Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reprint Heaven: Chairman Of The Board, Part II

Gorzirra, Then and Now
(Part One Is above; or, Go Here. From spring, 2014.)

[NOTE: As the Googlemachine has reminded all of us, this is the 114th birthday of  Eiji Tsuburaya, special-effects designer and the originator of so many hero beings from Japanese science fiction cinema. He also created the concept which we know today as The Big Guy, the Chairman Of The Board; and San Francisco's hometown monster, as we are a Sister City with Tokyo.] 

Releasing Gojira: 1954

(The Story Thus Far:  An American film, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, is released by Warner Brothers in 1953, and gives producer Tomoyuki Tanaka of Toho Film Studios the inspiration he needs to save his job. Allowed to make a Japanese version, he is given roughly six months to complete it.

(Tanaka envisions a Giant Lizard, the mutated product of radioactive fallout or contamination, to serve as a warning about the limits of science and unintended consequences of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

(It's decided the Creature will be named "Gorjira" [a combination of the Japanese words for 'Gorilla' and 'Whale'], and the project's special effects consultant, Eiji Tsuburaya, convinces Tanaka and his team that an actor in a large rubber suit can play the Monster, and will have the fun of ravaging a miniature downtown Tokyo.)
Haruo Nakajima (Left) Served Tea On The Set Of Godzilla (1954) 
One of Toho Studios' principal stunt actors, Haruo Nakajima, volunteered to play Gorjira -- but even with several redesigns, the suit was heavy and difficult to use (its final version required a drain for collected sweat) and only frequent rehydration breaks kept Nakajima from passing out due to heat exhaustion. 

Tsuburaya (Left) Confers With Nakajima, 1956

The film was completed on schedule, released in Japan on November 3, 1954, and was a blockbuster hit.  Overnight, Toho was the film studio in Japan, and Gojira's director, producer and special effects creator hailed as geniuses of the cinema arts.

The film was sold to the American market; producer Joseph E. Levine had it dubbed, cut by twenty minutes, and inserted scenes of Raymond Burr (star of the popular television series, "Perry Mason") as an Edward-R-Murrow-style journalist, broadcasting eyewitness accounts of The Big Guy's trip to Tokyo.

Raymond Burr Contemplates His Fee For This Acting Job
Levine named the film "Godzilla, King of the Monsters", and released it in 1956. It was a smash in the U.S., pulling in $2 million dollars (that's about $40M in 2014 dollars, kids -- not bad for a guy in a rubber suit).
__________________________________ 

Toho, and Daikaiju, Go Viral: 1955 - 1961

Tanaka initially considered Godzilla a one-shot morality tale, not the beginning of a 'franchise', and of an entire cinema industry.  However, the movie was so popular (not only in Japan, but worldwide) and making sequels seemed so potentially profitable, that in less than a year Toho shot and released "Godzilla's Counterattack" (later famous for the derisive line, "And you call yourself a scientist").

This was the first film where Godzilla would fight another monster, Anguirus (which became Godzilla's friend in later movies) -- and this established what eventually became the hallmark of the Godzilla 'franchise': Other monsters appear (from inside the earth, from outer space, or the mind of Minolta), wreak havoc, and Earth is defenseless... until Godzilla appears to save the day.

War Of The Rubber Suits: Big Guy And Anguirus Duke It Out
"Counterattack" (released as Gigantis in the U.S.) wasn't as successful in Japan as the original Godzilla, and the movie didn't adapt well to foreign distribution. As a result,  Toho began releasing other daikaiju movies (a term meaning "gigantic, strange monster"), a new genre of films Toho had created and which other Japanese studios began to imitate) -- most notably Rodan; "Varan the Unbelievable"; and Mothra by 1961.

All three of these characters would appear in later Godzilla films. All were solid box-office hits in Japan; Toho Films decided to keep milking the daikaiju cow so long as it kept paying off.

Good, Bad, and Even Worse: 1961 - 1973

"Look, No One Told Me Kyoto Was A World Heritage Site"
... and pay off it did. In 1961, Toho collaborated with American producer John Beck to create "King Kong versus Godzilla", the most box-office popular Godzilla movie of all time in the U.S. and Japan.  On the strength of that success, Toho produced 12 more Godzilla films -- by the end of which Godzilla was transformed from a mutant, destructive Monster created by atomic radiation, to the protector of humankind.

Actually, no one can be certain whether The Big Guy likes humankind enough to fight for it, or is just amazingly pissed off at the violation of his turf by some giant Bug / Dragon / Flying Turtle / et al.

(I'm not adding a list of all Godzilla productions; you can look at the Godzilla Wiki for that. We're just looking at the evolution of an archetype here.)

Unfortunately, over time, several things happened:  Godzilla's character and portrayal began to resemble the formulaic aspects of other daikaiju films and characters, and other Giant Monster films had a certain level of low comedy and moments of near-slapstick action.  Toho adapted its most popular character to fit the genre, not the other way around, and by the early 1970's things were ... goofy.

