Although he often played second banana to King Kong in terms of popularity, Godzilla is among the most unforgettable large-scale monsters in movie history. The Lizard King boasts 28 Japanese films to his credit, and an in-development American remake — along with a Criterion Collection release of the original — are giving the massive monster a lot to slap his tail about.
Ishiro Honda made his mark directing special-effects-driven tokusatsu films and his Godzilla flicks were his towering achievement. The original Godzilla was released in 1954. While post-war sci-fi and horror films were generally full of nuclear paranoia, one can't compare the what-if worries of Cold War Americans and Russians to the actual, horrific losses of the Japanese at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
In the original, Godzilla is a reptile mutant who achieved his incredible size, strength and special powers from radiation exposure after a nuclear test blast. It's no coincidence that the monster's most recent surfacing comes on the heels of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima almost exactly one year ago, and a scene in the original Godzilla film that finds government officials and scientists arguing about making their information public eerily juxtaposes the lack of transparency in the current Japanese government.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Godzilla is a bad guy in this first installment and — while this is a monster movie — it's also a thoughtful meditation on the insanity of nuclear proliferation wrapped in a brooding drama that's full of palpable grief and loss. We still care about this movie because it's one of those rare treasures of the genre: a monster flick that's full of humanity.