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Top 5 Kaiju Beasts of Cinema

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To celebrate the Australian release of PACIFIC RIM Zak Hepburn takes a look a the top 5 Kaiju ever to grace the silver screen, We’re also giving away tickets to see the film so read on Monsterphiles and be amazed!

Guillermo del Toro’s multi-million dollar monster mash Pacific Rim (2013), opens with a title card informing the audience that ‘Kaiju’ means ‘giant beast’ in Japanese. For the uninitiated, this is a somewhat basic introduction to the giant antagonists that threaten the world in del Toro’s two-hour cinematic love letter. To others, however, the mere mention of the word is an indication that the world is going to have some giant damage insurance bills to deal with. Kaijuu are traditionally modeled after conventional animals, insects or prehistoric creatures. Their cinematic legacy is reflected in the image of countless annihilated cities, dating back to the early 1950s. Pacific Rim, which features a full house of planet hungry Kaiju beasts, aims to bring the giant scaly stars back to the big screen. Before heading to see Pacific Rim, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and revisit the top five beasts that have previously charged across the screen. 

5. Rampage Monsters in Rampage,1986, Bally Midway Arcade Game

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Back in the days before Candy Crush, when Duck Huntand Hang Oncould no longer cut the mustard – what was left? Three giant rampaging monsters with a thirst for cities, that’s what! The 1986 arcade game Rampage consisted of a series of levels where cities and their inhabitants were ripped apart by giant beasts. You were able to choose from three playable monsters, George (a King Kong-esque gorilla), Lizzie (a Godzilla-like lizard), and Ralph (a giant wolf – he was a bit crap to play, but don’t blame Ralph for performance anxiety). In their previous lives, George was an average Joe, Lizzie was a single white female, and Ralph was an elderly man (Jeez, Ralph –  you suck at everything!). The trio was experimented on at the innocently titled ‘Scumlabs’. Once they mutated into monsters, they had one simple desire – to raze all buildings in a metropolitan city in order to advance to the next level, eating people and destroying helicopters, tanks, taxis, police cars, boats – and yes folks, even simple trolleys, along the way. 8 Bits of Fury Fun for the Whole Family!

4.     Clover Monster in Cloverfield, 2008, Dir: Matt Reeves

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Before he took on the two largest franchises in the geek-verse, J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield, a found-footage creature feature for the new millennium. Clover, the production name for the beast who destroys Manhattan, is hardly seen throughout the film, with director Matt Reeves preferring to take the Jaws approach and not show the monster until the final act.  Although apparently just a baby, Clover is 25 stories tall. With limbs that are comparatively long and thin compared with the body core, this, according to creator Neville Page, coupled with its quadruped stance is meant to loosely imply that it is an awkward newborn. Some thought the creature looked stupid, but the overt Lovecraftian elements were a welcome design touch for many. In another nice addition, the creature is covered with parasites, which it sheds as part of a ‘post-birth ritual’, inflicting even more damage on the city. Mayhem also ensued in movie theatre bathrooms upon the film’s release, as many audience members suffered motion sickness from the shaky-cam experience! 

3. The Gargantuas in the The War of the Gargantuas,1966, Dir: Ishirō Honda

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The War of the Gargantuas, originally released in Japan as Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira, was designed as a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World , a Kaijuu film released a year earlier. The film introduced two giant, hairy humanoids called ‘Gargantuas’. Spawned from the discarded genetic cells of the villainous Frankenstein’s monster from the previous film, this pair of rubber suit renegades are described as ‘brothers’. The Green Gargantua, who goes by the name of Gaira, arrives as a violent and savage beast, preying upon human beings and devastating cities. The Brown Gargantua, Sanda was raised in captivity and is, in contrast, docile and gentle. The film follows routine scientific investigation and military engagements in the wake of the new devastation visited upon the earth by Gaira  – until these creatures meet for their climactic confrontation in Tokyo. Hailed by Tim Burton to be one of the greatest monster movies of all time, the battle sequences still remain a benchmark of 60’s Japanese monster cinema. 