No longer the chunky-but-trim Terror From Under The Sea who laid waste to large urban areas, Godzilla lost most of his back spines and looked like... your neighbor, in a big rubber suit.

Godzilla (L), Megalon (R), And Other 400-Foot-Tall Beings
In 1971, I thought the bottom of the barrel was Toho Studio's "Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster", which showed human victims chopped up in sections (take that, kiddies), pratfalls, and Godzilla boxing like a human. It's tough to maintain suspension of disbelief under those circumstances.

Unfortunately, it was topped by their 1973 Godzilla vs. Megalon -- I swear to God; the stunt workers in that 89 painful minutes of cinema had to have been higher than Mt. Fuji. And the "film" was shot in only two weeks: Toho was low on funding. The daikaiju cow had gone dry.
__________________________________ 
 
Death And Transfiguration: 1975 - 1995

In 1974 and 1975, Toho tried slightly rebranding their character for its 20th anniversary in MechaGodzilla and The Terror Of MechaGodzilla, but the original magic of the character had been badly diluted; the public wouldn't pay to watch him, and Toho's executives didn't want to risk their money in future Godzilla film projects.  The Big Guy only made a few appearances on Japanese daikaiju science-fiction television into the early 1980's, all moderately ridiculous compared with the menace and destructive power of the original Monster.

In 1984, the 30th anniversary of the character's birth, Toho made a simple and radical decision to save the franchise which had financed the studio's successful expansion for decades:  They started producing a new set of Godzilla films, called the "Heisei Series."

Most were for the Japanese market only -- but through them, Toho Studios simply 'reset' their character -- they ignored every Godzilla film made after the original 1954 release (good pick, that) and started with a new film appropriately titled Godzilla, which starred a Big Lizard who looked almost identical to the one who stepped on Tokyo in 1954.


In it, The Big Guy returns to his amazingly pissed-off former self, indestructible, created by nuclear radiation, a 350-foot-tall Lizard out for your personal ass.  It was released in America as Godzilla 1985, with some added scenes featuring an American played by (wait for it) Raymond Burr.

Ten years later, in 1995, Toho decided to end their franchise by killing it, in Godzilla vs. Destroyer. Toho made Godzilla's death public by adding "Godzilla Dies!" to posters and advertising of the film, and (while leaving a door open for a successor to reappear), The Big Guy dies.

Broderick Gets Up Close And Personal With Roland Emerich's So-Called Lizard (1998)

In 1998, everyone wished his successor had died before the filming started when TriStar Films licensed with Toho to develop their own Godzilla -- a computer-generated Big Lizard which had little relation to the classic Big Lizard. Directed by Roland Emerich and starring Matthew Broderick, it was a financial and artistic flop; the less said about it, the better -- but it was Bad. It was just Bad.

There was, of course, the movie 'Atonement', but Godzilla's appearance in that film was barely mentioned. Probably because we'd all rather look at Keira Knightley.



__________________________________ 
 
So, there are two Godzillas -- the Japanese Monster who came from the sea to destroy things, stayed to become a comedic actor, then returned to his old ways.  That current Godzilla encompasses both the original Destructor, the product of bad science and big bombs, and his daikaiju side, battling other Big Monsters to protect the Earth, his turf, or just for the hell of it.

Godzilla films have continued to be popular in Japan, and a second series was released following The Big Guy's supposed 'death' in 1995 -- again, Toho simply "reset" the story line without reference to the character's end... but this is one side of his existence that American or European audiences don't see. In Asia, Godzilla is timeless and lives on, as pissed-off and irrascible as ever, sometimes defending mankind and occasionally kicking Tokyo's ass.

The second Godzilla is a creature of Hollywood -- less accessible, a  Godzilla "leased" from Toho Studios and who is (aber natürlich) much different for a Western audience. He's more of an animal, nastier, cunning and cold-blooded -- kind of like The Koch Brothers on a good day.  He's all Destructor. No slapstick from this Big Guy.

However, after Emerich's poor showing nearly twenty years ago, no American studio (or whoever owns the conglomerates which make films these days -- Disney; Little Rupert's Fox; Comcast) wanted to risk putting money behind another Godzilla remake -- until now. This new film is supposed to be a "totally new concept" in Godzilladom. We'll see.

It's nice, though, that The Big Guy is getting work. He thinks so, too, I'm sure.


_______________________________________________

MEHR: With apologies to Fafnir, Giblets, the ghost of Freddy el Desfibradddor; Mistah Charlie, Phd.; and the Medium Lobster Himself (who is, well... pretty sizable):
Godzilla! There is no Giant Happy Fun Lizard but He - the Living, The Self-subsisting, the Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep. His are all things In the heavens and on earth and under the oceans. Who is there that can intercede In His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth What (appeareth to All as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass Aught of His knowledge Except as He willeth. His throne doth extend Over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth No fatigue in guarding and preserving them, For He is the Most High, The Supreme (in glory). He is Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, the One and Only.
_______________________________________________