It’s fairly indisputable that Godzilla is one of the great classic movie monsters. It’s a little trickier to figure out which of the 30 (yes, thirty) Godzilla movies represent the Big G the best, especially as they span 60 years, two countries, and a growing realization that no, nuclear radiation probably doesn’t make animals huge and pissed-off. Luckily, Godzilla is a character of sophisticated adaptability. Like any talented thespian, he can match the mood of the production. He changes with the seasons- so here’s a Godzilla flick to match each part of the year.
Spring: Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (or just GMK) (2001)
Spring is a time for rebirth and reinvigoration, breathing life into a dormant world. It makes the perfect backdrop for GMK, which is perhaps the most successful recreation of Godzilla for the 21st century. Godzilla is reincarnated by the souls of all the soldiers that were killed in WWII’s Pacific Theater, as Japan has refused to face up to their role in instigating that conflict. It’s a premise that is at once charmingly goofy and surprisingly thought-provoking. With the supernatural empowering him, the only way to stop Godzilla is by awakening Japan’s Guardian Monsters; old favorites Mothra and King Ghidorah, and adorably puppy-like Baragon essay the heroic parts.
The human story for this one involves a reporter for a two-bit paranormal investigation show and her submarine captain father, as they get mixed up in the monstrous happenings around them. By the end, the two of them have to challenge their preconceptions about each other in order to save the world. It’s broadly sketched, sure (because duh, you gotta leave time for monster battles!) but nonetheless effective at giving some stakes to the conflict. And, like all the best Godzilla movies, GMK has a great sense of humor. Like a fashionable spring coat, GMK leaves Godzilla ready to take on the modern world with style.
Summer: Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Despite our best attempts to enjoy adulthood, it’s hard to deny that the summers of childhood were the most fun. That unbridled, unself-conscious crazy enjoyment we loved can be hard to capture, which makes it all the more impressive that Destroy All Monsters does so. While most Godzilla movies have thin plots, Destroy All Monsters barely has one at all and is only stronger for it. All the world’s giant monsters have been mind-controlled by aliens and used to keep the human race hostage, leaving eight Japanese men in a rocket as our only hope. That’s the story. That’s it. And that’s all you need to set up one of the most ridiculously fun movies ever.
The unintentional hilarity abounds, such as a scene where someone panics at seeing gas leaking under a door and then runs to go open it. But the movie still delivers earnestly and eagerly, providing awe-inspiring scenes of destruction capped off by one of cinema’s biggest monster mashes ever. 11 kaiju meet up to tussle at Mt. Fuji, and with a child’s eye, it remains a very memorable movie moment. The movie also has the benefit of great 1960s color and design, leaving it a treat for the eyes to the vintage enthusiast. It all means Destroy All Monsters is as loud, flashy, and exciting as the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Autumn: Son of Godzilla (1967)
When autumn hits, it’s hard not to feel a little sentimental. With the leaves falling, temperature dropping, and school picking up, you have to wonder just where the time went. It’s a bittersweet, sensitive feeling that is also projected strongly in Son of Godzilla. The story finds a group of UN scientists conducting weather-changing experiments on a tropical island. When one of the experiments goes badly, the island’s insect life balloons to a massive size, a massive egg hatches, and Godzilla shows up for good measure. The UN team must work together to escape out under the feet of all the monsters.
Of course, the real story lies with the monster that hatches from the egg: a tubby, awkward saurian thing called Minya. Like any baby, Minya can’t really deal with the world he’s brought into and gets in trouble a lot. Godzilla, a stern and reluctant paternal figure, protects Minya but offers little affection or patience. The baby is of course fascinated with Godzilla and wants to please him, setting up a funny but heartbreaking dynamic. When this relationship comes to a head in the climax, something remarkable happens- something we won’t spoil, but without fail brings a tear to our eye. In a season where uncertainty and stress desperately need to be vented, Son of Godzilla grants that release in both laughs and tears.
Winter: Gojira (1954)
As winter brings on a new year, we look back on our past and try to learn from it for our future. Sometimes pleasant memories surface, but sometimes unpleasant ones as well. Gojira, the very first Godzilla movie, brings to life a very unpleasant memory from the shared history of the US and Japan. Japan, the only country to ever be nuked, carried a deep-seated fear of atomic annihilation in 1954, and that fear permeates Gojira. It’s a serious movie, with none of the indulgences typical of giant monster movies. When Godzilla shows up, we see the death and carnage he wreaks, and the terror he carries into Tokyo. One particularly affecting moment sees a mother cuddling her children among flames, promising them they’ll see their Daddy in heaven soon.
Here, Godzilla stands in for the effects of the bomb, and allows a very personal view of what it meant to be Japanese at the time. It was a story rarely addressed in those years, its science-fiction premise disguising the fact that it broke what was a very taboo subject in those years. Gojira is illuminating, sobering, and entertaining all at once; a critically-lauded classic not just among monster movies but science fiction of all kinds. It’s a dark reminder to step forward bravely and change our world the best we can- perfect preparation for a New Year’s resolution.
Featured Image Credits: Toho Company Ltd./Legendary Pictures