Godzilla is the star of a series of 33 Japanese films and 4 American films that began in 1954. Produced by the Toho Company, and directed by Ishiro Honda, the original film, simply titled, Gojira, saw the giant lizard destroy Tokyo before being defeated by a new type of weapon that disintegrates oxygen atoms, thus suffocating the creature.
The film was a metaphor that encapsulated Japan’s fears and anxieties surrounding the atomic bomb and the destruction of two of its major cities during World War II. But to a lot of people, it was just a cool monster movie with a guy in a rubber suit smashing up scale model buildings.
The roughly $275,000 film would go on to make $2.8 million in its native Japan and essentially started an entire genre of Japanese entertainment called tokusatsu. Tokusatsu are live-action TV shows and films that feature exciting stories of superheroes battling monster and robot enemies. Many tokusatsu were developed as a response to the Godzilla craze, including Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and Super Sentai, which would later be repackaged for the US as The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Godzilla also inspired a subgenre of tokusatsu – the kaiju film. Translated, kaiju means “strange beast”, and has since become a general term for any giant monsters that present a problem for the heroes. Sometimes the kaiju are fought by human heroes, sometimes by giant robots created by humans, and other times the monsters go mano y mano and the humans are forced to just stand by and watch. Godzilla directly spawned franchises like Mothra and Gamera, and has inspired films like Pacific Rim, Cloverfield, and Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host.
In 1956, two years after his Japanese debut, Godzilla was brought to America in the form of the film Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, starring Raymond Burr as an American reporter in Japan. Scenes featuring Burr were shot and cut into the original Godzilla to help make the film more palatable for American audiences. The film was a mild success, bringing in about $2 million, but more importantly, it introduced kaiju to American audiences, especially kids.
As TVs became more prevalent in American households in the 1960s, so did the need for programming. Many television stations turned to syndicated TV shows and movies, especially during non-prime time slots like Saturday afternoons and late at night. Tokusatsu shows and kaiju movies, as well as Japanese animated shows like Speed Racer and Gigantor, were cheap to license, so they were soon found all over the dial to fuel the already burgeoning Monster Kids craze of the 1960s and 70s. It wasn’t long before an entire generation was hooked on these giant, rubber monsters.
To ride the wave of popular Japanese entertainment, Marvel Comics made an agreement with Toho Studios in 1976 to license Godzilla for an American comic book series. Titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the comic was written by Doug Moench with art by Herb Trimpe, and ran for a total of 26 issues between 1977 and 1979. Marvel had only licensed Godzilla, not his supporting cast of kaiju, so Marvel had to create their own enemies for Godzilla to fight, like a giant Bigfoot named Yetrigar, as well as a giant robot named Red Ronin, inspired by the super robot craze in Japan.
In 1979, perhaps as a reaction to Marvel producing Shogun Warriors, a comic book tie-in promoting Mattel’s licensed super robot toys from Japan, Toho suddenly demanded more money to use Godzilla. Marvel decided the return on investment wasn’t enough and the comic ceased publication.
The record I have here is a direct tie-in with the Marvel Comics series. Produced in 1977 by Wonderland Records, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, features two original stories, Godzilla vs Amphibion and Godzilla vs The Alien Invasion. While the stories may not have been taken from the comic, the cover for the record is the same Herb Trimpe artwork as the cover of the first issue of the Marvel comic.
If you’d like to hear this record, it’s featured on an episode of my podcast, When You Hear This Sound!