Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: ABGT Face-Off: Japanese Kaiju vs Giant American Monsters

April 7, 2016 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Godzilla vs Kong

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Welcome to A Bloody Good Time! Or, if you just couldn’t handle a month of Freddy’s Nightmares, welcome back to A Bloody Good Time!

This week features the second-ever Face Off! This is similiar to the Knockout Tournaments we do ever year, only it’s limited to two different horror-related things. There’s no method to my madness here. I pick two similar topics and compare and contrast them, then you decide which one is better. If you missed our first edtion, we covered Troma vs Full Moon. You guys voted Full Moon to win that one, but it was really, really close. So let’s get to this week’s edition, and thanks to Jeremy Thomas for providing the logo! I’m really terrible with logos, guys. You wouldn’t want me doing it.

This week we’re examining giant movie monsters. But unlike our Knockout tournaments, we’re not pitting two simple monsters and pitting them against each other. Instead, we take certain types and use that. So this week, we’re going to compare Japanese giant movie monsters (or kaiju) with American giant movie monsters. We don’t really have a word. For the purposes of this article, I’m just going to say Kaiju vs Monsters. It’s not entirely accurate, but you get the idea.

The face-off works like this. I introduce both subjects, then put them head-to-head in five rounds. After that, I give my verdict and let you vote for your own choice.

I don’t think we really need introductions in this case, but I’ll do it anyway. When I’m talking about monster movies, I mean giant abominations destroying cities and eating people whole. It’s just a giant unholy abomination that we could never hope to fight without resorting to nuclear weapons or something.

Over on the Japan side, Toho is king. You know who their biggest creation is, even if you’ve never seen a monster movie in your life (hint: he’s up there in the logo and he’s not an ape). They didn’t invent the giant monster game, but they certainly perfected it. Even some of their minor characters are semi well-known over here, and they even used King Kong when we weren’t doing anything with him. Even their anime has giant monsters in it, as Attack on Titan is fairly popular in the States.

That’s not to say Americans are slouches. We have King Kong and thanks to the advent of CGI we’ve been getting better at bringing more monsters to the screen. Now there are other options when the longest time it was Kong or “that movie with the giant animal”. Toho may have dominated with their rubber suits, but America is stepping up to show that we can make giant monsters too! USA! USA! USA!

Sorry about that.

So let’s ring the bell for this five-round battle and determine who really brings the best monsters to the table. Obviously we have to go with the biggest choices first.


Round 1: Godzilla vs King Kong

There’s no other way around it. Godzilla is Japanese kaiju, while even after all this time, King Kong is USA’s best representative of a giant monster movie. But which one is objectively better? Let’s ignore the fact that King Kong actually beat Godzilla in the Japanese movie where they met, because that was Toho’s King Kong and they changed him quite a bit to make him a bigger opponent for Gojira.

When it comes to longevity, King Kong has been around twenty years longer than Godzilla has. He had his first movie in 1933, with Willis O’Brien bringing him to life with a combination of puppet effects and stop-motion animation. Since then, he’s been brought back in two remakes (1976 and 2005), as well as a sequel (1986’s King Kong Lives). Even his kid got a movie in 1933’s The Son of Kong. He’ll also get another movie next year with a big reboot from Warner Bros coming next year.

Kong may have been around longer, but Godzilla’s been in many more movies. If we ignore the American films (and please, let’s all ignore the 1998 Godzilla movie as much as we can), then he’s appeared in a total of 28 films, with Godzilla Resurgence on the way this year. If there’s one thing you can count on Toho for, it’s bringing back their cash cow any time America threatens to do their own version.

So which one is better? I think simply for name value, Godzilla is the best choice. He’s the very thing anyone thinks of when someone talks about giant monster movies. If it wasn’t for Godzilla, a lot of the later monsters that followed probably wouldn’t exist. Toho certainly wouldn’t be as big as it is. He’s the King of the Monsters for a reason.

Winner: Japan


Round 2: Monster Rosters

Obviously, Godzilla and King Kong aren’t the only monsters that both countries have to offer. Toho alone has a huge roster of monsters they can use at any time, while there are still other non-Toho creations that also have their followings. America’s no slouch either. We don’t have as many modern monsters, but we made plenty during the 1950 when those kind of movies were all the rage. So who has the deepest roster?

On the Japan side, let’s look at Toho. They have so many monsters that the Godzilla films regularly feature “Monster Island” to house them all. We could be here for a while naming them. So let’s just look at the memorable ones. Rodan and Mothra had their own movies before they joined Godzilla. King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla are probably his most well-known enemies.

As far as non-Toho creations go, you have Gamera. What can I say about Gamera? He’s a giant turtle that can fly when he spins in the air and flames shoot out of his shell. That sounds ridiculous but he’s also had a successful series of movies. He’s a friend to the children!

