September 17, 2007

My Kaiju Credentials

My first interaction with Godzilla came with a small action figure I'm sure most boys had as children, the seven inch tall green monstrosity with bloody lips and a silver chest. I was a mere toddler when I first acquired it, and it wasn't till my preteen years where I decided to explore the world behind this plastic articulated doll.

The first Godzilla film I ever watched was Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, followed by Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla 1985. That's all the local video rental store had. I began to amass my own library of Godzilla titles by buying VHS copies of movies such as Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and recording titles such as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Son of Godzilla off of TV. Eventually I had every single movie featuring Godzilla or one of his well known monster allies like Mothra and Rodan. Now with the advent of that new-fangled technology Digital Versatile Discs I'm buying them all over again. At least these copies won't wear out and sometimes feature subtitles. True fans watch their kaiju flicks with original Japanese tracks.

Favorite Kaiju: Godzilla, Gigan, Biollante, and Varan
Favorite Godzilla Movies: Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, and Godzilla.
Favorite Godzilla Era: Heisei

Perhaps as a testament to my Godzilla fandom, I tied for first place with two others in a 1998 Godzilla trivia contest on America Online. This remains as one of my life's great accomplishments 26 years later. The contest was held mostly to promote the American Godzilla movie that came out that year. You know, the one featuring the mutated iguana that is mostly reviled by fans and non-fans of Godzilla movies alike. But the triva questions, I think ten, were mostly about the Japanese series. Questions about Mechagodzilla's weight and what other book did Marc Cerasini, who created a series of original Godzilla books, write? I was mostly aided by a book I owned called The Official Godzilla Compendium, a treasure-trove of information about "The Living Nuclear Weapon". My prize consisted of Godzilla-centered literature, such as a few books by the aforementioned Cerasini and Scott Ciencin, a "making of" book for the American Godzilla movie, and even the novelization of that very movie. Also, another copy of the Compendium. I guess I wasn't supposed to have my own before partaking in the contest.

Let me talk more about the prize. In the mid-90's, publisher Random House received the rights from Toho, Godzilla's movie studio, to publish original books based on their kaiju franchise. The powers that be turned the pen to authors Scott Ciencin and Marc Cerasini to craft whole new adventures for the King of the Monsters. To my knowledge, this is the first instance of original Godzilla books for an American audience only.

Scott Ciencin's stories were written with the younger crowd in mind, featuring children costarring with the large lovable lizard lug. It's been a long time since I read them, but I do recall them being serviceable for its audience. But as I wasn't in the target age group, I can indeed confirm they were for a younger crowd, who I'm sure loved the book.

Then there's Marc Cerasini, an accomplished author and lifelong Godzilla fan who was given the job of writing a different set of books for an older audience. Books based on the concept of giant monsters smashing Japanese cities? Without any pictures? The results of this project had the potential to suck very badly if they turned it over to someone who saw the kaiju (giant monster) genre as nothing more than men-in-latex-monster-costumes tromping through cardboard sets of mock buildings. The dialogue would probably have been as horrendous as the dubbing for the American release of Godzilla 2000, where they substituted the original lines for awful tripe. But as you read Cerasini's take on "G", you discover that the author actually cares for what he writes instead of going for a quick n' easy cash-in, because we all know Godzilla fans would have laid down a paper Lincoln portrait for this book before knowing if it were worth it. I know I would have. But since this was only the first in a series, if we didn't like it, why the hell would we buy its sequels? And why the hell is spell checker telling me that "dialogue" is spelled incorrectly?

Speaking of books with pictures, there's also my small collection of Godzilla comics. Two different series created by two different comic houses (Marvel and Dark Horse) in two different time periods (1977-1979 and 1987-1999). In Marvel land, a green Godzilla with back fins who breathed real fire as opposed to to a radioactive beam surfaces in the United States and goes on a country-wide tour throughout its 24 issues, where he encounters quite a few well-known Marvel heroes. Dark Horse featured a correctly drawn Godzilla who faces a new myriad of monsters, as well as being sent through time to experience key events in human history. I only have a few issues from each series, but I am looking to expand my collection.

I can't claim to be a "hardcore" kaiju-phile. I couldn't tell you the names of the actors that performed as the monsters, nor can I remember the real and on-screen names of the supporting cast of humans. I do know a horde of info about the actual movies and monsters themselves. The whole reason for this blog entry is sort of an introduction to what will be a host of reviews of Godzilla's films and books. And to show off my qualifications.

And that's just the way it is.
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