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Watching old kaiju movies with the kids

I just finished a back-to-back birthday movie marathon of Godzilla (1954), Rodan (1956), and Ghidora, the Three-Headed Monster (1965).

For my birthday last year, we went to see a movie at the theater and I had been hoping to do that again this year. Unfortunately, there are not any movies out right now that I felt like I even wanted to see, much less bother going to the theater for. So I had been feeling kind of bummed about that.

At kind of the last minute, I came up with the idea of doing a small movie marathon here at home, something I always imagine doing but never manage to find the time to actually do. So I declared that was what I wanted to do for my birthday and picked three classic Showa-era Toho kaiju movies.

The kids were interested but a bit trepidatious, mostly because they have never watched a subtitled movie before. They also really like the new US Godzilla and Kong movies and were both a bit skeptical of sixty-year-old movies with primitive and dated special effects. “Aren’t those the ones that are just guys in rubber suits?” the 13yo asked.

As it turned out, they both loved all three movies. “The subtitles aren’t that bad,” the 10yo said after we finished the first movie. “After a while, I kind of forget I’m even reading them.” Both kids of course had a few laughs at some of the dodgier effects—particularly in Rodan—but agreed that it was actually pretty cool how much work had been put into the detailed miniatures.

The 1954 Godzilla remains my favorite of all of these movies and watching this this time, I was struck once again at just how dark and somber it is.

Having watched the original Japanese version of Godzilla a bunch of time since it was restored and re-released in the US in the early 2000s, I am pretty familiar with how seriously it takes its subject matter, as well as how different it is from the hacked-up Americanized version that I grew up with. However, I had never watched the original versions of the other two movies and had only vague memories of the Americanized versions I watched on the Channel 13 3:00 Movie after school as a kid.

While Rodan and Ghidora back off a bit from the first film’s dark tone (with the latter beginning but not going too far down the road of silliness that the would increasingly come to characterize the series’ subsequent installments of that era) all of these films make it quite clear that they are about nuclear weapons—the apocayptic damage they inflict and the weight and responsibility they bring upon their bearers.

And while it occurs during the fairly ridiculous final monster battle, I have to say that I really appreciated the entire sequence of Mothra just trying to get Godzilla and Rodan to stop fighting among themselves and join together with her to defeat King Ghidora, eventually giving up and deciding to do it on her own when the other two won’t cooperate. While I really enjoy the current crop of Monsterverse films, I wish that they had figured out a way to better integrate this aspect of the original series. There are bits and pieces of it—Mothra sacrificing herself to help Godzilla defeat Ghidora, Kong and Godzilla finally teaming up against MechaGodzilla—none of them quite capture the spirit of the original Mothra.

It is worth noting how much time these movies spend on discussions by various bureaucratic government bodies about how to respond to the threat of these monsters. When Shin Godzilla came out in 2016, there was much discussion of how focused that film was on the government agencies dealing with the crisis, but having just watched these three movies, I would say that aspect of the series goes back to its start.

I think watching a bunch of these movies in a row is really the way to go. By the time we got to Ghidora, I found I had gotten into the spirit of it and even that film’s sillier aspects didn’t bother me. I’m not sure I could keep that going for the craziness that ensues toward the end of the of Showa era, but I will admit that there is part of me that wants to give it a go.

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