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Celebrating Godzilla at 70

In 1954 Godzilla was born out of an atomic blast in Toho Studios' "Gojira." (1954)
In 1954 Godzilla was born out of an atomic blast in Toho Studios' "Gojira." (1954)

Film Geeks SD will celebrate Godzilla's 70th birthday with a year-long series of films at Digital Gym Cinema. The series, Godzilla Showa Era, kicks off Sunday at noon with the double feature of "Gojira" (1954) and "Godzilla Raids Again" (1955), and continues with one film program a month. The Showa Era refers to Emperor Shōwa who reigned in Japan from 1929 to 1989.

Godzilla Showa Era Schedule (all films are Sundays at noon at Digital Gym Cinema and will be in Japanese with English subtitles)
Jan. 14: "Gojira" / "Godzilla Raids Again"
Feb. 4: "King Kong Vs. Godzilla"
March 10: "Mothra Vs. Godzilla"
April 14: "Greatest Battle on Earth" (AKA "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster")
May 19: "Godzilla Vs Monster Zero" (AKA "Invasion of Astro Monster")
June 16: "Son of Godzilla" (for Father's Day)
July 21: "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep"
Aug. 11: "Destroy All Monsters" / "All Monsters Attack" (guest presenter Graham Skipper)
Sept. 15: "Godzilla Vs. Hedorah"
Oct. 20: "Godzilla Vs. Gigan"
Nov. 17: "Godzlla Vs. Megalon"
Dec. 8: "Godzilla Vs. MechaGodzilla" / "Terror of MechaGodzilla"

This is an exciting year for Godzilla fans because it marks his 70th birthday, and he is still not ready to retire.

For full disclosure, I am a lifelong fan of the iconic kaiju and as one of the volunteer programmers with Film Geeks, I helped program this film series because I wanted to see all these movies on the big screen and share them with audiences. The series will showcase all 15 Showa era Godzilla films (1954 to 1975).


Introducing all the films will be my friend and fellow Godzilla enthusiast Ramie Tateishi, who teaches about Japanese science fiction and pop culture at National University.

"I teach the first film as part of an introduction to Japanese cinema series," Tateishi said. "And it's just a great way of talking about Japanese film. And the kinds of issues that it was dealing like the conflict between the greater good versus pursuing your individual desires, certainly the whole issue around the atomic age, the conflict between the traditional and the modern. It's just a great entry point for talking about lots of things related to Japanese history and culture and, of course, cinema, how cinemas were developing at that time."

One of those developments involved special effects and the use of suit actors to bring Godzilla to life. Haruo Nakajima was the first suit actor in Toho's 1954 film. The suit he wore weighed 220 pounds, and was hard to move or even breath in. Watch the video below to see what one of the later suits looked like.

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Last year, Toho released "Godzilla Minus One" in which the creature was created by CGI visual effects. The film, set immediately after World War II and centering on a disgraced kamikaze pilot, proves how the series has been able to reinvent itself and its protagonist. It's fascinating to see how Godzilla has managed to remain relevant and to tackle interesting topics in ways that we don't always expect our pop culture movies and pop culture icons to do.

"It is interesting how the series keeps going back to this issue of some kind of ultimate weapon, some kind of bomb," Tateishi said. "Certainly, that's where the first film started, but you keep seeing it in different iterations and different manifestations as the series goes through. It's like a continuous thematic preoccupation. And that metaphor keeps changing in relation to what's happening in society. So when we had, for example, 'Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah,' in the mid-1990s, it took the fear, anxiety that was around nuclear power. So it changed into a nuclear metaphor as opposed to the atomic metaphor from the atomic age in the 50s."

Haruo Nakajima is the suit actor who first brought Godzilla to life in the 1954 film, "Gojira."
Haruo Nakajima is the suit actor who first brought Godzilla to life in the 1954 film, "Gojira."

Tateishi will be introducing each film, and sharing both academic insights and geeky pop culture trivia.

"I don't want to take a dry approach to this," Tateishi said. "I want to focus on how history, how culture affected the ways that these films came out, mixing that with some really deep dives into different types of trivia about how the films were made, the technology that went into making the films. So, for example, how changes in the suit-making technology, how did that affect the performances of the actors? We'll look at that. We'll look at how did side industries sort of grow out of Godzilla — the toy industry, the publishing industry. And how did those things add to the development of this Godzilla fandom and longevity."

I can't wait to see these films on the big screen and share them with audiences. You may think of Godzilla as just a big monster stomping through Tokyo, but he really represents so much more than that, and this film program plans to make that clear. Plus, I will be baking kaiju cookies to share for each film.