Midday Movies: What Is Kaiju?
Before You See ‘Pacific Rim’ Learn What Japanese Monsters Are All About
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Aired 7/10/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts Reporter and Author the Blog Cinema Junkie
Dr. Ramie Tateishi, Assistant Professor at National University
Miguel Rodriguez, Host of Monster Island Resort Podcast and Director of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival
Guillermo Del Toro is known for giving us sympathetic monsters in films such as "Cronos" and "Hellboy" but this time he serves up a legion of giant monsters out to destroy humanity. The monsters are call kaiju, which is a Japanese word for “strange beast.” But the term has also come to define a very specific kind of Japanese sci-fi and fantasy film, and to some purists, what Del Toro is doing is misappropriating the term.
Miguel Rodriguez objects to the fact that in "Pacific Rim" the so-called kaiju have no names, no personality, and are too easily defeated by humans. In Japan, the genre started with "Gojira" in 1954, and he was a personification of the atom bomb. Humans were not capable of destroying kaiju, only nature or other kaiju could do that job.
Ramie Tateishi says kaiju in Japan are like a force of nature and offer a variation on the yokai of Japanese mythology. He also notes that the kaiju in Japanese movies were generally played by men in suits and drew on traditions of Noh Theater.
Some must-see Toho kaiju movies would include: "Gojira" (1954), "The Mysterians" (1957), "Mothra" (1961), "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" (1962), "Mothra Vs. Godzilla" (1964), "Ghidorah" (1964), "Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero" (1965)"Destroy All Monsters" (1968), "Godzilla Vs. Destroyah" (1995), "Rebirth of Mothra" (1996), "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" (2001), "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." (2003), "Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004).
You can find a list of Toho kaiju films here.
Here's a trailer for Godzilla's kaiju battle royale, "Destroy All Monsters," the film we watch in the segment.
Here's the trailer for "Pacific Rim" for comparison of the depiction of kaiju.
And check out Gamera, guardian of the universe, friend to all the chichildrendrean, and a flying turtle.