Saturday, January 30, 2010

GROWING UP A CHICAGO MONSTER KID: GODZILLA

   I still remember it clearly today. I think I was around 3 or 4 years old. My family lived in the rear apartment of a small two-flat. We had a black and white TV, the kind with a hard to turn channel dial that went clunk! clunk! when you changed channels. Like any kid I was glued to the TV all day long. In the morning I would watch GARFIELD GOOSE AND FRIENDS with Frazier Thomas on WGN Channel 9. Frazier and his puppet friends would host a daily fix of the coolest cartoons. The variety of programming was amazing. Not only did you get classics like CLUTCH CARGO and SPACE ANGEL, but they also ran the original FLASH GORDON serial with Buster Crabbe. I couldn’t wait for the day when they would show the episode when Flash would fight the Mongo dinosaur in the cave. The icing on the cake was when they showed Karel Zeman’s Czech classic, JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (CESTA DO PRAVEKU) shown in daily 10 minute clips. If you saw this one when you were a kid, no other dinosaur movie would have mattered.
 The rest of the day I would jump back and forth between WFLD-32 and WSNS-44, both UHF heaven. WFLD would broadcast shows like FELIX THE CAT, POPEYE, LOST IN SPACE, BATMAN, and THE OUTER LIMITS. WSNS would give you a small dose of Japanese cartoons like PRINCE PLANET and SPEED RACER. Oh yeah the WHITE SOX too. A few years later all the good stuff came, JOHNNY SOKKO, SPACE GIANTS, and ULTRAMAN.
   One Saturday afternoon, I was probably playing with my Mego dolls, I looked up at the TV and saw something I never saw before…..GIANT MONSTERS!!! What’s this? A mutant dinosaur fighting giant mantises with a baby dinosaur too. Yep that was SON OF GODZILLA. In fact WFLD’s Saturday afternoon MONSTROUS MOVIE at 1:30 showed others like GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. WGN would show KING KONG vs. GODZILLA and GHIDRAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER. Icon, hero, imaginary friend, what ever you want to call it, I lived and breathed Godzilla. Every FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was bought with hopes of a picture of Japan's mightiest monster. My parents bought me a paperback called THE WORLD’S GREATEST MONSTER QUIZ. Within this little bible had pictures of UNIVERSAL MONSTERS, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS and a treasured still from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. I looked at that book over and over. Then came a 70’s staple, my Dad came home one day with the Godzilla Aurora model kit. My Dad took his time and built it for me with all of the glow in the dark pieces instead of the regular ones. He even splashed a little red paint on the tongue and claws, then a little blue on the fins.
  One Christmas I had two rather large presents under the tree. When I opened them, to my surprise they were giant robots, SHOGUN WARRIORS to be exact. One was red, Dragun from GETTER ROBO G and the other with a bird-like head was Raydeen from YUUSHA RAIDEEN. Shogun Warriors had my full attention, especially when the next year I saw a commercial that added Godzilla to their toy line. To tease me even more, the Sears catalogue had pictures of it. I begged and begged all year until the next Christmas. I was like Ralphy waiting for a Red Ryder BB-Gun, then my dream came true. I didn’t care about the design of the toy, his fins were too small or that his fist shot off, it was Godzilla! In years to come I found a bendy Godzilla, a Barrel of Monsters, and Godzilla’s Gang. Did anyone else get Blue Oyster Cult’s Extraterrestrial Live, with the best version of their hit single Godzilla?
   From the first movie to the 28th and final one, Godzilla went through several changes, as far as character design and personality. Some fans brush off the the oldies (Showa era) and only prefer the 90’s (Heisei era) or Millennium series. There are others who believe the series should have ended after the fourth film MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA and some after the ninth, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. Myself, I lean towards the old school, and only favor only a few of the new. When I think of the Big G, it’s not the radioactive monster from the 1954 film, that reminds people of nuclear horror, or the long drawn out military stories that are more important than the monsters in the Millennium series. For me it’s Godzilla the hero. It’s Ken from GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER yelling “Come on Godzilla”. It’s Godzilla kicking boulders back and fourth with Ebirah in GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER. It’s Godzilla leading Earth’s monsters into battle against the Kilaaks in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. And yes, Godzilla showing Minya how to use his atomic breath in SON OF GODZILLA.
GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER was the beginning of what I like to call the island series. After ripping off a yacht to find his brother lost at sea, Ryota and his two buddies, along with a bank robber Yoshimura, get stranded on an island. The survivors not only have to deal with a terrorist (Red Bamboo) operation on the island, but a giant lobster, Ebirah as well. While hiding out in a cave they discover Godzilla sleeping beneath them. They decide no revive the monster to help them escape from Red Bamboo and Ebirah. As an extra treat, Godzilla fights a giant condor and Mothra shows up to save the day.
The music in GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER is a plus too. You get cool go-go music early in the film during a dance contest. When Ebirah first surfaces it's almost like he has his own wrestling entrance theme, a catchy repetitive acoustic surf guitar. You can't beat the new Mothra tune either.
Shot on location, SON OF GODZILLA features an adventure on a beautiful tropical island. A team of scientists conduct weather experiments on the remote Sollgel Island. A mishap causes a weather balloon to rain radioactive particles on the island and cause mutations among the flora and fauna. Roaming around the island now are giant mantises (Kamakiras) and a giant spider (Kumonga). The Kamakiras dig up an egg out of a pile of boulders that reveals a baby Godzillla called Minya. The little G's cries are heard by Daddy who comes to save the day.
Everything from Godzilla and Minya fighting Kumonga together, to them getting ready to hibernate, seems so serene and satisfying at the end. Watching this one in January really warms you up for summer.
Imagine turning on the television when you were a kid one afternoon seeing a movie with eleven giant monsters battling it out on the screen. I never heard of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS until that day. It was a high without caffeine. It was the debut of my favorite Godzilla design and also became my favorite movie of all time. The story was simple, a race of aliens known as the Kilaaks take control of Earth’s monsters and unleash them on the whole world. Of course we get control back, to have the greatest movie ending EVER!!!! Godzilla, Minya, Rodan, Angilas, Gorosaurus, Baragon, Manda, Mothra, Kumonga, and Varan vs. King Ghidorah.

