Godzilla (ゴジラ, Gojira) is the main protagonist in the Godzilla series. He is a daikaijū, a Japanese movie monster, first appearing in Ishirō Honda's 1954 film Godzilla. Since then, Godzilla has gone on to become a worldwide pop culture icon starring in 28 films produced by Toho Co., Ltd. The monster has appeared in numerous other media incarnations including video games, novels, comic books, television series, and an American remake. Another separate American remake is currently in production by Legendary Pictures.
With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Godzilla was conceived as a monster created by nuclear detonations and a metaphor for nuclear weapons in general. As the film series expanded, the stories took on less serious undertones portraying Godzilla in the role of a hero, while later movies returned to depicting the character as a destructive monster.
"Gojira" (ゴジラ) is a combination of two Japanese words: gorira (ゴリラ, "gorilla"), and kujira (鯨（クジラ）, "whale"), which is fitting because in one planning stage, Godzilla was described as "a cross between a gorilla and a whale", alluding to his size, power and aquatic origin. A popular story is that "Gojira" was actually the nickname of a hulking stagehand at Toho Studio. The story has not been verified, however, because in the fifty years since the film's original release, no one claiming to be the employee has ever stepped forward and no photographs have ever surfaced. Kimi Honda (the widow of Ishiro Honda) always suspected that the man never existed as she mentioned in a 1998 interview that "the backstage boys at Toho loved to joke around with tall stories".
Godzilla's name was written in man'yōgana as Gojira (呉爾羅), thus the kanji used were for phonetic value and not for meaning. Many Japanese books on Godzilla have referenced this curious fact, including B Media Books Special: Gojira Gahô, published by Take-Shobo in three different editions (1993 and 1999).
The Japanese pronunciation of the name is [ɡodʑiɽa]; the Anglicized form is /ɡɒdˈzɪlə/, with the first syllable pronounced like the word "god", and the rest rhyming with "gorilla". When Godzilla was created (and Japanese-to-English transliteration was less familiar), it is likely that the kana representing the second syllable was misinterpreted as [dzi]; in the Hepburn romanization system, Godzilla's name would have been rendered as "Gojira", whereas in the Kunrei romanization system it would have been rendered as "Gozira".
Godzilla's appearance has changed over the years, but many of his characteristics have remained constant. His roar has remained the same, only changing in pitch. Godzilla's approximate appearance, regardless of the design of the suit utilized for the creature, remains the same general shape, which is instantly recognizable: a giant, mutant dinosaur with rough, bumpy charcoal-gray scales, a long powerful tail, and jagged, bone-colored dorsal fins. Godzilla's iconic character design is a blended chimera inspired by various prehistoric reptiles, gleaned from children's dinosaur books and illustrations from an issue of Life magazine: Godzilla has the head and lower body of a Tyrannosaurus, a triple row of dorsal plates reminiscent of a Stegosaurus, the neck and forearms of Iguanodon and the tail and skin texture of a crocodile. Godzilla's dorsal plates have themselves altered in size and appearance over the years.
Godzilla's body and facial structure changed often from film to film. The first films depicted the creature with a more feral head and facial structure, to indicate his status as a feared threat. As the character became more of a heroic figure—particularly to children, who became a large part of Godzilla's target audience from 1965 until 1978 in the Showa era—the creature's shown as having human or near-human intelligence in most films. Godzilla was originally believed by many to be green when the original black and white film was produced, and promotional artwork in America and other English speaking countries depicted him as such. The creature was also depicted as being green in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon and a number of toys in the United States prior to the Trendmasters toy line, which depicted Godzilla in his actual coloration. Godzilla actually has a greenish hue in Godzilla 2000 and again in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, but returns to his classic charcoal gray in subsequent films in the Millennium series starting with Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.
