For the past couple of months I've had this small personal project of trying to map out the Godzilla brand's history in my country, digging though all sorts of newspaper and magazine archives, books, box office data, movie websites, and whatever else I had access to. I've compiled them into a Google Doc which I have shared elsewhere, but I'm also posting it here on DeviantArt just in case anyone's interested.
This is perhaps the most irrelevant subject ever to be written about in monster movie discourse, but given Toho Studio’s recently announced plans to milk the Godzilla brand on a global scale in the future, maybe there is some topicality to it after all. So, what was up with the “Big G” outside of his main hubs of Japan and the United States? Is there more to the franchise than just those oddball German, Italian, Spanish or French titles, weird posters or Luigi Cozzi’s handiwork? Not really, but there’s a much longer answer below.
It’s my contribution to expanding the topic of Godzilla’s international (ir)relevance, with some bits of movie history trivia. I wanted to compile this info into one place for years, mostly for personal reference’s sake, but a few others have expressed interest in reading it for themselves, so here it is. There ain’t much to unpack, though, since Hungary only released a grand total of five Godzilla films so far, and two of those barely qualify as genuine releases.
I and others would definitely like to find out more about how Godzilla has fared in other countries. Innumerable publications have dealt with the impact of these films in Japan and America, but even the most informative and well-researched books and articles tend to paint a skewed image of the franchise if they only focus on those two territories. Thankfully, there’s a highly informative German retrospective on Godzilla and Gamera films that goes into detail on all the weird German dubbing changes on this YouTube channel (language skills required), and you can read a bit of Swedish Godzilla history here. But getting more would be nice.
For the Donald Keene Center’s 2004 presentation on the global presence of Japanese monster and sci-fi movies, Columbia University’s Greg Pflugfelder wrote “Godzilla’s reception behind the Iron Curtain is a story that remains to be told.“ In 2014, he added “We like to think that “Godzilla” is a U.S.-Japan story. That’s not really what was going on in the world if you cast your eyes more broadly. I’m just starting to look into how Godzilla was marketed in Eastern Europe.“
I approve of this study. Godzilla co-creator Ishiro Honda was also of the mind that the series and its themes should have a wide-reaching importance rather than being confined to just Japan.
Honda’s original 1954 Godzilla indeed became a global phenomenon in the years following its release, even if some places had to wait decades to see it in its unaltered state. But “the roar heard around the world,” as it’s been dubbed by some monster scholars, was drowned out by other noises when it had reached the Carpathian Basin. In late 1956, Hungary was busy acting out a smaller scale, real-life version of the movie, except the tanks were on the monster’s side and they won in the end. With the Soviet Union reinforcing its strength over the country that just recently ended up on the losing side of World War II, the very concept of monster movies remained an enigma for decades. Hardly the worst side effect of the Communist rule, but it’s up there. Pop culture as a whole stagnated, evolving in a different path than in the far East and far West.
Monster cinema was rare even before that. Classics like the original 1933 King Kong and the 1931 Dracula, starring Hungarian-born Béla Lugosi, reached the country soon after their U.S. release (to mixed reactions, mostly from critics), but many similar pictures were delayed or outright barred from being exhibited, and the genre was all but forgotten for the rest of the century. There were no late night creature features, cult movie marathons, drive-ins or grindhouse theaters screening this stuff, and barely any monster movie video tapes up for rental. And of course any publication resembling the likes of Famous Monsters of Filmland or Japanese Giants was completely unthinkable. Monster films just couldn’t take root in public awareness the way they had seeped into American pop-culture.
Even more contemporary, mainstream works were stalled during the decades of Communist rule, as discussed by old-school fantasy film nut Péter Kollárik in his lookback at early Hungarian attempts at sci-fi special effects. The ‘76 King Kong remake, released after an 8 year wait, at least gave that generation an idea of what giant monster movies are like. Japan and giant monsters, however, remained wholly separate concepts to the public, and for the most part that still hasn’t changed. A bunch of older Akira Kurosawa films got dubbed in the ‘70s to give people a taste of classic Japanese cinema, and further films from Japan began slowly seeping in, but Godzilla missed the boat. As far as I can tell, Kurosawa’s later pictures are the only movies with Honda’s handprints on them that got released here. At least Kong, many Universal Pictures horror films, and most Ray Harryhausen movies finally attained wide availability on DVD around the early 2000s, though garnering little attention.
Pflugfelder’s ‘04 presentation said: “Long before the Cold War ended, audiences not only in Poland but also in such Communist states as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia were able to visit Japan through the medium of kaijû eiga.“ Correction: Hungary missed out. Why, who knows, but this isolation from Japanese cinema still affects how Japanese pop-culture is regarded today, kaiju films especially.
Some other regions in the neighborhood were not as unlucky: Czechoslovakia released Godzilla’s Americanized version, Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 1956 under the title “Probuzená zkáza” (which translates to something like ”Awakened Destruction”). Poland also got in on the fun, as did Romania, and some other European countries, less restricted by Soviet rule, continued to showcase Japanese fantasy and sci-fi films throughout subsequent years – most notably West Germany.
