Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Best Kaiju Films for General Audiences

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001)

I am not going to lie, the notion of watching movies that feature men dressed in monster suits, stomping through a miniature city and battling other men dressed as monsters, is not an easy pill to swallow for most general moviegoers nowadays who are being constantly being spoiled by big budgeted blockbuster movies that are riddled with tons of CG effects and fast-paced choreographed action scenes. I am not saying that's a bad thing, but it is not bad to take a step back and enjoy something put together practically rather than digitally for a change. That is why I love many of the classic Japanese giant monster (daikaiju) movies. They are crafted utilizing practical effects rather than CGI, and have a sense of physical realism. It might look cheesy sometimes, but there is no denying that it's entertaining as hell!

Today, I wish to put together a list of some of my personal favorite Kaiju films to show newcomers to the genre and the wonderful world of tokusatsu effects! For this list I have taken the level of special effects (tokusatsu), story, and characters into consideration.

Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001)


Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001) also dubbed GMK for short, is considered one of the best Godzilla films by fans. Since it is a direct sequel to the original 1954 classic and none of the other movies in between, GMK is a film that practically anyone can jump right into without skipping a beat. It has a radical anti-war sentiment, due to Kaneko's pacifist views. It also addresses current cultural issues at the time as well such as how women are viewed within a male dominant work-place, how youth culture no longer share the same respect or values as their elders, and how people should never forget the past whether good or bad. On top of these social statements, there is a decent amount of monster action as well. Godzilla, an embodiment of spirits of those killed by the Japanese during WWII, invades Japan to remind them of the pain and suffering they caused during the war. The Guardian Monsters: Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, who all embody the spirits of the Japanese, rise up to defend their homeland from Godzilla. GMK is a film that blends science fiction and fantasy. It's a really good movie to show newcomers to the Godzilla and overall Kaiju genre.

Heisei Gamera Trilogy (1995-1999)


Also directed by Shusuke Kaneko, the Heisei Gamera trilogy includes the films Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996) and Gamera 3: Revenge of Irys (1999). No offense to the Godzilla franchise, but Kaneko's Gamera trilogy are some of the greatest Kaiju films of all time. Like GMK, the Gamera films are a gentle blend of fantasy and science fiction and feature a great range of characters, and stories. The first two films seem to stand alone, but the third ties all the events together forming a complete narrative. What makes these films so good are the stories, characters, and effects. Plus, there are a good number of frightening scenes in them, which is quite rare in most Kaiju films.

Ultraman The Next (2004)


Ultraman is a childhood classic. However, in the early 2000s, the studio behind the franchise Tsuburaya attempted a revamp of Ultraman, stepping away from the continuous narrative that begin with the original series. One of the projects during this period of time was Ultraman The Next (2004) which was to be a more mature take on the Ultraman story. This was actually my first introduction to Ultraman, and since then I've been a fan! Ultraman The Next is a superhero movie for Kaiju fans. It tells the story of a military pilot, Maki, who becomes one with a being of light [Ultraman] from a distant world to fight an alien threat on Earth dubbed, The One, by Japanese special forces. It is a movie about a man struggling between work and family life too. I look at it as a theatrical remake/update on the very first episode of Ultraman in 1966 due to how Ultraman is introduced and how The One's abilities somewhat resemble that of Ultraman's very first nemesis, Bemular. If one is looking for a decent introduction to the Ultraman franchise without having to sit through 50 years worth of material, Ultraman The Next is what you need! If you liked the movie, then be sure to watch the spin-off TV series, Ultraman Nexus, which is considered one of the best series in the Ultraman franchise due to its more adult themes, serialized stories (opposed to the monster-of-the-week format of previous series,) and well developed characters.

Attack on Titan (2015)


Is it a faithful adaptation to the popular manga and anime? Not truly. But is it a good film? For the most part, yes. One must go into the live action adaptation of Attack on Titan with minimal expectations and an open mind. If you do so, it is largely enjoyable! The two-part Attack on Titan (2015) live action film is the latest giant monster film from Japan to utilize tokusatsu effects. It is directed by modern day "tokusatsu master" Shinji Higuchi who has been the special effects mastermind behind Shusuke Kaneko's Heisei Gamera trilogy, a couple of the Godzilla films, has directed the remake of Sinking of Japan (2006) and is a co-director and the special effects director for this summer's Godzilla Resurgence (2016). Attack on Titan (2015) showcases how far Tokusatsu effects have come and it is quite convincing actually. All the effects in the film are achieved practically, and the very few CG shots in the film are to enhance the practical effects such as the healing factors for the Titans - achieved by men and women in suits. Even the Colossal Titan is just a man-operated puppet! Since Attack on Titan is a HOT property right now, it's probably the best film to watch in order to introduce general audiences to tokusatsu. Even though it discards the original settings, character arcs, European-esque setting of the manga/anime and exchanges it for a post-apocalyptic Japan and new characters (aside from Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Jean, and Hange,) Shinji Higuchi's Attack on Titan two-part live action adaptation is still a decent film with convincing practical effects that are certain to give you nightmares!

What are some films that you would show to your friends and family who have not seen a true Japanese kaiju film? Share with us in the comments below!

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