Godzilla is among the top five movie monsters of all time in terms of fame and longevity along with Frankenstein, King Kong, Alien and Predator. He was on books, TV shows, movies, and even games, proving that he is indeed the “King of the Monsters.” I mean, who doesn’t know him? Although he’s famous and loved by many, most of us are not aware that Godzilla was created by a Japanese prisoner of war who faced his own monsters at that time. Here’s the story behind the creation of our favorite monster.

The Man Behind the Monster

Godzilla’s beginning could be traced back to May 7, 1911, when Ishiro Honda was born in Japan. He turned out to have a knack for films, and so by the 1930s, he was a promising film director who was working under the legendary film director Kajiro Yamamoto. Everything was going well as far as his film directing journey was concerned until, in 1934, Honda received a draft notice: he was being called to serve in the military in early 1935. And so he did.

A year into the military, his commanding officer started a coup against the government and failed. Honda was not personally one of those who staged the coup. Still, he was included along with his whole regiment, who were sent away to Manchukuo(Manchuria) in 1936 because they were all considered dangerous, and the government could not trust them anymore.

Japanese filmmaker Ishirō Honda at the National Museum of Nature and Science, in Tokyo, during the filming of Frankenstein Conquers the World. (Honda Film Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

He was one of the men who participated in 1939 during Japan’s invasion of China. In 1944, he was supposed to be sent to the Philippines, which at that time was under their country’s occupation, but he missed the boat that would bring him there. He was left to serve in China instead, where the war was less vicious for the Japanese because they had the upper hand. Throughout his six years at war, he would spend his free time pursuing his film career and love for movies, although the films that were being produced at that time were nothing but war propaganda.

In 1945, he was captured by the Chinese forces and imprisoned in China for a year. It could be serendipitous for him as he would soon learn that Japan unconditionally surrendered after the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Japanese filmmaker Ishirō Honda in China, late 1930s. (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Back to Business

Upon his release, he returned to Japan and visited Hiroshima before moving back to his pre-war job of working on the big screen. He became known for shooting films among the ruins and rubble of whatever remained of numerous Japanese cities bombed by the Allies.

He directed multiple projects before his life-changing opportunity came, directing a film called Gojira: a movie with a giant monster that would represent the nation’s fears of atomic weapons. The fear would be represented by the reptilian sea monster that we know today, Godzilla.

Birth of a Monster

At first, people did not really like the idea of a huge reptilian sea monster awakened by radiation and unbothered about the quarrels of humans. When it was released in 1954 and in the other films about it that followed after, he was a fearsome enemy of humans. Still, his character soon evolved into a capable ally who could help humanity fight against a common adversary, like in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Godzilla is believed to be a metaphor for the capabilities of the atomic power that at that time was just recently unleashed on Japan. On the other hand, others believed that Godzilla was actually representing the Unites States that brought devastation to Japan from the waters.

Whichever it was, what’s certain was that Godzilla became a hit and took Japan by storm when it was released in 1954. It set multiple records and became the longest movie franchise in history, up until now. Godzilla reached other countries and had a massive success there too.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) Godzilla vs. Anguirus. (Toho Company Ltd., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

After the success of Godzilla’s first film, Honda continued his works in the movie-making industry and contributed to the creation of kaiju, a Japanese genre of films that feature gigantic monsters. Other popular characters that fell into the kaiju category were Rodan and Mothra. His first-hand experiences of war helped Honda’s film become truly unique, captivating, and genuine.

He passed away in 1993 at the age of 81, leaving us a legacy of amazing characters that the next generations would also know and love, for sure.

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