After watching this I could run around the house ten times, ride my bike up and down the street 15 times, then still would have energy to burn. The visuals are just so impressive in this film. During the attack on Japan, there is a scene where Manda appears wrapping itself around the railway while Godzilla is stopping around in the background. That was too sweet. Another memorable scene is when the SY-3 rocket ship is chasing the last Kilaak ship, which is on fire in order to burn our cities down. The two ships pass over the monsters at the base of Mt. Fuji. Just as they go over Godzilla, the Big G launches his atomic breath at the Kilaak ship, which at the same time lights up the evening sky. It’s a quick scene, but the fact that they said hey, Godzilla’s atomic fire is bright and powerful, then took the time to highlight that, was cool.
For me GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER is Godzilla at it’s best. I know, I know, you might say what about MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA or the 1954 original. They are awesome, but here you get the DESTROY ALL MONSTERS suit and a Godzilla that has personality in a bizarre, surrealistic atmosphere that was ahead of it’s time, grasping a real problem issue in Japan, pollution. Hedorah a life-form from space, takes advantage of the nature crushing pollution by consuming it and growing to monstrous proportions. The monster evolves throughout the movie, also spreading toxic gases and flesh eating sludge on the way. Godzilla appears, he seems tired and tired off the human race and it’s mistakes. After getting poisoned, acid burned, and beaten to death, Godzilla finally destroys Hedorah.

GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER blends visuals of beauty (flowers, Mount Fuji) and psychedelic imagery against fuming factory smoke stacks. The enemy is not Hedorah, it’s ourselves. Director Yoshimitsu Banno had it figured out, taking Japan’s biggest icon to send the message. In the young boy Ken’s school report he writes “If Godzilla were here he’d save the day”. I just turned 40, and 30 years later that line still crosses my mind with all of the world’s problems. Speaking of Ken, how many of you wanted to hang out in his back yard! Geez, I was finally able to get a recast of that freakin’ Godzilla he was sliding down the slide. The end of this movie would always make my eyes water, with Ken yelling “Godzilla stay here!!” “Godzilla thanks a lot” with the upbeat music kicking in, just left me fulfilled and smiling.

10 comments:

  1. Man, more cool memories from a similar Chicago past. Though I never did get the highly-desired Godzilla Shogun warrior (damn, how I wanted that one), I did get the full-sized Raydeen one Christmas morning, and the 6-inch diecast Mazinger one or two Christmases later. As for Big-G flicks...of course it's all about the showa era.

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  2. Excellent piece! Smog monster is a personal favorite of mine. I remember having to eat cup of noodles(the kind that came with egg bits!) every time these movies played on WPYX in NY as a child. It was a tradition! Not to mention WOR's day after Thanksgiving Godzilla marathons every year!

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  3. I saw Godzilla VS The Smog Monster at the kiddie matinee and it blew my little mind. When the Smog Monster flew threw the city and turned the construction workers into skeletons it freaked me out. To actually see a giant monster kill somebody in a Godzilla movie was a shock. I think that's why the first Godzilla movie grabbed me when I saw it as a kid. The opening with Raymond Burr and all the people laid out in the hospital corridor and the implication that Godzilla had done this to these people was something that scared me. The first Godzilla movie I saw had been Godzilla VS Megalon and there were no dead bodies or the sense of death that I got from The Smog Monster and The Raymond Burr Godzilla.

    I did love the Island movies, but they just never grabbed me like the other movies.

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  4. Royal Roy, when do you sleep?

    I have to mention a memory of my youth, watching Journey to the Beginning of Time... watched that film on Garfield Goose actually traumatized me for years. I used to have an irrational fear of cavemen in movies. Scared the crap out of me. Then, I realized years later when Goodtimes released it on video while watching a scene where the kids explore a caveman's cave home. Later, a dark figure can barely be seen walking through some tall grass. The old fear came back. It was then that I understood that watching the serialized version on Garfield Goose had that creepy scene. I forgot it all until years later, as an adult.

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  5. All of your post on this blog Roy, border on literature they're so well written and evocative... but this one may be the best. Your reminiscing is very poetic. I became very wistful for my own monster kid childhood. When a little old blog (yours) can create a warm glow in a grown mans heart, you've done good my friend!
    best,
    r/e

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  6. Thanks for all the kind comments guys!!! It's just something about the good ol' days of TV that can never be replaced. I can easily watch these movies crystal clear and letterboxed, but I still prefer my grainy UHF copies on VHS hosted by Svengoolie.

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    Thanks for being a blog...

    jeremy
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  8. greatest post ever on godsillie...
    my zombie will be back..
    iZombie

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  9. We had the exact same childhood (though I grew up in Lombard), Shogun Warriors and all...I was also fortunate enough to have Rodan on top of my Godzilla and Raydeen.

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  10. John in Chicago--We're the same age and had the same TV viewing. Man thanks for the good walk down memory lane-I had forgotten what some of these shows were called! Many times have wanted to go back in time and hook up a DVD burner, even VHS recorder, to capture Ray, Bozo, and the Ch 32/44 shows.

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