Toho’s Gojira is a benchmark of cinema that stood the test of time. Its warnings about the bomb and nuclear testing are a product of its time but they resonate clearly today. Moreover, the film set a trend creating a new genre. Besides King Kong, Gojira is the one movie you can point to as the genesis of the kaiju genre.
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The 1954 monster-mashing parable is also one of the single most influential films of all time. Many of the most popular and prolific directors of the late 20th century were inspired to become filmmakers because of it, particularly in the West. Godzilla vs. Kong director Adam Wingard owes the film a debt, but the litany of Godzilla lovers includes names bigger than him.
Legendary Halloween creator John Carpenter is a big fan and is really fond of the Showa Era. Auteur and Pulp Fiction writer/director Quentin Tarantino was reared as a cinephile on the giant dinosaur and even had an idea for a Godzilla reboot that would turn the Japanese into his worshippers. As extreme as that twist is, there were hints of it in ‘54.
Another name on the list who is no less an auteur with an equally recognizable following and corpus of cult classics is Guillermo Del Toro. The Oscar winner made horror and monsters a staple of his career, especially giant monsters. Kaiju are one of his calling cards due to the Pacific Rim movies and this is by design.
Like so many, Del Toro saw Godzilla for the first time when he was very young and it had an effect that stayed with him. He explained his reaction when he talked about the King of the Monsters in an interview with Criterion. Comparing the movie to Social Realism, he called it “gloomy” and not because he was watching the American recut with Raymond Burr.
“The first Godzilla which I saw when I was a kid was such a gloomy movie for me,” Del Toro said. “It was- [laughs] it was like social realism. It had such drama in it and…such a sense of tragedy. And, unfortunately, I saw it with Raymond Burr in it, and those were like disjointed things in the movie.”
He added, “But the accumulative effect of that movie was a sense of oppression and war and a sense of dismay and hopelessness. It was a really dry movie and in the middle of all of this there was a monster that I fell in love with. I was like, ‘I love that creature,’ you know, ‘I love Godzilla’.”
And as “a monster guy,” Del Toro wanted to see more of the tragic disruptive force and generally wants to see more of the monsters. “Godzilla was one of those movies where you got your ticket’s worth. You got your satisfaction of seeing Godzilla enough,” he said. Plentiful screen time for the big guy is a prime demand of G-Fans to this day.
How Godzilla spends the duration of his time on celluloid varies with each shot, especially in the Showa Era where things bordered on ridiculous, but that wasn’t so in his debut. “It’s not a film that came as light entertainment,” Del Toro explained. He “found it to be a…deep and affecting movie,” in the same way a Richard Matheson-penned classic was.
At a young age, he learned pathos and tragedy make monsters and scenarios more compelling. “For example…as a kid also, I was deeply affected by The Incredible Shrinking Man,” Del Toro continued. “I was really shattered by it and I thought it was a really moving and profound existential film. And Godzilla affected me in a similar way.”
Godzilla has been affecting audiences in a similar way for generations and not just in Japan and America, but around the world. Some people who saw it grew up to create and adapt their own monsters whether it was Michael Myers or Hellboy, but not everyone. The film left an impression on average people as well, we encourage you to share your Godzilla memories below.