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Ancestors of Godzilla


The Fathers of Godzilla.
By C. L. Werner



Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was, in a very real sense, the man who started it all. Tanaka worked for Toho Motion Picture Company, and was onboard a flight from Jakarta to Tokyo. He had been in Indonesia trying to produce a joint Japanese-Indonesia war picture entitled In the Shadow of Honor. Tanaka was in a tight spot. The plans for the film had fallen apart, and the Indonesian studio had backed out of the production, effectively killing the film before shooting even began. Intended as one of Toho's biggest films for 1954, Tanaka was now under pressure to come up with an equally big replacement. Somewhere, on that long flight, Tanaka came up with the idea of doing a film about a giant radioactive creature that savages Tokyo.

But where did this idea come from?

Across the Pacific, in the United States, Warner Bros.' Science-fiction film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was proving to be one of the studio's best earners of 1953. The film, about a giant dinosaur released from the Arctic ice by a nuclear weapons test and who later rampages through New York City, was the first major picture from special effects director Ray Harryhausen, a man whose name has since come to be indelibly linked with the process of stop-motion animation, the manipulation of a clay and wire model frame by frame to give the appearance of a living creature. The production of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had in turn been inspired by the 1952 re-release of the classic King Kong. Indeed, Harryhausen himself had worked under Kong's chief animator, Willis H. O'Brien on the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young, itself a take on the Kong legend. On many levels, The Beast owed its very existence to the long shadow cast by the 1933 film.

These then were the cinematic forefathers of Godzilla, King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Without either of these pictures; it is dubious that Godzilla would have ever emerged from the Sea of Japan to take the world by storm. As much as director Ishiro Honda, maestro Akira Ifukube (who gave Godzilla his voice as well as his musical 'soul'), and special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya (who was himself inspired to do special effects work by King Kong), Kong and Harryhausen's Rhedosaurus are Godzilla's fathers, his ancestors. Without them, there would never, in all likelihood, have been a genre we today call kaiju eiga.

This section of Rodan's Roost will be devoted to these American ancestors of Godzilla. Here you will find reviews of these films, a look back at the production of King Kong, how the project sprang from the minds of two adventurers. Here you will see merchandise, posters and print materials for these classic films. On the rest of this site, Godzilla may be the King of the Monsters, but here we will honor the one who wore that crown decades before the reptile found his fire in an atomic blast.

King Kong!



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