"Using the Beta Capsule, Hiyata has become... Ultraman!" As a kid, my first real introductions to Japanese culture were the Anime series ("Kimba the White Lion;" "Astroboy") and Kaiju movies and TV shows I watched after school and on Saturday afternoons - Godzilla movies and "Ultraman." I think even as a kid, I thought they were goofy. The monsters (and even the heroes) were obviously men in rubber suits, stomping around models of mid-century Tokyo. The response of Japanese filmmakers to the horrors of nuclear war, the genre spawned an industry that has found its way into American culture... or did it?
Kaiju [kye-jou] literally means "strange beast" in Japanese. In this case, giant monsters which wreak havoc in a major metropolitan city. Hmm... in what early American movie does a giant monster wreak havoc on a major metropolitan city...?
Hell, Toho studios practically admits they stole the idea in 1962's particularly silly King Kong vs. Godzilla.
And one can certainly go further back than that for tales of giant monsters. Lovecraft created an entire mythology based on giant monsters who ruled the world before the age of men. Conan-Doyle's The Lost World? No, older. I know...think about it - Moby Dick is actually early-American Kaiju. Further back? Sure. 'Jack and the Beanstalk' and any quest to slay a dragon. Earlier? Thor used his hammer on the Ice Giants. Wait, further? Okay - Goliath and Jonah have really bad days. Giant monsters persist in mythology because when early humans first encountered dinosaur fossils, they imagined all sorts of creatures that may have covered such skeletal remains. And just to bring it back full circle, the most recent example of American Kaiju was 2008's first-person, 'found footage' movie from producer J.J. Abrams, Cloverfield:
Having been denied (for now) bringing his vision of At the Mountains of Madness to the screen, director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth; Hellboy) is about to unleash his interpretation of Kaiju with next summer's release of Pacific Rim. A fan of del Toro's ever since 1993's odd little vampire tale Cronos, I have always been in awe of the director's passion for spectacular visuals. The full trailer for Pacific Rim was released online today and even from what little it shows, you can tell that no one's skimping here. Some folks have described Pacific Rim as "Godzilla meets Transformers." I can certainly see how some people might make that correlation but knowing the body of the director's work, I think we're in for something much more.
I have no doubt that Pacific Rim will be decidedly better than the 1998 fiasco that was Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's Godzilla:
Let's hope the proposed 2014 American reboot of the franchise isn't anything like that. Regardless, I'll be seeing Pacific Rim. Will you?