The Japanese word “kaiju” means “strange creature,” but it is more commonly defined as “giant monster.” Undoubtedly the most popular creation known as a kaiju is Godzilla, but there have been a host of other giant monsters created throughout the years by numerous studios. Such creatures include Gamara, Gappa, King Kong, and the creatures recently showcased in Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.
Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla made its debut in 1954. The production company responsible for this and the many sequels that have followed is Toho Co., Ltd. Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, the company is known for its kaiju films, tokusatsi (special effects) movies, anime, television shows (such as “Chouseshin”), and the movies of acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa.
There have been several “eras” of Godzilla series. The first of these series is known as the Showa era, and it chronicles movies made between 1930 and 1979. During this era, Godzilla would evolve from an antagonist creature spawned by atomic weapons to more of a heroic monster, one battling a variety of menaces, either created by humanity or spawned in space and used by evil alien creatures.
The following list chronicles some of the monsters that appeared during the Showa era. This list is by no means complete. It chronicles a good cross-section of creatures from that era, both good and evil.
Godzilla (under the title Gojira) made its Japanese debut in 1954. An American version of the movie was released in 1956 under the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters. The American version featured newly filmed material starring Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin.
Although both films have their merits, the Japanese version is the definitive one. The Japanese version is much darker and somber, with Godzilla emitting radiation that kills more people than its rampaging bulk ever could.
Of all the kaiju, Godzilla is the best known. The creature’s signature moves include tearing down buildings, searing human weapons (such as tanks and aircraft) with its atomic breath, and using its tail to trip up giant opponents.
Mothra made her self-titled movie debut in 1961. This monster was inspired by the serialized novel by Takehiko Fukanaga titled The Luminous Fairies and Mothra. As her name implies, Mothra appears as a giant moth. A later version of Mothra is much more colorful. There is even a twin Mothra known as Battra.
Mothra has appeared in various stages of development in a variety of Toho films. She has appeared as an egg, as a larva (caterpillar), and as a winged adult. Mothra is often accompanied by twin girls known as “fairies.” These human twins are known as shobigin (“small beauties) and are said to represent Earth’s cosmos. The twins are telepathic and can communicate with Mothra.
Although Mothra is sometimes an ally with Godzilla, the giant moth has battled the Big G, as she is often on the side of humanity. Mothra’s weapons include silk webbing used to trap an opponent (as a larva), powerful wings and jaws, beam weapons (such as “lasers” from her antennae), and a poisonous dust that she uses as a last resort.
Rodan made his Toho debut in 1956 with his own self-titled movie. This winged creature was inspired by the pterosaur, a winged dinosaur. Rodan’s Japanese name is “Radon,” a contraction of “pteranodon.”
Although he was originally an enemy of Godzilla, Rodan is often seen as one of Godzilla’s staunchest allies (second to Anguirus). Rodan’s principal weapon is his incredible flight speed, which he uses to knock down opponents and destroy buildings.
Also known as Monster Zero, King Ghidorah, and King Ghidrah, Ghidorah is a three-headed and winged creature from outer space. Ghidorah is one of Godzilla’s most powerful enemies. Ghidorah was also turned into a cyborg in the 1991 movie Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Like Rodan, Ghidora is capable of great speeds while in flight. However, the dragon-like creature’s principal weapon consists of lightning beams that it emits from all three heads. Ghidorah is often used by alien creatures in attempts to destroy the Earth. The space creature first traveled to Earth in a giant meteor, although later movies show that the monster can travel through space on its own.
Anguirus has the honor of being the second Kaiju to appear in a Toho movie—the creature made its debut in 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, where it was pitted against the Big G. Since then, however, Anguirus has become Godzilla’s staunchest ally, always fighting on the atomic monster’s side.
Although not very strong, Anguirus is protected by a shell covered with spikes. In some movies, Anguirus can launch himself into the air, slamming this spiked shell into an opponent. In Godzilla: Final Wars, Anguirus can turn himself into a spiked ball that can run over any opponent.
Gigan made his debut in the 1972 movie Godzilla vs. Gigan. Gigan is a cyborg with a single red eye, large metallic hooks for hands, and a buzzsaw emanating from its front abdomen. The cyborg comes from space and was first controlled by aliens from Nebula M Space Hunter. Gigan is capable of flight and space flight. He has the distinction of being the first creature to make Godzilla bleed.
A modern retooling of Gigan makes him an even fiercer opponent, with the cyborg sporting the use of grappling cables, an eye beam, and razor discs.
In 1973, Megalon made his debut in Godzilla vs. Megalon. Unlike monsters such as Gigan or Ghidorah, Megalon was controlled by humans, although it could be said that these humans were “alien” because they lived in a deep underwater city known as Seatopia. In the movie, Megalon tag teams with Gigan, whereas Godzilla gets an able assist from the robot Jet Jaguar.
This popular nemesis made its debut in 1977 in the film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (also known as Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster, as the television series The Six Million Dollar Man was all the rage at the time). Mechagodzilla initially appeared as a “bad” Godzilla, and only when the real Godzilla show up, does the creature reveal its true guise.
Mechagodzilla is a walking weapon, firing missiles, beam weapons, and even whirlwinds. Mechagodzilla also has powerful armor that can withstand Godzilla’s lethal atomic breath. The robot has proved quite popular, so much so that each Godzilla era has dedicated a movie to the kaiju.