Gareth Edwards’ hotly anticipated reimagining of Godzilla opens in theaters this week. To celebrate, here are some surprising facts from the sixty year history of the famous monster (and his friends).
1. The idea of a giant monster born from nuclear testing who goes on to ravage Tokyo was inspired in part by a horrific accident in which a Japanese fishing boat was caught in the fallout of an American atomic bomb test in the Bikini Atoll. The opening sequence of Gojira, in which Godzilla attacks a fishing boat, was easily recognized by audiences in 1954 as a reference to the incident.
2. The Gojira special effects crew wanted to copy the stop-motion effects of Ray Harryhausen’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. When such an effort was deemed too time-consuming, the producers opted instead for the “guy in rubber suit” action that became a landmark of the series.
3. The name Gojira is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “gorilla” (gorira) and “whale” (kujira).
4. Godzilla’s roar is actually an audio clip of Orson Welles saying the word “razzmatazz,” played backward and at slow speed.
5. The American release of Gojira was a heavily re-edited version titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters! that added new scenes with Raymond Burr as journalist “Steve Martin,” a role he reprised in Godzilla 1985 (which itself was a re-edited version of the 1984 film The Return of Godzilla). 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante delivered a tongue-in-cheek nod to the actor when it included a cameo appearance from Steve Martin as “Professor Raymond Burr.”
6. One of the most popular elements of Mothra (1961) is the miniature singing twins, but the movie as originally filmed featured triplets. An entire subplot about one of the triplets being stepped on by a careless go-go dancer was edited out of the final film in post-production.
7. The English dub for 1965 film Invasion of the Astro-Monster makes frequent reference to the mysterious “Planet X,” but in the original Japanese dialogue, it’s called “Planet T’Manx.” A young actor and kaiju fan named Albert Schwipp paid tribute to this when he took the stage name “Tom Hanks.”
8. Godzilla films are notable for their frequent use of political allegory. In 1968, Toho planned to continue this tradition with Godzilla vs. Sumababulon, a thinly veiled rant against the quick-lived fad of baby sumo wresting. The project was cancelled when legislation was passed outlawing the sport.
9. Mel Blanc provided the voice of Godzilla for every film in the series from 1954 until Blanc’s death in 1989. He is voiced in the new film by Billy Crystal.
10. 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla marked the last original Godzilla film made for a decade, although in 1978, Toho scraped together a “best of” compliation film titled That’s Godzilla! It was so successful, the studio quickly produced three follow-ups: That’s Still Godzilla! (1979), Oh Godzilla! You Devil (1980), and A Looney Looney Looney Jet Jaguar Movie (1981).
11. A spin-off television series, Gadzookie, P.I., was the highest-rated show on Japanese television from 1978 until 1981.
12. President Jimmy Carter was a fan of the film series, often inviting visiting dignitaries to screenings of Godzilla movies at the White House. He and Zbigniew Brzezinski went so far as to build a miniature Tokyo at Camp David, taking turns stomping around in a Ghidorah suit. Home movies of this are on display at the Walter Mondale Vice Presidential Library.
13. George Lucas paid tribute to Mothra in Return of the Jedi, naming the leader of the rebels “Mon Mothra.”
14. Rock band Blue Öyster Cult scored a hit with their song “Godzilla” despite never having seen any of the films featuring the famous monster. “We named it after our manager, Stanley J. Godzilla,” explained lead singer Donald Roeser in a 1986 Rolling Stone interview. “The song itself, like all our songs, was about Frisbee golf. Stan loved the game. Then we found out there was a bunch of movies. Who knew?”
15. “Ookondoru” was the most popular girls’ name in Japan in 1968.
16. Before hitting it big on Welcome Back, Kotter, Gabe Kaplan was a recognizable face in Japan. He appeared in seven Godzilla movies as an unnamed American cabbie who crashed his taxi into a fire hydrant every time he spied a monster, after which he would repeat his popular catchphrase, “Howzie yowzie, that’s one big iguana!”
17. Writer Ken Nuronuma got the inspiration for the flying monster Rodan while vacationing in Italy, where he stumbled upon a farmer using a trebuchet to hurl walruses across a field.
18. When a stunt performers’ strike in 1971 threatened to delay the production of Godzilla vs. Gigan (as no one was available to play the title monsters), special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano concocted an unusual solution, filling the Godzilla suit with seventy-three Vasoline-covered ferrets.
19. Producers hoped to duplicate the success of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) with a string of other similar titles. But Godzilla vs. RoboGodzilla (1995), Godzilla vs. RoboMechaSpaceGodzilla (1996), and Godzilla vs. GodzillaGodzilla (1997) all failed thoroughly at the Japanese box office and have never been released internationally.
20. Before Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla hit theaters in 1998, director Allan Moyle spent years trying to secure the rights for an American remake. When the project fell through, Moyle didn’t want to let his ideas go; he made a few subtle tweaks to the screenplay and filmed it under the new title Empire Records.
21. Puff Daddy’s collaboration with guitarist Jimmy Page on the soundtrack to Emmerich’s Godzilla (infamously borrowing the central riff from Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir”) came about only after the rapper failed to secure the rights to sample the 1971 chart-topper “Brand New Key.”
22. This year’s modernized adaptation of Godzilla was originally slated to star Bryan Cranston as the Japanese scientist and Ken Watanabe as the American. A mere two days before shooting began, Gareth Edwards decided to have the actors switch roles. “I thought it would bring a new dimension to the characters,” the director explained in an interview with Martha Stewart Living last month.
23. It took David Strathairn forty minutes every morning to get into the Godzilla suit.