The Godzilla franchise did however get occasional references in newspaper articles, film analysis books and movie magazines, and one bibliographical documentary novel from 1990 also mentioned the Romanian release of King of the Monsters. Seems the large subgroup of Hungarians living in what is now Romania were the only ones free to watch the movie. And, technically, those with access to certain foreign TV networks could also see it on the small screen, as old television guides confirm that the film (presumably its German cut) was broadcast in 1979 on an Austrian channel.
The earliest Godzilla-related news article I could find so far is from the December 24, 1957 issue of Népakarat, and it briefly mentions the release of “The Return of Godzilla,” which was the title of Godzilla Raids Again in a few European countries. A more elaborate article titled “A relevant science fiction movie” came out in Dolgozók Lapja in February 1958, and reports that Japan has recently released a new sci-fi film, the original Godzilla. (Back then, over 3 year-old news still counted as recent.) The text gives a quick rundown on the plot and the nuclear theme. Oddities are Dr. Serizawa being called a teacher and the Oxygen Destroyer having the power not only to destroy, but also to recreate life “from a distance”. Forgivable errors, as the writer most likely had no first-hand experience with the movie and had to rely on a Polish film journal’s review of it.
Fast-forward from the ‘50s to 1989, when distribution company Mokép released Jun Fukuda’s 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in theaters and on VHS. I only found out about this over two decades after the fact, and it felt surreal to realize that Godzilla had actually set foot here. But it happened, and it wasn’t pretty.
Info about the release is sparse. It kicked off the ‘89 summer movie season, with news outlets publicizing Godzilla as “Japan’s answer to King Kong” who has appeared in “over a hundred Japanese movies.” We’ll get there someday. Box office stats remain elusive, but as for the audience’s and critics’ reception, let's just say the color choice of the above poster is appropriate, because viewers saw red. No wonder: not only was it unlike any film anyone here had ever seen, it was also going up against blockbusters imported from Hollywood, which were getting all the more accessible and popular. It’s still a mystery why anyone bothered to release a Godzilla movie at all, and why they’d go with this one. I guess the series’ most recent entry at the time, 1984′s The Return of Godzilla or its ‘85 American recut, would have been too political, or just plain unavailable for distribution in the region. But they may as well have chosen Godzilla vs. Megalon, for the reception wouldn’t have been any less negative.
I could dig up only four contemporary reviews. One (from the journal Filmvilág) sums up the film as “somewhat tired and lacking in imagination,” though it acknowledges the rest of the series’ success. Still, the review ends on a negative note, criticizing the filmmakers for trying to depict abstract imagery like the Sun rising in the west in a literal, realistic way, which the author says is a huge no-no.
Another reviewer (from Pest Megyei Hírlap) was far less kind, saying the movie is “horrifically stupid,” “incoherent,” amounts to “perfectly nothing,” and only merits discussion due to its complete worthlessness. The critic furiously slams the film for “stealing” elements like a giant creature destroying buildings from King Kong, and is especially harsh on the “unbelievably primitive” effects, arguing that if something is below the standards of Jaws, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it has no business being screened to an audience. Smells like Godzilla’s dreaded foe, the “out of touch movie critic” has struck again.
The third review (from Magyar Nemzet) is a similar rambling mess, bemoaning that “one of the worst science fiction films in movie history” had come to this country, a “monster of a movie” that “can in no way be called imaginative.” The critic advises everyone to avoid it, unless they’re “hardcore zealots who don’t shy away from any challenge” or if they’re “swimming in free time and don’t know how to waste it.” He also bashes the film because he doesn’t get why the monsters don’t attack the human characters.
The fourth overview (also from Magyar Nemzet) is a step-up in that its author actually tries to look for a deeper meaning and place the film into proper context for a change. He claims it is a retread of Honda’s King Kong Escapes (which he calls “Nogyakushu” aka “King Kong’s Fight with the Robot”), and that both movies’ takeaway is that the real product always trumps a knockoff. He recognizes Godzilla’s place “in the sad wax museum of the inspired figures of our time, among zombies, yetis and killer robots” in a short article influenced by a Japanese Infermental presentation on Godzilla (more on that below).
The film never really got much love since those days either, and later publications continued to deride it along with the rest of the series -- a standout example being the atrociously unprofessional and tryhard “funny” multi-issue franchise retrospective published in the Hungarian Fangoria magazine from the 2000s. It’s seen a handful television showings on regional networks before the distribution rights expired in 1994, and every company has avoided the franchise like the plague ever since. Nowadays, if GvsMG is remembered at all, it tends to be viewed as one of the most laughably horrid films of all time. It may have been a bright spot in the Japanese film industry crisis of the early ‘70s, but it wasn’t ready for 1989′s East-Central Europe, much less for today’s. Small kids may have liked it, though their numbers were too low to grant the film any sort of cult status in the present.
