By Chuck Francisco
Japanese giant monster movies were as standard a part of my childhood diet as bacon and eggs; which explains not only my shameless glee at every Kaiju Monster Movie advertisement, but also my high cholesterol. The mere thought of a rubber suit monster river dancing all over a scale model downtown district fires all of my nostalgia neurons. And in the haze of reminiscion which follows, it's often difficult to set order to all of the creative imagery bursting forth from the speculative atomic horror cinema of Japan. With that, I've plumbed the depths of my Kaiju knowledge; constructing lists which span the breadth of rubber suit and miniature wizardry. First up a profiling of the coolest Kaiju; a list which probably doesn't hold many surprises. What is shocking is how many awesome beasts couldn't make the cut. Before you ask, yes: all mecha and space monster variants were considered for inclusion. I don't discriminate because someone's made of (faux) metal or from outer space; my primary concern is how awesome the spectacle of their majesty is.
One of the earliest and most recognizable Kaiju, Rodan is a massive winged master of the clouds whose design is based on the Pterosaur. Able to attain a speed of Mach 1.5 and with a wingspan of two hundred meters, from the outset Rodan could level entire cities with the hurricane force winds generated from his wings (and from a powerful breathability, though that went away after his debut film). The origin film of the same title from 1956 wasn't a parable about the dangers of atomic energy like Godzilla films; instead warning about the dangers of unsafe mining operations and human greed. Rodan was one of the original Kaiju to align with Godzilla as a defender of Earth, doing so for the first time in Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, cementing a legacy as the most famous of the winged Kaiju.
Guiron is perhaps the least well-known entity to make this list, having appeared in only one film, Gamera vs Guiron. At least his name made the marquee, I suppose. A quadrupedal Kaiju who appears patterned on a canine with shark skin, Guiron's most prominent feature is his massive blade head. The intention was to base his name on the word "guillotine" but due to confusion between r and l at translation, his name sounds more suited to construction work. Armed with a blade so sharp that it has the ability to rend Gamera's shell and so polished that it reflects back laser blasts, Guiron is like the faithful guard doggie we all wanted as children but couldn't have due to the ever-present danger of decapitation (Space Gyaos learns that lesson for us). If that isn't cool enough, he can also launch shuriken and is owned by sexy (brain eating) space babes.
3. King Ghidorah
Not only has the golden, three-headed space dragon Ghidorah featured in several of the most pivotal Kaiju films to come out of the land of the rising sun, he also typically stands toe to toe with Godzilla, king of the monsters, until the latter flinches then calls for aid. Possessed of a number of breath weapons and capable of generation hurricane-strength winds, Ghidorah is a massive monster who commonly wreaks unparalleled levels of destruction. In his first appearance, it takes the combined might of Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan (the three biggest names in rubber monsters of the time) to take him down. For how awesome he is, it turns out he's absurdly susceptible to alien mind control, which he's whammied with again and again in the name of setting the stage for epic monster showdowns. (Mecha King Ghidorah owns too by the way; and he comes with rich Corinthian leather seats and cup holders for seven)
2. King Kong
Yes, that King Kong. The great ape which you know and love enjoyed a brief 60's stint as a Kaiju thanks to the wonderful folks at Toho. Gut reactions may include shock and disapproval, but I urge you to stop and consider that this is legitimately a case of the folks behind Godzilla geeking out. They committed to celluloid a hypothetical conversation which until then had only lived in the imagination of children: who would win in a fight between Godzilla and King Kong? True, in his original form Kong is vastly dwarfed by Japan's finest. To make this a fair fight the king of Skull Island is adjusted to roughly the same height as Godzilla for King Kong vs Godzilla, and he remained that way for his second Toho film King Kong Escapes (where he faces off against Mechani-Kong!). These films also mark the first time Kong appeared in color. Bonus.
Who did you expect to find here, Gamera? Dude's full of turtle meat. There's a reason Godzilla is called the King of the Monsters and it isn't because of his amazingly minty-fresh atomic breath. This star of almost 30 films, and innumerable comics, novels, and cartoon television series, has irrevocably become enmeshed in our pop culture sensibilities. Excising him would prove more impossible than containing his wanton destruction. He isn't the fastest Kaiju, nor the strongest, most heavily armed or armored, but Godzilla's got heart to spare. Even before becoming the premiere giant monster protector of the Earth, this lizard refused to give up or be stopped. Watching the earliest of his films, it's interesting to observe the process of his transformation from frightening destructor to beloved protector in the eyes of the human characters. Hail to the king, baby.
Who is your favorite Kaiju and who is their most epic opponent?
Chuck Francisco has written for Mania, Exploitation Retrospect, Cinadelphia, Pop Kernal, and The Midnight Cheese. He is a performer and committee member for Blobfest, the annual celebration of 1958's The Blob. He's also a swing dancer, cocktail enthusiast, and right dapper gent. Follow him on Instagram because why not?