Chronology and Connundrums: Showa Godzilla

Tom Miller

Originally Published in G-FORCE Issue # 8 March/April 1994

The purpose of this series of articles is to prepare a foundation for a history of Godzilla and the other Toho kaiju. Not a history of the films, rather the history as presented in the films. Neither is this a synopsis or a critique of the films. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with at least the basic story of each of the films. As for criticism, that would be beyond the scope of this series.
The kaiju eiga were and are created primarily as entertainment. Thus, absolute consistency from film to film probably was not the overriding concern of the filmmakers, taking second place to the dramatic demands of the individual films. This is fine; consistency is not everything. Indeed, for a series spanning fifty years it is remarkable how few inconsistencies there are. The subject matter helps here. The films deal with events in an alternate universe where monsters roam. It is not necessary that the history of that universe be identical with the history of the viewers’ universe. Since most of the kaiju are immortal or extremely long-lived, the problem of aging does not arise (as it does in the James Bond series, where a character in his thirties in the early ’60s is still the same age in the ’80s). As Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts are aware, one of the joys in fandom lies in explaining and reconciling seeming inconsistencies in the original works (or canon), which leads to our first conundrum.
The kaiju eiga of Godzilla include not one, but two canons. readers should all be aware that withGodzilla 1985; all prior Godzilla films, save the first, were considered null and void, portraying events that never occurred nor would ever occur. Thus, this article series will consider two Godzilla film series: the Original, beginning withGodzilla(1954) and ending withThe Terror of Mecha-Godzilla(1975); and the Revised, also beginning withGodzilla(1954), but omitting all other films until restarting withGodzilla 1985(1984) and still continuing.

For the purposes of this series, the English language versions of the films will provide the bulk of the source material. I do not believe these to be authoritative, only the Japanese language versions are; however, using the English ones has advantages. Most readers will have seen only the English versions. I have seen most of the Japanese versions but my extremely limited understanding of Japanese prevents me from discussing what is said in them. References to what is said in the Japanese versions (as opposed to what is seen) are based on what others have described and may be inaccurate. Not to be discussed is material outside of the films. Some of this, such as theZone FighterTV episodes could probably be incorporated into the canon, but the bulk (comics, manga, etc.) clearly cannot. Titles will be the English ones most commonly used; dates of release will be the Japanese.

Godzilla first appeared in 1954; actually the first Godzilla did not reappear until 1984. In the Original series, little time is spent on Godzilla’s origins. He is presumed to have been created/revived by atomic testing, although the natives of Odo Island (where he first appears) have a long tradition of his existence. Godzilla’s origins are more fully explored in the Revised series, so we will return to them later. At the end of Godzilla, he is destroyed completely (as far as the Original series is concerned) by Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer.

In Gigantis the Fire Monster (1955), a new Godzilla arrives. It is explicit in both the English and Japanese versions that this is not the same kaiju as in the previous film. The name change has nothing to do with its being a new creature, rather it was a result of Warner Bros. fear of copyright infringement since they had not released the first film in America. Once again Godzilla is the result of nuclear testing as is his opponent in the film Angilas (a.k.a. Angurus), both being discovered on Iwato Island. Beginning with this film, Godzilla never appears in the Original series unaccompanied by another kaiju. The events in Gigantis take place in 1955. At the end Godzilla is trapped on Shinko Island and buried under an avalanche of ice and snow caused by aerial attack. He remains buried until 1962.

Godzilla’s reappearance in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) is problematical. Godzilla appears encased in a block of ice, but floating in the Arctic Ocean, not on Shinko Island. The best explanation of this apparent inconsistency would be that the block of ice containing Godzilla broke loose from Shinko and drifted north where it merged with an iceberg. After battling on Mt. Fuji, Godzilla and Kong fall into the sea. Kong is seen swimming back to Farou Island, Godzilla does not resurface. This ending is identical in both the English and Japanese versions. Despite the oft-repeated rumor, there was never a separate version for Asian audiences in which Godzilla wins.

There is no problem in reconciling Godzilla’s next appearance in Godzilla vs The Thing (1964) with the end of the previous film. Weakened after the fight with Kong, Godzilla had lain dormant and drifted, covered with sediment, until awakening after a typhoon, Godzilla battles Mothra (who dies as a result), then fights and loses to twin Mothra larvae. Covered with cocoon webbing, Godzilla tumbles into the sea at the end. Incidentally, this is the only English version to contain Godzilla footage (the U.S. Navy’s rocket attack) not contained in the Japanese version.

