaiju, who guards the waters surrounding the island and prevents anyone from escaping. The Red Bamboo uses Ebirah as a deterrent to keep people away from their operations.
Desperate to escape the island, the shipwrecked individuals stumble upon an ancient temple dedicated to Mothra. They pray for help, and their plea is answered as the Shobijin fairies (Emi and Yumi Ito), who previously served as Mothra’s spokespersons, arrive to summon Mothra.
Mothra takes flight to save the shipwrecked people and confront the Red Bamboo. On the island, the Red Bamboo captures Ryota and his friends, who are forced into labor. The prisoners discover the terrorist organization’s sinister plot to use nuclear weapons.
As Mothra approaches the island, Godzilla also arrives, leading to a battle between the two giants. Their fight rages on the island, with Godzilla ultimately defeating Ebirah and driving him away. This allows the shipwrecked individuals to escape and seek help.
Mothra and Godzilla join forces to confront the Red Bamboo’s base. They destroy the nuclear weapons, rescue Ryota and his friends, and put an end to the terrorist organization’s operations. The island’s residents are freed from oppression.
The film ends with Mothra returning to her island and Godzilla making his way back to the ocean, while the survivors from the island express gratitude for the assistance of the Kaiju.
EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP is distinctive for its island adventure setting and the introduction of the monstrous lobster, Ebirah. It showcases the cooperation of different Kaiju and their interactions with humans in confronting a common threat. The film is a unique entry in the Godzilla franchise and offers a blend of action, adventure, and monster mayhem in a tropical island backdrop.
Part 2 can be found here!
Criterion has released the ultimate Showa Era Godzilla film collection featuring all 15 films (read my review HERE). To order your own copy, just click on the image below.