Scene from Godzilla, Warner Brothers, 2014:
Dr. Ishiro Seriwaza: "In 1954, the first time a nuclear submarine ever reached the lower depths, it awakened something
Vivienne Graham: "The Americans first thought it was the Russians. The Russians thought it was the Americans. All
those nuclear tests in the Pacific? Not tests ..."
Dr. Ishiro Seriwaza: "They were trying to kill it."
Kill it? Not likely; they would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. For sixty-three years Godzilla and his (her?)
cohorts of Japanese movie monsters have reigned supreme. Godzilla alone has spawned twenty-nine feature films, plus video
games, comic books, television shows, and novels. The most recent iteration, Hideaki Anno's 2016 Shin Godzilla ensures that the legend (and merchandising adjuncts) will continue to fill the bank
accounts of movie producers and the shelves of collectors.
Cultural phenomena eventually find their way into academia for dissection and a search for "deeper meanings". Japanese monster
films are no exception. Classified within the film genre Kaiju, ("strange beast") and a sub-genre of tokusatsu, or special-effects based entertainment,
this series of B-movies has had scholars and fans arguing over symbolism for decades. Hidetoshi Chiba, a professor at Tokyo’s
Digital Hollywood University says that the three most common interpretations regard Kaiju movies as nuclear age parables,
anti-war allegories, or studies in human hubris.
I'm less cerebral in my approach. In 1959, my adolescent friends and I perceived these movies as sheer entertainment. Sitting
on a blanket at the Palmer Drive-in Theater on a summer evening, we thought it was hilarious to watch a man in a giant lizard
suit knock over buildings and squash cars. Such is the perspective of young boys.
Nostalgia for all-things-Kaiju fuels an active trading market. As of this writing, eBay shows 61,343 current listings for
the search term "Godzilla", with results returned for toys, movies, posters, video games, lunch boxes, and cartoons. In
the past sixty days, eBay shows that 38,608 listings have completed, of which 21,245 sold. That's about a 55% sell-through
rate, high enough to provide incentive for dealers and motivation for collectors.
Although genre Kaiju includes modern collectibles such as anime and video games, collectors agree that a good Kaiju collection
begins with the characters portrayed in the early Godzilla movies (the "Godzilla Kaiju"). These are:
Godzilla (of course)
Created less than a decade after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Godzilla was originally conceived as a metaphor
for nuclear weapons. Awakened by nuclear testing, it arises from the depths of the sea to wreak havoc on Tokyo. Over the
years, the character and motivations of Godzilla changed according to the needs of the script. Sometimes it threatened mankind,
and other times it allied with mankind against a common enemy.
Recent top prices attained for Godzilla collectibles include $18,500 for a Russell Young "Godzilla vs. King Kong" original
canvas (eBay, 2014) and an eighteen-inch-high Godzilla action figure that sold for $4,398 (Phillips, 2008). There are so
many Godzilla-themed collectibles that a collector's toughest job is deciding which items to buy.
Mothra is the second-most- popular creature in the Godzilla Kaiju. Introduced in the 1961 film Mothra, the beast is a giant
sentient moth. Friend and protector of mankind, Mothra's popularity at the box office translated into thirteen feature films.
The most sought-after Mothra collectibles are posters and artwork, followed by toys. A 1994 radio-controlled Mothra sold
on eBay (2011) for $899, and a 1961 original Japanese movie poster was sold for $1,673 by Heritage Auctions (2014).
The Shobijin ("luminous fairies")
Mothra was never seen without the twin fairies, the Shobijin. The twin's job was to act as moderators of the on-screen action.
After all, the squeals and roars of monsters are difficult for an audience to decipher. The twins made sense of this "dialogue",
explaining the motivations and intent of the Kaiju.
The Shobijin sang their lines, and a hit song developed (unintentionally) from the original 1961 film. The "Mothra Song" was a hit in several countries. A set of 9" twin Shobijin dolls sold for $249 on eBay
in 2015, and a set of unpainted glow-in-the-dark dolls sold a few months earlier on eBay for $160.
Rodan came to fame in 1956 in his namesake movie. Essentially, he is a flying dinosaur that stands upright on two legs.
As with Godzilla, Rodan's exposure to radiation caused him to grow to immense size. Originally an enemy of Godzilla, Rodan
eventually joined forces with the other earthly kaiju when threatened by outside forces. Leading the Rodan collectibles
price stats is a 1957 movie poster for Rodan, the Flying Monster, sold by Heritage Auctions in 2014 for $4,780. Another
notable price includes a 1979 eighteen-inch action figure from Mattel's Shogun Warriors collection that sold on eBay for
$1,199 in December 2016.
The three-headed monster Ghidorah, destroyer of the entire Martian civilization, made its way to Earth, bent on destroying mankind. In the 1964 Japanese movie Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth, Ghidorah joins an already-in-progress battle between Godzilla and Rodan. Sensing a threat to their own planet, Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra combine forces to defeat Ghidorah and thwart an assassination attempt. Whew! Good thing the Shobijin are on hand to explain the action. A 1968 King Ghidorah made of PVC sold in March 2017 for $703 on eBay, and a poster of the 1964 movie was sold in April 2012 by eMoviePoster.com for $795.
As the name implies, Mechagodzilla is a mechanical Godzilla. How he came into being varies according to the plot needs: in one movie he arrives from outer space; in another he is a man-made creation intended to battle Godzilla. Of course, in the movies Godzilla always wins (or is set-up for a comeback). In the merchandising world, Mechagodzilla toys consistently top Godzilla toys. Robot toys lend themselves to special effects, and Mechagodzilla is no exception. A radio-controlled, battery-operated Mechagodzilla inspired by the 1974 movie and manufactured by Bandai Japan in 2008 sold in May 2016 for $12,500 on eBay.
Those not inclined toward collecting toys or movie posters would likely enjoy collecting the movies on DVD. They not only offer a sixty-year perspective on the growth of special effects in cinematography, you also get to see a man in a giant lizard suit knock over buildings and squash cars.