With possibly two new Godzilla films coming to theatres in 2023*, it may be time to refresh your memory and appreciation of the previous films in the franchise. And what better way to do it than with a brand-new book about them? And perhaps re-reading some of the content in your older book and movie collection (especially that Criterion Collection of the first 15 Godzilla films on Blu-Ray — see below — which you can start watching now to build your anticipation for the new films!).
Godzilla: The Official Guide to the King of the Monsters was released this week, just in time to make holiday gift-giving lists. It’s a large-format hardcover, 256 pages, indexed, written by Graham Skipper (Welbeck Publishing, London, 2022) and is the first English-language book about the franchise authorized by Toho, the Japanese studio that gave us the original Godzilla films.
Each of the franchise’s films gets a full-page listing, as does each of the film eras (Showa, Heisei, Millennium, Reiwa, American) with a final chapter on Godzilla in other media. The book is rich in colour and B&W photographs from both the films and the production sets, as well as colour reproductions of the Japanese movie posters. It’s a beautiful book, well produced, and printed on heavy, glossy stock. It belongs on the bookshelf of every kaiju** fan. But…
Some basic information is missing from this new title. Movie running times, for example. Exact release dates (only the year is given). Detailled information about the edited American releases (dates, changes, inserted scenes, etc.). release dates and producers for VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray editions. Transliterations of Japanese titles. A glossary.
Fortunately, most of this is easily available in some of the previous Godzilla books that aficionados likely already own (if not, add them to your holiday list!).
Top of that list is Brian Solomon’s Godzilla FAQ; All That’s Left to Know About The King of the Monsters (358 pages, indexed, Applause Cinema & Theatre Books, Milwaukee, 2017; see photo above). Solomon provides a lot of the missing details, as well as a wealth of history and politics behind each film, the actors, the studios, and so on.
Solomon’s book is a delight to read and offers terrific insight into the franchise, sets, effects, actors, and the production process. It is well-illustrated with B&W and colour photos from the sets, posters, and films. It, however, has little more than passing commentary on the recent American films, and his detailled coverage of Toho movies ends with the 2004 film, Godzilla: Final Wars. He mentions the later Shin Godzilla, but without any real details (time for an updated edition!)
Backing that up in the two-volume (paperback) set by John Lemay: The Big Book of Japanese Monster Movies (Bicep Books, 2017). Volume 1 (revised edition, 293 pages) covers 1954-1982; Volume 2 (revised edition, 229 pages) covers 1984-2017. The cover of V2 says 2014, but the revised edition has three more years of movies and includes Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence) and Kong: Skull Island.
Neither book is indexed. Lemay covers not only Godzilla films, but all of the parallel and collateral films from Japan that belong in the monster-horror-scifi genres (tokusatsu and kaiju). He provides release dates, basic information, storyline, commentary, and “trivia,” but not running times. There seems to be an updated (3rd edition?) version of volume 2 that covers up to 2019.
Additionally, Lemay wrote a significant book (also paperback) to accompany his first two: The Big Book of Japanese Monster Movies: The Lost Films (Biceps Books, 2017, 386 pages, indexed). This includes films planned but never made, films made and released but never re-released on any media, and some that went directly to video (and may never have had a North American or European release). There are more than 60 index entries for Godzilla, many referring to films released within the franchise. I sorely wish we had been able to see Bride of Godzilla and Batman vs Godzilla...
Lemay’s first two books have no illustrations; Lost Films has two or three grainy B&W images. Still, they are an invaluable source of information when you want to dive deeper into the backgrounds of these films. Lemay has written many similar books on films, particularly cult films.
For real film buffs, Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters is a must (large format paperback, 206 pages, indexed. by August Ragone, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2007). It documents with many photographs the life and work of Japan’s most famous special effects master who gave us such film characters as Godzilla, Ultraman, Booska, Ebirah, King Ghidorah, and many more. Indispensable book if you want to get an inside view of Japanese tokusatsu (special effects) film techniques.
A final book on Godzilla worth a mention is William Tsutsui’s Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters (240 pages, indexed, 2004, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire). A combination of film review, history, memoir, and commentary on pop culture, it’s an entertaining and informative read from a dedicated fan of the franchise. It has a few B&W illustrations, too. He has a wonderful line (p. 212):
Godzilla gives us so much, and yet asks for so little in return.
Unfortunately, Tsutsui’s entertaining coverage of the films ends in 2000, so he doesn’t get into the later films at all (including Godzilla: Final Wars). Although he does discuss the 1998 American film (which he labels GINO: Godzilla In Name Only), his book ends before any of the Monsterverse films were released. I’d love to read an updated version of this book, too. You can see him in a video lecturing about Godzilla as a cultural icon here.