Quite appropriately, Godzilla rises from the ocean in the next film, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964). After Ghidora is defeated by Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan, Mothra swims back to Infant Island while Godzilla and Rodan watch from shore. In Monster Zero (1965), Godzilla and Rodan are first located at the bottom of Lake Myojin and Washigasawa respectively. This presents another conundrum: how did they get there? The Earthmen are genuinely surprised when told by the Planet X people where the kaiju are; they had no idea where they were.  Why should this be?  There is no reason why Godzilla could not have decided to rest in the lake after the battle with Ghidora, but surely someone would have noticed this happening. Rodan might have flown to Washigasawa and escaped notice (it appears to be a remote area) but Godzilla should have been tracked. Perhaps there is an underground connection from the ocean to the lake. This un-stated condition is supported by the assumption, in much of the kaiju eiga, of underground passage-ways created and/or used by the kaiju. Either that or everyone was too busy cleaning up after the first battle with King Ghidora to keep an eye on the victors. At the end of Monster Zero, King Ghidora, Godzilla and Rodan fall into the ocean. Only Ghidora surfaces, flying off into space, while Godzilla and Rodan remain submerged.

The next film, Godzilla vs the Sea Monster (1966), presents the first serious problem of chronology. Initially there seems to be no difficulty. After the events in Monster Zero, Godzilla must have traveled to Letchi Island to hibernate. His location was discovered by the band of fugitives in Godzilla vs the Sea Monster.  But the presence of Mothra in imago (adult) form makes this presumption questionable and requiring of a closer look.
The original Mothra was killed by Godzilla and survived by two larvae. By the time of Ghidrah, one of the larvae had disappeared (presumably dead). After Sea Monster, Mothra will not reappear, and then in larval form, until Destroy All Monsters, which takes place in 1999. One possibility is that the events in Sea Monster take place before those in Godzilla vs The Thing. This hypothesis finds some support in Godzilla vs the Sea Monster.  When one of the characters suggests waking Godzilla to fight the Red Bamboo organization, the others are aghast, fearful of other destruction Godzilla might cause. Given Godzilla’s record prior to the first encounter with Mothra this attitude is entirely reasonable. Furthermore, Godzilla is hostile to Mothra, out of keeping with their somewhat congenial relationship by the end of Ghidrah.
Weighing against this interpretation are other factors. If Sea Monster takes place after Monster Zero, the proposal to revive Godzilla is not unreasonable. Nor, given Godzilla’s ambiguous behavior to that point, is the opposition to it. The clincher, though, is electricity.  From Godzilla through Godzilla vs The Thing, electricity had been harmful to Godzilla. It was lightning which enabled Kong to stand up to Godzilla, and electricity nearly bested Godzilla in Godzilla vs The Thing. Yet in Godzilla vs the Sea Monster lightning is used to revive Godzilla and in a later film lightning works as a healing agent after a battle with Mechagodzilla. It is clear that Godzilla had adapted to the point, by the time of Sea Monster; that electricity served as a source of power rather than causing harm.
This would be a very useful adaptation given the decrease in nuclear testing, especially in the Pacific, during the same time. It is not necessary for the characters in Sea Monster to be aware of this adaptation to electricity, for their purpose in harnessing lightning was to jolt Godzilla awake.  The most probable sequence of events would be this: after Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, the Mothra larva returned to Infant Island where it built a cocoon. Mothra’s time as a pupa explains her absence during Monster Zero. After Zero, Godzilla swam to Letchi Island to rest and recover , while Mothra emerged from the cocoon. Godzilla’s attitude to Mothra can be ascribed to general belligerence and love of a good fight. At the end of Godzilla vs the Sea Monster, Godzilla once more returns to the ocean.

