Godzilla: What Kind of Resurgence will Toho Bring?

I had planned to write a post on the stages of Amiibo addiction, but I’ll save that for another time. A couple of trailers debuted yesterday and I want to talk about this one:

Needless to say, this footage is pretty striking. The images of a glowing, bleeding, gnarled Godzilla frame a stark contrast from the monster last seen by mainstream audiences in 2014. Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla Resurgence as it will be known internationally, is the 29th Toho Godzilla film and the 31st overall iteration in the franchise.

The new Godzilla is grotesque, with large chunks of exposed muscle tissue and bone, not to mention a multitude of sharp dagger teeth.
The new Godzilla is grotesque, with large chunks of exposed muscle tissue and bone, not to mention a multitude of sharp dagger teeth.

Since his original film in 1954, Godzilla has become an unparalleled film icon. It is the longest running, largest film series of any character (outnumbering even the 26 James Bond  films). He is part of the modern mythology of the twentieth and now twenty-first century, and has such seen many interpretations.

Godzilla has been a father, a force of nature, an angry spirit, a protector of Earth, a radioactive mutation, and, most famously, a symbol of man-made nuclear destruction. Watching the trailer for Godzilla Resurgence, it seems fairly obvious that Toho has selected to invoke this original, most striking interpretation of the Godzilla mythology.

Fun fact: Godzilla's skin has always been designed to show radioactive burning, but this is the first iteration to go further.
Fun fact: Godzilla’s skin has always been designed to show radioactive burns, but this is the first iteration to go further.

Before I continue further, it is interesting to note that, to date, Japan is the only one to pursue this horrible envisioning of Godzilla. When the United States has adapted the King of the Monsters, there is always the tendency to distance his creation from the use of nuclear weapons. The 1998 film actually comes the closest to preserving his nuclear heritage, but even that movie reduces Godzilla to the byproduct of a French nuclear test, and not the direct result of the United States using and testing atomic weapons on its then enemies.

Even the unmade American Godzilla adaptation featured an origin very similar to the 2014 film, where Godzilla is an ancient creature from before the dinosaurs.
Even the unmade American Godzilla adaptation featured an origin very similar to the 2014 film, where Godzilla is an ancient creature from before the dinosaurs. (This point taken from David Kalat’s book, which can be found here).

Godzilla Resurgence appears to be a direct sequel to the 1954 film, and by that I mean it will likely not include any of the other films in the Godzilla series in its continuity. This would make it the fourth time that Toho has used a direct sequel to start a new series (yes I am aware of the Millennium series – I will talk more about that in a bit). The others include Godzilla Raids Again, The Return of Godzilla (Godzilla 1985), and Godzilla 2000: Millennium (Godzilla 2000). Of those, this will be the second time that Godzilla has appeared in a movie solo, without fighting another monster – The Return of Godzilla being the only other Godzilla sequel to not feature another monster.

The Return of Godzilla marked the first time that Toho tried to return Godzilla to his somber roots.
The Return of Godzilla marked the first time that Toho tried to return Godzilla to his somber roots.

Each of these films began a “series” of Godzilla films. Godzilla Raids Again is the first film in the Showa series, the Godzilla films between 1955 and 1975. The Return of Godzilla launched the Heisei series, covering all Godzilla films between 1984 and 1995. And Godzilla Millennium appropriately launched the Millennium series, spanning 1999 to 2004. Each of these series has their own unique feel.

The Showa is historically marked by silliness and “cheapness.” As the first series, this is when the effects looked their “worst.” It also saw Godzilla primarily as a good guy, the defender of Earth against all other monsters. The fights were brawls, typically featuring a lot of wrestling moves. This series saw the most movies, the most monsters, and the greatest range of film style and tone.

Dancing Godzilla was part of the Showa… and this is nowhere near how zany things got.

The Heisei series is “serious.” These films feature a continuity, with each clearly happening after the one before it. This is the only Godzilla series where a clear continuity is evident. The costumes became bulkier, Godzilla became meaner and more a force of nature than either villain or hero, and the fights became more beam-oriented and less close quartered.

The bulky design rendered a lot of fighting movement impossible, but the "cheap" look of the Showa was quickly forgotten.
The bulky design rendered a lot of fighting movement impossible.

With the Millennium, nearly each film became a direct sequel to the original. Despite this, there is almost a continuity present as nearly all the films share a similar tone (Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah being the exception). The Millennium series can be described as an interesting mix of what came before. Godzilla is mostly the good guy, although never to the extreme that he was in the Showa series. The films are also, for the most part, less serious – or take themselves less seriously – than the Heisei, although again not to the extent that was seen in the Showa. This is the shortest series and the one to introduce the fewest new monsters to the Godzilla mythology.

I am making a point with this lesson in Godzilla film history (besides my having too much free time), and that is this: the first film does not necessarily echo how the series will be shaped. Godzilla Raids Again had a lot more in common with its 1954 predecessor than did Godzilla’s Revenge, yet both are part of the Showa series. GMK and Final Wars had nothing to do with Godzilla 2000 and were both tonally different films.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah features an LSD sequence, animated segments, and a flying Godzilla. This film was part of the Showa series but is unlike any other Godzilla movie... and probably any other movie, period.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah features a LSD sequence, animated segments, and a flying Godzilla. This film was part of the Showa series but is unlike any other Godzilla movie… and probably any other movie, period.

So, while Godzilla Resurgence looks to be bringing back the dark and ratcheting up the horror from the original, it is still too early to say what the spirit of the Shin or Neo (or whatever the fourth series is ultimately called) Godzilla series will be. Will there be continuity or will it be more disjointed (continuity at this point looks less likely given the stark imagination of the Godzilla suit)? Will Godzilla remain a horrifying menace or transform back into the good-guy defender of Earth?

The only thing for sure is that it is unlikely that audiences will be seeing the good-guy anytime soon from Japan. I base this off no definitive information, but rather by looking at the international landscape. For the first time ever, Toho will not be the only company putting out a Godzilla series. “The Legendary Series” as it is already becoming known, will span at least three films, and features a Godzilla who seems to be nearly completely the positive presence. Toho may likely opt to go darker just to form a distinction.

For all his power, this Godzilla definitely has the feeling of a superhero. Fighting King Ghidorah will only cement that.
For all his power, this Godzilla definitely has the feeling of a superhero. Fighting King Ghidorah will only cement that.

But all this may be getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s hope Godzilla Resurgence is good enough, and successful enough, to spawn a fourth Godzilla series. There are simply some things that Japan still does better than the United States.

Godzilla Resurgence is directed by Hideaki Anno, creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While that series started off entertaining, consistent would not be the word I would use to describe it.
Godzilla Resurgence is directed by Hideaki Anno, creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While that series started off entertaining, consistent would not be the word I would use to describe it.

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