Although his origins vary somewhat from film to film, he is always described as a prehistoric creature, who first appeared and attacked Japan at the beginning of the Atomic Age. In particular, mutation due to atomic radiation is presented as an explanation for his size and powers. The most notable of Godzilla's resulting abilities is his atomic breath: a powerful heat ray of fire from his mouth. Godzilla is also depicted as being resistant to damage thanks to a tough hide and an advanced healing factor, which itself became a focal point in Godzilla vs. Biollante and Godzilla 2000. He is portrayed as being strong and dexterous, sometimes utilizing martial arts techniques in combat. Described as a transitional form between aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates in the original film, Godzilla is able to survive in the ocean for indefinite periods of time and is as adept a fighter underwater as he is on land.
These particular abilities are portrayed consistently among Godzilla's many incarnations, though he also possesses skills, often employed as weapons of last resort that are only seen on rare occasions to beat certain enemies.
Godzilla is the main character of all of the Godzilla films, though there are numerous different versions of the monster. The silver screen is not the only place Godzilla has appeared; there are literary sources that have expanded the universe of Godzilla. Godzilla and the Godzilla universe have also starred in comic books, manga, Japanese television, and many cartoons.
The Showa-era Godzilla films were the first of the film series. In total, there are fifteen Showa-era films, amounting to over half the total Godzilla movies currently in existence.
The first film was simply titled Godzilla (1954). In the original film, Godzilla was portrayed as a terrible and destructive monster. Following the success of Godzilla, Toho started filming a quickie sequel called Godzilla Raids Again. In this film, a new Godzilla was set up to fight another dinosaur-like creature, Anguirus. This second film started a trend for Godzilla films, where Godzilla would fight other giant monsters. In his fifth film, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla took the role of a hero. From that point on, to the end of the Showa series, Godzilla stayed a hero, protecting Japan against attacks from other monsters, aliens, etc. At one point, Godzilla even adopted a son, Minilla, in Son of Godzilla, who would make appearances in later Showa-era films.
The Showa-era movies played on a lot of fears and interests of people during the period in which they were made. For instance, Godzilla was a movie designed to warn people about the use and testing of nuclear weapons. Likewise, Godzilla vs. Hedorah was designed to carry a message about the dangers of pollution. As space exploration and the Space Age were extremely popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of Godzilla's films revolved around Godzilla fighting alien monsters, or involved an alien invasion in some shape or form. For instance, in the movie Destroy All Monsters, an alien race had managed to take control of all of earth's monsters, who were eventually freed from their control, and destroyed the aliens who had put them under control.
The Heisei-era Godzilla films were the second of the film series. In total, there were seven Heisei-era films, making them amount to one fourth of the total Godzilla movies in existence.
The Heisei-era films differed drastically from the Showa-era films in a variety of ways. The most prominent difference is that Toho did away with Godzilla being the hero of the films. While occasionally Godzilla would take the role of an antihero, he was still consistently portrayed as hazardous to humanity throughout the films. The Godzilla outfit was updated to look more realistic and much more intimidating than previous suits. Another significant difference is that the series was given an overall plotline with story arcs. Each movie happened in some sort of sequence, and generally referenced previous movies to further the plot of the series.
As in the Showa era, in the first Godzilla movie of the Heisei era, The Return of Godzilla, Godzilla was the only monster to make an appearance. All succeeding Heisei-era movies would have Godzilla fight other giant monsters. Like the Showa series, Godzilla adopted a son, Baby Godzilla, as his own child. In the final Heisei-era movie, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Godzilla dies after undergoing a nuclear meltdown, and his son (by that point almost half as tall as his father and called Godzilla Junior) absorbs the radiation and quickly matures to become the new King of the Monsters, though the original Godzilla returns in the Millennium series.
In much the same way that the Showa-era played on fears and interests of people during the time period of production, Heisei-era Godzilla films made some attempts at making statements on popular topics for their time period. One good example would be Godzilla vs. Biollante, which made explicit warnings against research involving genetic engineering. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah touched on US-Japanese relations stemming from World War II and introduced a time-travel plot. Other themes in the movies included commenting on research into hazardous material and making environmental statements.
