kaiju /ˈkʌɪdʒuː/; noun: kaiju; plural noun: kaiju; plural noun: kaijus. Meaning: A giant monster of a type featured in Japanese fantasy and science fiction films and television programmes.
If you go back just 15 years, you’ll see something strange when looking at the box office blockbuster movie landscape. You’ll notice that it has not been saturated by superhero movies.
Sure. You had the original X-men series, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and the Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogy, but the world was enthralled by fantasy in the early 2000s with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings & Twilight.
Nowadays, you could throw a rock and hit a superhero movie or TV show. DC, Marvel and Dark Horse have their fingers in the pies of page-to-screen game, and as great as a majority of them are, I believe as it’s now become the norm, that the golden age of superhero movies have ended.
It is now time for the monsters to attack. However, it’s not any run of the mill monster. It’s big monsters who destroy buildings with a single step.
Ladies and gentlemen. Kaijus have arrived.
What Are Kaijus?
They’re big monsters. Monsters that are so monstrously big that it defies the explanation of science and physics. A single footstep rumbles buildings. A single roar shatters the windows of buildings. When we look at them we realise how small we are
The most well known of them is, of course, the Japanese behemoth that is Godzilla.
Godzilla started as an analogy. In March 1954, the US held nuclear bomb experiments at Bikini Atoll, not far from Japan. A Japanese fishing boat, the ironically named Lucky Dragon No 5, was unlucky enough to be near it, and the fishermen suffered horrible bouts of radiation poisoning and injuries. Japan, still reeling from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were outraged and horrified, and this led to the artistic expression that is Gojira (known to western audiences as Godzilla). The movie was a hit and the Kaijus were born.
Godzilla is now a mainstay of pop culture. There have been many iterations of him, and he even fought King Kong in 1962 (we’ll get back to that later).
As usual, then the Americans came along.
In 1998, America tried its adaptation of Godzilla with Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla.
It was terrible. Don’t watch it.
They tried again in 2014 with Gareth Edwards at the helm. It was quite well-received. In the meantime, the Japanese, who had taken a break of more than a decade from Godzilla movies, came out with one of their own: Shin Godzilla.
Godzilla is terrifying, and the movie is a piece of art. It is the monster movie version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night
Yours truly, along with many monster movie lovers, consider it one of the best monster movies to be made. It even went back to the original Godzilla formula of analogy. While the original movie was about the fallout of nuclear bombs, Shin Godzilla was an analogy of governmental bureaucracy blocking the way of a country’s response to a disaster. During the 2011 tsunami, the first people to send aid were not the government but the Yakuza, as the government took forever to communicate to each other what was to be done. This is reflected in Shin Godzilla, as a single action from a helicopter gun pilot required clearance from the Prime Minister, and thus had to go through five levels of bureaucracy. It was hilarious, sad and beautiful.
Back in America, Godzilla King of The Monsters came out in 2019 to great fun. It had half-a-dozen Kaijus (or Titan’s as the Americans chose to call it) and a lot of explosions. Critics panned its human drama but unlike the Japanese who have mastered the use of human drama in monster movies (they’ve had an extra 50 years to do it), American’s monster human drama is as subtle as a hot dog driving a monster truck while fireworks explode from its bonnet. That isn’t to say it’s bad.
Simply said, you go to Japanese Kaiju movies for their reflections of the misery of human life. You go to American Monster movies for the explosions. Neither of them is wrong. You can enjoy both.
There will be a boom of monster movies coming. JJ Abrams is coming up with a sequel to his bizarre Cloverfield universe, which started with a monster movie. Godzilla vs Kong just came out to a huge box office reception and is even more fun (and its human drama is arguably even worse) than Godzilla King of Monsters, which is saying something.
However, for us Malaysians who grew up in the 70s-90s, you’ll be happy to know. The makers of Shin Godzilla are creating a new Ultraman movie.
Yes. That Ultraman.
It’s called Shin Ultraman.
It already looks amazing.
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About the writer: Bob Morshidi is a drama teacher, freelance writer and satirist with a love for absurd comedy, popular culture and the lighter side of the seriousness of life. Follow his Instagram @bearmanwrites