We’ve already seen multiple cities laid to waste in blockbusters this summer, and now even more are in peril thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s monster mash Pacific Rim. But that movie inherited its appetite for destruction from the ultimate source of unplanned urban renovation: the giant-beasties kaiju films of Japanese cinema, a genre best known for the movie that started it all, Godzilla (1954, 1 hr., 38 mins., Not Rated). Born out of a combination of the nation’s postatomic fears and burgeoning studio system, this classic film created the model that most of its successors would follow: An enormous rubbery creature, often of radiated origin, attacks a metropolis, stomping down streets packed with screaming bystanders and shrugging off artillery fire like mosquito bites. A large stable of recognizable kaiju soon developed, mostly a product of Japan’s fabled Toho Studios and its director, Ishiro Honda, to whom del Toro has dedicated his film. In addition to introducing the world to Godzilla, Honda brought us Rodan, Mothra, and the three-headed King Ghidorah. They all make an appearance, among many others, in Honda’s rip-roaring battle-royal feature Destroy All Monsters (1968, 1 hr., 28 mins., G). Decades later, the Gamera Trilogy (1995–99, 5 hrs., 26 mins., Not Rated) rebooted a creature beloved by fans — a giant, rocket-powered turtle — and it stands as one of the genre’s best recent examples. Of course, not all kaiju films were as good as these, but when taken together, they left a cinematic footprint the size of a city block.
Godzilla: A Destroy All Monsters: B+ Gamera Trilogy: B+