What does Godzilla mean to me? All I had were half-remembered fragments. A sense that I loved his adventures but no concrete reasons why. Most of his movies I hadn’t seen since childhood. Some not at all. I could remember all the monsters — Biollante, Destoroyah, Mothra, Rodan, Gigan, Godzilla himself. But the stories? I had to watch them all again. Who was this character who sat large in my mind, so ill-defined?
The best way to find those answers was to watch them all back-to-back — and then to take the question to the G-man himself.
Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan
It’s often said that when a child is born he or she will look like a scrunchy old person. Mine sure did. Your son — although decidedly not human — also looks like an old man. An old man by way of the Pillsbury Doughboy. A hint of cherub if you squint. Son of Godzilla (released in Western markets as Godzilla’s Revenge) was the first film to feature Minya / Manilla, your darling baby boy. Your stories between Mothra vs. Godzilla and Son became increasingly geared towards children, welcoming new director Jun Fukuda and an adventure-movie tone. This is very much the peak of of that era.
Naturally the movie follows a group of human characters — scientists, journalists, etc. — on a secret mission of sorts. In this case, it’s a United Nations weather-control experiment. Like Ebhirah, Horror of the Deep (Godzilla v. the Sea Monster), the film directly preceding this, Fukunda welcomes the mid-’60s beach party aesthetic in his group of dorky people exploring your home island. During one of their excursions, they come across a giant egg and witness Minya hatch; soon they find themselves trapped in a battle between Kumonga the Giant Spider and you, as you work to defend a son who seems like no more than a pest to you.
Minya was designed to appeal to a younger audience, which, after seven films in the series, was really the only market for your adventures in the mid-1960’s. He must have worked because he would appear in two more films directly following and be revived for the ’90s series (as Godzilla, Jr.) and the grand Avengers: Endgame-esque goodbye in 2004, Godzilla: Final Wars. For decades, self-serious adult fans of Godzilla have shat on the run of films that feature dear Minya precisely because of his childlike ways.
Hijinks define this first film. Minya wants your attention. The soundtrack and aesthetic couldn’t be farther from your first feature. He hops on your tail, follows you around, blows smoke rings in the same way Simba tries to roar. Slapstick is kind of his forté. He is, frankly, a dope. And throughout the film, you come across as an absentee father. When you sleep, he wakes you; when you hunt, he shadows you. Always in the way. Never the object of affection. In fact, your solution to his smoke-ring problem is creating stressful situations, like stepping on his tail, to help him shoot radioactive breath. Abuse or physical comedy? I’m certainly not taking parenting lessons from you.
There was no hint of self-serious social commentary to be found in Son of Godzilla, and it definitely felt like the start of your downturn as a horror monster into something more heroic and human. The trend continued into Destroy All Monsters before, suddenly, the series used your presence as a metaphor for children’s troubles in All Monsters Attack and Godzilla v. Hedorah. We’ll talk about the latter one next time. It’s an era that haunts the franchise to this day, as every subsequent entry has mostly tried to prove itself grittier, darker, “truer” to the “spirit” of the character. But only with Minya are you ever in your purest, silliest, funniest form. And it is your ability to harness both those types of stories that really sets you apart from other, less-prominent movie monsters.
To be clear, Son of Godzilla is not without emotional heft. Maybe it’s the new dad in me, but your struggles with new parenthood are simply delightful. Indeed, they’re also touching; the final sequence sees you cradling Minya as feet of snow fall upon the two of you, a result of the weather-change device turning your tropical paradise into an arctic wasteland. Although the humans say you’ll hibernate and be fine (not really a reptile trait, but …), it’s a familiar image from your darker adventures — a big monster who just wants to be left alone getting shat upon by human misadventure. At least you have your boy.
New installments of Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan will post regularly leading up to the May 31 release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.