In Pacific Rim director Guillermo Del Toro presents the biggest movie monsters seen since the Blue Oyster Cult sang, “Oh no, there goes Tokyo, go go Godzilla!”
Pacific Rim’s monsters are direct descendants of the “kaiju” or strange beasts that became popular in the sci fi films produced by the Japanese company Toho in the 1950s and 60s. Most famous is the King of All Monsters, Godzilla—he even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—the giant lizard who wreaked havoc in twenty-nine movies.
Rounding out Toho’s Big Five are a “Divine Moth” called Mothra, and a trio of kaiju named King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, and Rodan.
The first Godzilla film came in 1954. The story of an ancient dinosaur-like colossus created by American nuclear weapons testing, was inspired by a news story about the Lucky Dragon 5, a Japanese fishing boat contaminated after sailing too close to a U.S. nuclear test.
“Suitmation actor” Haruo Nakajima played the beast and could only walk thirty feet at a stretch in the 200-pound Godzilla suit. To create the monster’s fearful roars a audio engineers threw reverb on the sound of a resin-coated leather glove rubbed on the strings of a double bass.
Ten years after that movie King Ghidorah, a fearsome alien dragon, was created as Godzilla’s archenemy. In the script he is described as having “three heads, two tails, and a voice like a bell,” who travels to our planet in a magnetic meteorite. Equipped with nuclear fire breath, in the 1964 film Ghidorah The Three Headed Monster he devastates Japan until repelled by Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra.
The following decade Mechagodzilla, Godzilla’s mechanical doppelgänger, was introduced in a movie originally called Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster but was changed when the copyright holders for The Bionic Woman threatened to sue. Retitled Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster, it’s the first movie in the series to feature a laser “eye” beam.
Rodan, the 1956 kaiju movie about mutant pterosaurs and prehistoric insects who terrorize humanity, has two significant firsts. It was the first Japanese monster movie to be filmed in color, and, according to George Takei’s autobiography, was his debut as a professional actor.
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