I have an upcoming post regarding the portrayal of the Heisei-era Godzilla. However, before getting into that, I want to give a proper introduction. I will strongly advertise this as ‘’recommended reading’’ since the information I’m going to share was originally intended to be part of the main post.
Now to get started, I have committed to being addressed as ‘’Joe’’ for internet interactions. It is in no way diminutive of my legal name, but it is a nickname that I had my entire life. I am a 21-year-old biology major and a major fan of Godzilla. I have other pop-culture interests outside of Godzilla, but it is going to remain the focus of this blog. I enjoy Godzilla in virtually all his forms; however, the Heisei-series is what I personally consider my favorite portion of this franchise. The criticism directed toward the series in recent years led me to look back on these films to see if I still enjoy them as much as I do after having watched the immaculate Gamera Trilogy. To my own surprise, not only did I still find myself loving the Heisei series as a whole, but I actually prefer Return of Godzilla, Godzilla vs Biollante, and Godzilla vs Destoroyah over the Gamera Trilogy. As it stands, Return of Godzilla is tied with Shin Gojira as my fourth favorite kaiju film and Godzilla vs Destoroyah and Godzilla vs Biollante are my two favorite Godzilla films while the original Gojira rests in third place.
The point of this blog is not to show off some of my contrarian viewpoints. I still prefer the 90’s Gamera films over the 90’s Godzilla films when judging them as an entire series rather than individual films. The Heisei Gamera films are also without a doubt superior in their execution. However, I believe these series differ in some crucial ways. While I acknowledge the execution as being a vital part of evaluating media, I also believe that execution becomes somewhat less crucial when the media you are comparing have fundamental differences in their concepts. One film may have fewer flaws, but you could reasonably prefer another film because you find the premise more appealing and don’t find the flaws in its execution to truly distract from your enjoyment. Much like comparing a perfectly cooked steak to just a ”good” lobster. If you inherently prefer lobster enough, the difference in quality isn’t going to matter as much to you.
My thesis here is that I prefer the three Heisei Godzilla films over the Heisei Gamera films partially because of how Godzilla is portrayed, and I don’t feel the shortcomings in their execution were enough for me. Gamera, as the title of the 1995 movie indicates, is a guardian. He is a creature created by an advanced civilization, designed with a specific purpose, his sapience and allegiance are unambiguous, and his duty to counter the threats he faces is basically his primary incentive for fighting. Now there is literally nothing inherently wrong about this approach, it is so well executed and explored in his movies. However, I find the Heisei-Godzilla’s role in his movies fundamentally more compelling, given my own interests. Heisei Godzilla is a displaced and disfigured animal and continually struggles for his own survival while humanity tries to counter the threat that he poses. To some, this may seem to be a very trivial aspect to distinguish these films by, but I will explain why this is important to me.
Before I was a Godzilla fan, I was very much fascinated by animals. I had these large binders called The Oxford Wildlife Fact File back when I was four-years-old . Unlike most Godzilla fans who were interested in animals, the creatures that interested me the most were whales rather than dinosaurs. However, that’s still somewhat fitting considering how Gojira is a hybrid name of gorilla and kujira (whale). I was fascinated by these animals to where I aimed to become a marine biologist ever since I was seven.
Afterward, I grew interested in sea monsters, since whales have served as the inspiration of alleged sea monster sightings for millennia. Making this connection, I became fascinated with the idea of breaking down sea monsters in a biological context, seeing what they had in common with real animals and how their behaviors aligned.
Now as a 3rd-year biology major, my most interesting classes have been in vertebrate anatomy and animal behavior, the latter being what I hope to specialize in graduate school. An important concept of animal behavior that I feel is relevant here is ‘’umwelt’’. Umwelt is the German word for ‘’environment’’ and is a term that basically acknowledges how evolution attuned the five senses of animals differently. Consequently, different types of organisms will have their unique set of relevant stimuli that shapes their perception of the world. To put it into other terms, the human’s ability to smell, see, hear, taste, and touch is different from that of a dog, bird, or insect. We can notice colors, sounds, and textures that they can’t sense, but will tune out other stimuli in the environment that they can sense. I bring up this fundamental principle of human and non-human psychology because I believe this is analogous to our perception of media. Most of us might be able to see and hear the same things since we are all humans, but our personal experiences and interests will skew our perception and appreciation for the various aspects of a film. We each have our own relevant stimuli when watching movies, some things are going to matter more to us than others. For example, a person can point out to me how the cinematography of the Heisei Godzilla movies post-Biollante has gotten much blander while the Heisei Gamera films consistently make genius use of every shot it has. I can acknowledge and appreciate the effort, but it’s also not necessarily what I specifically look for in these movies. I’ll praise the cinematography when it’s fantastic, but not much is taken away from me if it is average like in Godzilla vs Destoroyah.
When I did become a Godzilla fan around the age of 9 or 10, I watched the 1954 movie, and one of my favorite aspects of that film was the lecture Dr.Yamane gave in trying to analyze this creature of Odo Island legend. This dimension to Godzilla, as an animal, is what I find most compelling about the character.
This was a relevant stimulus for me when appreciating Godzilla and other films like Rodan, the original King Kong, and more obscure films like Kujira-gami. While I enjoyed most of the Showa Godzilla movies, the more anthropomorphized Godzilla through the ’60s and ’70s felt like it was missing that dimension I liked about the original Gojira. Now I am in no way saying that the Showa Godzilla ‘’betrayed’’ anything or was something that needed to be corrected, he’s awesome, just my not ideal monster. Nonetheless, the Heisei series revived the animalistic dimension to Godzilla and then some. Throughout the Heisei series, concepts from animal anatomy and ethology, the study of animal behavior, are used to characterize Godzilla and drive certain aspects of the plot. And I thought the execution of three of these movies were competent enough in their own right to earn my top spots along with movies that were admittedly more well-crafted like Gojira (1954) and Shin Gojira.
I do not want to come off as too narrow-minded, because the execution still counts for something to me. I still prefer the original Mothra vs Godzilla over the 1992 Godzilla vs Mothra despite also loving the latter. The same goes for comparing the Showa Mechagodzilla movies to Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II. Godzilla vs Space Godzilla is a low-ranking Godzilla film in general for me, though that is pretty common. And as much as I love Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, I can’t bring myself to ranking it above any of the Heisei Gamera movies because of the glaringly poorly-written time travel plot. The Gamera Trilogy is amazing nonetheless, and it should be a testament to their quality if they’re still within my top 10 kaiju movies of all time, despite not aligning with my interests as strongly as other films mentioned here. So no fear, despite my own biases, there’s still plenty of wiggle room for me to appreciate kaiju movies that don’t lean hard on the animalistic side of kaiju.
I think I should also mention how my preferences also drive my general interest for tokusatsu. While I’m not one of those fans who stick to Godzilla and nothing else, I do have a preference for franchises pertaining to animal-derived monsters like Godzilla, Gamera, Gappa, etc. Franchises like Kamen Rider or Ultraman that generally focus on humanoid characters hold relatively less interest for me. I’ll gladly watch it if a friend picks it out or if given to me as a gift, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it myself. For me, tokusatsu serves as a rich extension of my liking for animal-like monsters, not as the center of my film interests.
So, yeah, I guess that basically covers it for me. Hopefully, this post provided some good context for who I am and what I like and I hope to get going on the next post, which is going to go more in-depth with the ethology concepts that are used to shape Godzilla as an animal.
Oh, and here’s a picture of my Godzilla/Kaiju movie collection.