In 1998, TriStar Pictures produced a remake set in New York City, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Matthew Broderick; the film's name was simply Godzilla. Despite negative to mixed reviews from film critics and negative reception from the fans of the original Godzilla, the film was a financial success, taking in nearly $380 million worldwide, and spawned an animated television series called Godzilla: The Series, which drew much better reception all-around. However, no sequel was made. Toho classifies the monster in this movie as Zilla, and it was featured briefly in their film Godzilla: Final Wars. Makers of this film stated in cinematic magazine interviews that the American incarnation of the monster did not merit having "God" in his name. Previous to the "Zilla" announcement, the creature was widely referred to by traditional Godzilla fans as Fraudzilla, for obvious reasons, or GINO for Godzilla In Name Only.
The Millennium series of Godzilla films are the third and currently last of the film series. There are six of these films, making them slightly under a fourth the total of the series.
The Millennium series attempted to bring Godzilla back to his roots by eliminating a few of the things that the Heisei-era films had done. The most notable of these changes are, with one exception, the lack of any real continuity in the movies. Godzilla is, however, still a hazard in the Millennium series, and is always a destructive force.
It has been confirmed by Variety that Legendary Pictures had acquired the rights to the character and that a new Godzilla movie is being planned for release in 2012. In addition to Legendary, producers on the new film will be Dan Lin, Roy Lee and Brian Rogers, Yoshimitsu Banno, Kenji Okuhira and Doug Davison will be the executive producers. Very little is known about the project so far. At the 2010 San Diego Comic Con reps from Legendary Pictures were on hand to pass out t-shirts depicting a new Godzilla design.
In television and printed media.
In Japan, Godzilla was a frequent guest star on the tokusatsu series Zone Fighter. In it, Godzilla occasionally fought alongside the protagonist against other monsters, including Gigan and King Ghidorah, two monsters who had previously appeared in Godzilla films.
Godzilla made his American series debut in the 1978 Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning show Godzilla. In this series, Godzilla had a nephew, Godzooky. In addition to his trademark atomic breath, which simply changed to fire in the cartoon, he was given the power to shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Godzilla could be summoned by his human friends, sea-explorers on the ship USS Calico, with a signaling device or by the cry of Godzooky. The series ran until 1981.
A second series, based on the American Godzilla, aired on Fox Kids. The series featured the surviving baby Godzilla from the end of the live action film, which now had grown to full size. Godzilla traveled around the world with a team called HEAT, including scientist Nick Tatopoulos, battling monsters. Godzilla had the abilities and physical forms of his parent, but the creators of the show gave him more powers and an attitude more resembling the original Japanese Godzilla.
In Japan, Godzilla (along with a plethora of other Kaiju) appeared in a animated toy show called Godzilla Island that ran from 1997-1998.
Godzilla has been featured in comic books, most often in American productions (from Marvel Comics in the late-1970s, and from Dark Horse Comics in the 1980s and 1990s). Japanese Godzilla manga comics are also available.
The Marvel series told original stories and attempted to fit into the official Toho continuity, while avoiding direct references to it. It integrated Godzilla into the Marvel Universe. It was published from 1977 to 1979, fitting between the Showa Period movies and the Heisei Era. This series described the adventures and confrontations of Godzilla in the United States.
Between 1996 and 1998 Random House published four books by Marc Cerasini featuring Godzilla and other kaiju of the Toho franchise: Godzilla Returns, Godzilla 2000 (unrelated to the film of the same name), Godzilla at World's End, and Godzilla vs. the Robot Monsters. The release of a fifth book, Godzilla and the Lost Continent was planned but was canceled when Random House's license for Godzilla expired.
On September 23, 2004 Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters by William M. Tsutsui was released by Palgrave Macmillan. The book was released to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Godzilla and looks into some of the ways Godzilla has become a simple part of everyday life for fans.