Son of Godzilla (1967) involves a problem of chronology, to be discussed below, as well as giving rise to a host of other interesting questions revolving around Minya and his parentage. For example, when was Minya’s egg laid, recently or in the distant past? Minya gives all the appearances of being an infant Godzilla (including radioactive fire breath), instead of a baby dinosaur. Therefore, he was either born of parents already altered by radiation or the egg was altered by radiation after being laid. The latter seems unlikely. When could this irradiation have occurred? The weather control experiments in Son of Godzilla couldn’t have caused Minya’s appearance (other than accelerating hatching) as there was no radiation involved. Further, Riko (the girl found on Solgell Island) had lived there all her life and her father since the Second World War. No nearby nuclear testing sufficient to have caused a Godzilla could have occurred or the two would have perished.
The best answer then, would be that the egg was laid recently. After all there had been two Godzillas, the first and Gigantis, who must have been Minya’s parents. This leads to the question: which was the mother and which was the father? As nothing is known of the gestation or incubation periods, supposition is difficult. I would suggest the original Godzilla is the father. The second Godzilla, Gigantis, was impregnated and carried the egg for an unknown length of time before depositing it on Solgell Island. A mother would seem more likely to respond to an infant’s signals and return to the island. In general, Godzilla’s relationship with Minya seems more maternal than paternal. The birth of Minya may also have been a factor in Godzilla’s mellowing in later films. The movie ends with mother and child hibernating in the artificially induced winter.

With Destroy All Monsters (1968), chronology becomes very complicated. In the prior films, the events chronicled are presented as occurring concurrently with the time the films are released in our universe. Destroy All Monsters takes place in 1999, thirty one years after its release. This is not that much of a problem. The difficulty is in fitting the subsequent films into the chronology.  In Destroy All Monsters, all (or most) of the world’s kaiju have been gathered on Ogasawara Island in an area known as “Monsterland”. It is not revealed when this occurred or how it was done. The kaiju are unable to leave the island voluntarily, escaping through alien (Kilaak) intervention.  As the film ends, they have been rounded up again and placed back in custody. This second round-up was achieved with captured Kilaak technology. When the kaiju are returned to Monsterland, both human and Kilaak technology is used to keep them there.

The next film, Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) is easily disposed of. The events in it are presented as the daydreams of a young boy; thus it is not necessary to fit them into the chronology. The kaiju are already present on what is now called “Monster Island,” which might mean they had been gathered there by 1969. But as the film seems to take place in our universe where the kaiju do not exist except as fictional characters, there is no reason to assume this.  With the remainder of the films in the original series, the first chronological question is: before or after Destroy All Monsters? The answer is not always easy.

In Godzilla vs the Smog Monster (1971 ), Godzilla arrives from the sea to fight Hedorah. This battle might have taken place before even Son of Godzilla. Indeed, I propose that Godzilla vs the Smog Monster,Godzilla vs the Cosmic Monster (1974), and The Terror of Mecha-Godzilla (1975) all took place before the events in Son of Godzilla. In none of these films is Monster Island or Minya mentioned, which is not the case with Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) and Godzilla On Monster Island (1972), the remaining films in the Original series.

Here is the sequence as I see it: after the battle with Ebirah (Sea Monster), Godzilla goes on to fight and utterly destroy Hedorah (Smog Monster). In rapid succession follow the battles against Mechagodzilla (Cosmic Monster), Mechagodzilla II and Titanosaurus. Shortly after defeating Mechagodzilla II (Terror of Mecha-Godzilla), Godzilla answers the call of Minya (Son of Godzilla).  When Godzilla and Minya go into deep freeze hibernation, the Earth-men take the opportunity to transport them, along with Spiega (Kumonga) and the Gimantises (Kamakiras), to Ogasawara Island (Monsterland). Quickly, other kaiju are rounded up, perhaps frozen with the weather device or simply moved while in hibernation. Some kaiju (Hedorah, the Gargantuas: Sanda and Gaila, Titanosaurus, Kong) are either dead or cannot be located. King Ghidora is in outer space, King Seesar is safely entombed on Okinawa. By 1971, when the events in Godzilla vs Megalon take place, the monster captures have been completed.

This leaves the arrangement of Godzilla On Monster Island and Godzilla vs Megalon in order. The beginning of Megalon specifically states that it is 1971.  Since Son of Godzilla takes place in 1967, ample time is available for my suggested scenario, plus the events in Godzilla On Monster Island to have taken place. It also means that Godzilla was very busy between 1966 (Sea Monster) and 1967 (Son).

To conclude the first part of this series, here is a list of the Original films (excluding Godzilla’s Revenge) in the chronology I’ve ascribed to them:

Gigantis the Fire Monster
King Kong vs. Godzilla
Godzilla vs. The Thing
Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster
Monster Zero
Godzilla vs the Sea Monster
Godzilla vs the Smog Monster
Godzilla vs the Cosmic Monster
The Terror of Mecha-Godzilla
Son of Godzilla
Destroy All Monsters
Godzilla On Monster Island
Godzilla vs Megalon

Next: The Heisei Godzilla

Article © 1994, 2004 Tom Miller.
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