- Posted by Carl Lyon
- On July 9, 2015
- 0 Comments
Here at CONtv we know that there are so many areas of fandom and so few hours in the day. In order to help you decide if a specific genre, sub-genre, artist, or hobby is worth the investment of your time, we present CONtv 101. A series of “introductory level courses”,CONtv 101 is NOT your typical “best of” list. The purpose of each course is to provide you with a strong, basic understanding of each topic through a carefully selected syllabus.
Course Description: Kaiju films are usually the first thing—besides anime—to come to mind when people think of Japanese cinema. The output of Akira Kurosawa may be in the hearts of critics and the long-haired horror films may keep people frightened of their televisions, but the rubber-suited cheese of the kaiju film is iconic: a seemingly colossal behemoth laying waste to a scale city through the mid-budget magic of costumes and set design.
The films we are discussing in this class are technically daikaiju (“giant monster”) films, although the term kaiju (“monster”) has become the catch-all for the genre.
Gojira (Anglicized to Godzilla) is crucial to the kaiju genre not only for kicking off the movement, but using its themes—particularly atomic devastation—as a frightening analogue for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Awakened by a-bomb testing in the Pacific, the title monster carved a path of destruction across Japan before starring in almost 30 films and two American reboots. The original is the required viewing for the course, and demerits will be given out for any attempt to watch Roland Emmerich’s 1998 reboot.
Considers by many to be a goofy ripoff of Godzilla (several episodes of MST3K don’t help that theory), Gamera is often derided for his campiness, “friend to all children” role, and ridiculous rogues’ gallery. However, the Heisei trilogy that kicked off in 1995 showed a more serious side to the inherently ridiculous atomic turtle, and is considered by many to be the high point of the franchise. The first of this trilogy, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is the required viewing of this course as a result, although extra credit will be given to students who can make it through the Spielbergian Gamera the Brave without tearing up.
Eschewing atomic monsters for living statues, Daimajin (“Great Demon God”) was the beginning of a trilogy of films, all released in 1966 by Daiei. All three films featured a giant statue called Daimajin (natch) who became an avenging angel of sorts for good, destroying evil…and large swaths of land in the process. Set in feudal Japan, the movies have a drastically different tone than their contemporaries, but are nonetheless excellent examples of the genre. You can pick any of the three films for the course—all three are available on CONtv.
While far from a great—or even a good—kaiju film, Pulgasari is an important movie to discuss simply for its insane behind-the-scenes story. Produced by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, Pulgasari was directed by Shin Sang-ok, who was kidnapped by the North Korean government for the purpose of creating pop-culture propaganda. The resulting film was a thinly-veiled jab at capitalism, with a greedy king being dethroned by his restless subjects with the assistance of a metal-munching monster.
Director Guillermo del Toro’s modern monster masterpiece is a wide-eyed tribute to its forebears, featuring giant robots battling giant monsters, less-than-subtly dubbed Kaiju in the movie’s universe. In the film’s storyline, monsters pour through an interdimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean, leading to the creation of Jaegers: giant robots co-piloted by dual humans tasked with stopping the threat by any means necessary. While there’s nary a rubber suit in sight, the film wears its influences on its metal sleeves, and is a perfect representation of the kaiju film in a more modern format.