During America’s biggest period for monster movies, we had a giant version of anything you can imagine. Giant ants (Them), giant spiders (Tarantula), giant birds (The Giant Claw), you get the point. That’s not even including the more famous movies from the era like Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and It Came From Beneath The Sea. B-movies were very popular during the 50s and many of these were made cheaply. However, you can usually tell what movies were good by which ones Ray Harryhausen worked on.

In the modern era, Americans rely more on CGI, and yet the monster roster is still small. Outside of new versions of King Kong and American Godzilla, all we have is Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. Both films were successful and at least one of them got a sequel. Pacific Rim 2 is currently in development hell. If you go outside the realm of Hollywood, then you have Syfy going back to the 1950s style with a variety of giant somethings to attack people.

Japan wins this round too, simply because Americans drag their feet on making monster movies for everyone.

Winner: Japan


Round 3: Movie Quality

So Japan has America beat in the quantity department, with Godzilla’s longevity and Toho’s huge roster showing up our best selections. However with anything worthwhile, quality is what’s important. So which country has the better monster movies?

In Japan, there are quite a few movies that are fun, but are they good films? Well, at least one is. 1954’s Gojira is a haunting movie that scared a lot of people when it was first released, a decade after the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even now it features some tragic moments and plays the concept entirely straight. People who usually deride the Godzilla movies probably lump the original in with them without having seen it.

As for the other movies from Japan, it depends on how you feel. A lot of the Toho movies were cheap and look it, but there are some that are quite fun. Several Godzilla movies are entertaining and both the Mothra and Gamera reboot franchises were well-received.

Over here in USA, we have King Kong. The original 1933 Kong is considered one of the best films of all time and inspired filmmakers like Peter Jackson to do what they do now. Most can marvel at it for the sheer amount of work it took to create Kong and bring him to life in that time period. I remember watching it on TCM a couple of years ago with a friend. He normally doesn’t watch this kind of thing and even he was impressed. Kong also benefits from a classic story, which translated to two decent remakes that only suffer because they’re not the original.

Meanwhile, Cloverfield had decent reviews when it came out. I personally thought it was only average…then got ripped apart in the comment section for it, but that’s not the point. A lot of people really enjoyed Pacific Rim as well. While neither could be considered as groundbreaking or essential movies as Kong, they have plenty of entertainment value. You can’t go wrong with giant monsters fighting giant robots. It’s why so many kids loved Power Rangers in the 90s.

I think America has to take it this time, solely for King Kong. That movie remains one of the best examples of how everything can go right in Hollywood to make a classic.

Winner: USA


Round 4: Movie Success and Popularity

This one is going to be tough to properly analyze, because I don’t really have extensive box office numbers for Japan. Plus there’s going to be a huge difference between the numbers when you compare Japanese currency in 1954 to say, 2013 American currency.

You would think that Japan would certainly have this category all wrapped up thanks to Godzilla. He’s everywhere. Everyone knows who he is. Everyone knew who he was before Americans even touched the property with their own version. Japan could only have the Godzilla series and would still have a huge advantage.

However, the previously mentioned Cloverfield and Pacific Rim are franchises of their own (in theory). Even the dumb movies that show up on Syfy usually give that network decent ratings. While it doesn’t count for the purposes of this article, the Sharknado series is far more successful than it has any right to be. Movies like Sharktopus, a better example, were also successful for TV movies.

USA is doing well with their movies, but when you have the King of the Monsters on your roster, you’re going to win in the success department.

Winner: Japan


Round 5: Monster Design

This one all depends on personal tastes, which is why I’m keeping it relatively short. Who does a better job with making their monsters stand out and seem unique?

USA is not exactly original when it comes to our monsters. Cloverfield had one of the more unique designs and it’s really hard to tell what it is for 3/4 of the movie. Guillermo del Toro did a much better job with Pacific Rim, as each kaiju looked different from the last just as each of the Jaegers looked different.

However, when you consider our history before that, it’s not good. I’m not even talking from a special effects standpoint. Making movies about giant spiders or giant ants is just lazy. It takes no creativity to just point to a given creature and say, “What if that were fifty feet tall?”

I’m not saying Japan is perfect, but at least you can pick Gamera out of the crowd. Gigan looks like nothing else in film. Even Godzilla, who looks like (and actually was at one point) an irradiated dinosaur, has different designs all throughout his series. I think for variety, you have to give it to Japan.

Winner: Japan

Let’s face it, this is a very lop-sided win for Japan, at least for me. My love of Godzilla is well-documented, plus their roster of giant monsters is too cool to be ignored. USA’s catching up, and doing it quickly with cool movies like Pacific Rim, but we’ve still got a lot of ground to cover. However, it’s not up to me. That’s what the poll is for! I’ll reveal the results next week. It’s time for you to decide: Japan or America?

Next week is the return of another ABGT favorite, where I pick a year and name the ten best movies! Yes, I’ve developed enough sub-columns within ABGT that I can just rotate them out constantly. I’ve been doing this for nine years, give me a break.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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