2. Godzilla in GODZILLA – 1954 – Dir: Ishirō Honda

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What the screaming hellfire? You have GODZILLA coming in second? You stupid fool! But yeah, I do  – and with good reason, which you will soon see. First, let’s talk about the grandfather of all Kaijuu. Godzilla (or Gojira) first appeared in Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film of the same name. Since then, the giant lizard has become a bona-fide pop culture icon, featuring in 28 films produced by the legendary Toho Co.Ltd. The monster has appeared in numerous other media incarnations including games, novels, comic books, and even a television series. A 1998 US re-make, produced by the creators of Independence Day, was greeted with a cold handshake by fans and critics upon release.  A second American version is currently undergoing principal photography and is to be directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters, 2010). Aside from being a film about a giant mutant sea monster, director Ishirō Honda’s film is simultaneously a humane and melancholy drama. Created while Japan was reeling from nuclear attack and H-bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean, the visual representation of a rampaging, radioactive beast effectively serves as a poignant symbol of the fears and anxieties of a nation. Now a beloved international icon of destruction, spawning almost thirty sequels, The first film still packs a mutant-size punch, presenting a thrilling, tactile spectacle that continues to be a cult phenomenon to this day.

1. Pulgasari in Pulgasari, 1985, Dir; Shin Sang-ok and Chong Gon Jo

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So yes, here is the beast that bested the mighty Godzilla to the final number one position. Pulgasari remains one the strangest Kaijuu films in existence and not because of the otherworldly on-screen antics – but because of the true story behind the making of the film. This 1985 North Korean feature, directed by Shin Sang-ok and Chong Gon Jo, profiles the exploits of a giant-monster similar to the Japanese Godzilla series. It was produced by the South Korean born Shin, who had been kidnapped in 1978 by North Korean intelligence officers on the orders of Kim Jong-il, son of the then-ruling Kim Il-sung. It’s reported that Kim was a lifelong admirer of the director and of Kaijuu films in general, and kidnapped the latter and his wife, famous actress Choi Eun-hee, with the specific purpose of making fantasy/propaganda films for the North Korean government. Kim Jong-il also produced PULGASARI and all the films that Sang-ok made before he and Choi fled the country. The plot, which has been cited as a possible propaganda tool decrying the effects of capitalism, focuses on feudal era Korea, where a King rules the land subjecting the local peasants to misery and starvation. An ancient blacksmith creates a tiny figurine of a monster out of rice. When the doll comes into contact with the blood of the blacksmith’s daughter, the creature springs to life, becoming a giant metal-eating monster named Pulgasari. Meanwhile, the evil King learns of a rebellion, which he intends to crush, but he ends up in the path of the Pulgasari, who fights with the peasant army to overthrow the king’s corrupt monarchy. Oh! The political irony! 

Watch this space Monsterites as over the next day of two Leslie Morris will present a full report on the magic of PULGASARI – get excited fiends!!

 

pacific rim ticket competition
Okay Monster Freaks, now that we’ve got your saliva glands working overtime on Kaiju goodness, we’d like to alert you to the fact that this coming Monday (July 15) at 5pm AEST we’ll be launching a Monster Mail campaign with details on how you can WIN A DOUBLE IN SEASON PASS to PACIFIC RIM courtesy of Village Roadshow.

We have 5 double passes to give away to registered Monster Freaks so if you haven’t signed up already, get your arse into gear and DO IT NOW! Signing up to be a Monster Freak is easy, you can do it from the home page of this site or from the Monster Pictures facebook page.

Or by clicking HERE

Being a Monster Freak affords you benefits that WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE… SIGN UP NOW AND LIVE!

 

Zak Hepburn

About the author: Zak Hepburn

Melbourne based writer and film programmer, Hepburn's work has appeared in The Age, Beat Magazine, Twitch.com and a host of other publications. His film programming work includes CULTASTROPHE, a curated genre cinema program at Melbourne's Cinema Nova which evolved from his previous long running programme CULT VAULT. He currently appears weekly on ABC Radio in the dead of the night talking film and trying to act out scenes from "Play Mistry for Me". He seeks to to find Naturalistic Minimalism - he doesn't know what that is but he read about and it once thought it sounded good.

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