Monsters have played an integral part of story-telling since literally the dawn of human civilization in the form of oral traditions, and up to this present day in film. Such great examples of these are the beasts that can be seen in “The Lost World” (1925) and “King Kong” (1933) from the United States, as well as the first “Godzilla” (1954) movie from Japan.
The history of monsters in film can give us great insight into trends of popularity, or what we as a whole have considered to be evocative. In this respect, a term or concept known almost exclusively to one culture can become globally recognized thanks to the film industry. A prime example of this is the Japanese concept ofkaiju utilized by Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro, in his “Pacific Rim” (2013).
There exists a difference in the understanding of monster movies between Japan and the West to begin with. Where Japan considers monster movies, or tokusatsu to be an entire genre in and of itself, the American and
European understanding of films that contain monsters can span across three or more separate genres, including: science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Regardless, the idea of kaiju, which has been uniquely present in tokusatsu has brought a special kind of perspective to the global consciousness of monster movies that is quintessentially Japanese.
The kanji for kaiju when broken down, are symbols for “strange” (怪), and “beast” (獣), which when put together, are translated into English as “monster”. Although strange beasts certainly existed in non-Japanese film in the 1920’s and 30’s, it wasn’t until the late 1950’s that the first kaiju came to Western screens, with the arrival of “Godzilla” in the United States. Despite Godzilla’s reality as kaiju many Westerners remained unaware of this specific term, and most likely saw the beast in the same way they had other giant monsters on the big screen. After all, “The Lost World” (1925) had been advertised with images of a humongous Tyrannosaurus-like dinosaur. However, after Guillermo del Toro’s pervasive use of the word and understanding of kaiju, it has suddenly become fairly well known to non-Japanese audiences.
Although Godzilla is a kaiju, and the strange beasts of “Pacific Rim” share a similar entrance with Godzilla into the plot of “Pacific Rim”, there are some interesting differences one can take note of. In the 1954 film, Godzilla is born out of radioactivity, (a.k.a. humans’ disregard for the natural environment), where as kaiju are extraterrestrial beings that have come into existence outside of the realm of human control.
If nothing else, one can see through these differences that there of course has been a change in what film makers and movie-goers consider to be evocative at least regarding from where a creature comes. Likewise, together with this change in an audience’s elicited reactions, an aspect of Japanese consciousness has arguably become more salient and popular to film makers and audiences around the world.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1663662/
Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1