The final source of information is in the large hardcover book that companies the Criterion Collection edition of the first 15 Godzilla films (the Showa era films 1954-75), all on Blu-Ray. Each film gets a page of notes with technical details such as audio format, running time, subtitles, aspect ratio, cast, and credits. Plus there are notes about the film, its history, special effects, and story. Unique artwork for each film was commissioned by Criterion and these images add to the stunning beauty of this book.
If you are any sort of Godzilla aficionado, you will already own this collection. The film transfers are superb, and the extras that accompany the films make it even better.
UPDATE, April 2023: I added two books to my collection recently, but I can recommend neither. Both are amateurishly designed, laid out, and written. As a former editor, writer, and author I would have been embarrassed to release them under my own name. Save your money instead of buying these:
- Godzilla Reviewed: 2021 Edition, by Steve Hutchinson, independently published 2021. Frankly a piece of amateurish crap in desperate need of an editor, and not actual reviews: just three paragraphs of vague or generic (and often poorly-written) opinions per film, without even basic info about the film, such as full release dates, running times, cast, special effects, director, composer, etc. It’s more a thin booklet with one guy’s rather lame and incomplete opinions than a book. I don’t refer to this, but it’s in my collection.
- The Ultimate Godzilla Trivia Book, by Mark Hayden, self-published, 2021. An abuse of the word “ultimate.” It’s more like a brochure of content taken from the internet, using too-large print, poorly formatted, with a dreary layout and a single typeface. It lacks even basic information like a list of films, actors, release dates, running times, etc. Its 87 pages could easily fit in less than 40 if formatted and laid out by anyone with graphic or layout experience. And some basic grammar and punctuation would have helped. A waste of money.
My previous posts about Godzilla include:
- Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, and Kong
- The Godzilla Soundtracks
- Shin Godzilla: the reboot
- The Three Godzillas: Size Matters
- Big G and Me
- Gojira, the original kaiju
- Kong and his films
PS. You don’t have to watch the Toho Godzilla films in strict chronological order because most are not directly related to the stories of previous films. Only few are actually sequels, and even those can be watched out of order (if you do want to see them in order, see the note below). But I always recommend starting with the 1954 original Gojira (not the 1956 American edit with Raymond Burr). ***
* According to a story on IGN, both Toho and Universal’s American Monsterverse companies will be releasing Godzilla films:
The new film marks Toho’s first Godzilla movie since 2016’s Shin Godzilla. In our Shin Godzilla review, we said the movie, “provides a new origin for the legendary kaiju, establishing its own unique style while taking inspiration from the classics in all the right ways.” The untitled 2023 Godzilla film marks the 33rd Toho Godzilla movie, and the 37th Godzilla movie overall.
On the American side of things, Warner Bros, and Legendary Pictures are working on a MonsterVerse sequel to 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong. The follow-up will see Godzilla and King Kong team up to fight “a colossal undiscovered threat hidden within our world”.
A YouTube preview earlier this year suggested the new Monsterverse film would be called Titan War. But a more recent Yahoo News story suggests it will be the more prosaic and uninspired, Godzilla vs Kong 2. You can read my review of the first Godzilla vs Kong film here.
Of course, I hope to see and own both. I own all of the other Godzilla films on DVD or Blue-Ray except Godzilla vs Biollante, which has never been re-released due to licensing squabbles. I do not own the three animated Godzilla films that appeared on Netflix but after attempting to watch one and giving up after 30 minutes, decided they simply did not belong in my collection because I was unlikely to ever watch them.
** Kaiju, also kyuju, kaijyu, and kaizyu, means “strange beast” in Japanese but usually translated simply as “monster.” Properly, Godzilla is a daikaiju which means “giant monster.”
Another term you’ll likely run into in these books is tokusatsu, which means “special effects.” Wikipedia calls tokusatsu, “one of the most popular forms of Japanese entertainment, but only a small proportion of tokusatsu films and television programs are widely known outside of Japan.”
*** Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) — sequel: Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965).
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) — sequel: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) — direct sequel: Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). Most Toho sequels are not this well-connected.
The Return of Godzilla (1984) was intended as a sequel to the 1954 original, ignoring all intervening films and their kaiju. All of the Heisei-era films basically ignored events from the post-1954 Showa films, although they incorporated some of the other kaiju.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) — sequel: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), not, as you might expect, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974).
Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999) again resets the timeline and is a sequel to the 1954 original.
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) does the same: resetting the timeline as a sequel to 1954.
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) did it again, ignoring the events of the 1984 film.
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) was another reset of the timeline — sequel: Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).
Godzilla (Monsterverse, 2014, a reimagining of the 1954 original) — direct sequel: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) —direct sequel: Godzilla vs Kong (2021).
See here and also IGN for details.