There is no exact audience score, but the user ratings of some Hungarian movie databases can give us a general idea.
- Port.hu (the country’s most widely used movie website): the film’s not even listed there
- Kritikustomeg.hu: 2.9/5 (with 20 votes)
- Filmkatalogus.hu: 2.32/5 (with 32 votes), a definite improvement from the one-point-something it had a couple years ago
- Mafab.hu: 5.5/10 (with 18 votes)
Not much to go on, I know. As for the VHS release, it was apparently so rare/obscure/unwanted that the only forthcoming person on the internet to know anything about it was an Italian collector, who took the following photo (and a few others) in late 2014:
The plastic case’s coloring is apt, since seeing this image was like finding gold. This is the only Hungarian home video release of any Japanese-made Godzilla movie, a title it will likely hold onto forever. And perhaps due to the interest this find had spurred, someone else ripped his own VHS, so after a quarter century of obscurity, the dub finally became public. Here’s some trivia and observations:
- The definite article “a” is absent from the VHS cover, meaning the movie couldn’t escape having multiple titles even here. Another thing that’s missing is Godzilla. King Caesar takes the spotlight for once, maybe to make up for his absence from the poster.
- Speaking of, the poster is the creation of artist duo Zoltán Boros and Gábor Szikszai, whose other works include a shitton of book and magazine covers for fantasy and sci-fi publications, and various Star Wars, Magic the Gathering and World of Warcraft trading cards. This was the only movie poster they’ve made.
- The film seems to be uncut, clocking in at 84 mins, though the online version cuts to the Japanese dialogue for a few seconds (probably an error with the VHS rip?). Some newspapers place the running time at 81 minutes, but I don’t know what’s that about.
- Surprisingly, very much unlike the cheap English dub, our dubbing cast was comprised of highly talented and respected stage performers and voice actors, well known from a multitude of other roles. Their performances would make the dub a pleasure to listen to, except…
- The translator, himself a high-profile figure who has localized all sorts of cinematic classics ranging from Citizen Kane to the original Star Wars trilogy, was clearly unfamiliar with the material. Apart from minor but annoying blunders like mistranslating the prophecy at the beginning (claiming that two monsters will destroy humanity rather than save it), the dialogue can’t decide if there’s only one or multiple Godzillas, Mechagodzillas and Anguiruses. The dub suggests Godzilla gets killed midway through, and the Godzilla that returns at the end is a different one. In some scenes, Mechagodzilla is said to be mass-produced, in others, there’s only one of him. And when there’s a flashback to a previous scene with Anguirus, the characters react as if a new Anguirus had shown up in real time. Portions of the dialogue seem to have been guesswork incorporating some words from the original script, but spun differently.
- The reference to Godzilla’s and Anguirus’ friendship is also dropped; instead, Keisuke is surprised that such creatures are fighting at all. These kinda things are to be expected when you start dubbing a film series with its 14th entry with no context of what came before. But, if you ever wanted a connection between Citizen Kane and Godzilla, there you go.
- King Caesar is referred to as “Sárkánycsászár,” meaning “Dragon Emperor,” which some might say is even farther removed from his original name than the Toho-approved official English designation. But, at least “dragon” refers to an actual creature. Anguirus is named “Angiras” and the Astanopkaron metal is called as “Astanopkalon”.
- Just like in the original Japanese dialogue, terms like “black hole” and “space titanium” are spoken in English.
- Despite what it says on the poster and the back of the VHS case, the dub calls the director “Senni” Fukuda (though the audio quality makes it sound like “Pukuda”). Screenplay is credited to “Vinichi” Sekizawa and “Masakumi” Fukishima, and cinematography to “Oizawa Yuzura”.
- The Hungarian release was so obscure that even when the movie was referenced in film history literature, such as the writings of Jenő Király, it was discussed under its German title “King Kong against Godzilla” (in the German dub, MechaG is named King Kong). Even more confusingly, Király’s books refer to Mechagodzilla simply as “fake-Godzilla,” while the name Mechagodzilla is reserved for… Moguera.
- It was also given a nod in the 2007 Hungarian animated film Cat City 2, featuring a fight between a giant robot dog and a giant satan cat. Again they got the official title wrong, calling it “Godzilla kontra Mechagodzilla”.
- According to the political tabloid Kurír, a certain Bertalan G. (Google gives me nothing, but he was some controversial small-fry politician I presume?) organized a screening of the film some time in the ‘80s, during a soviet film week in a small community. The paper cited this as one of the reasons why this guy was a joke and an oppositional figure on a nation-wide scale.
The end of the Soviet Union allowed media to flow less restrictively between borders, especially through the former Iron Curtain. According to William M. Tsutsui and Michiko Ito’s essay collection In Godzilla’s Footsteps, Russia for example finally got its dose of Godzilla movies in 1993-94. Not us. During the ‘90s, unless you could get your hands on VHS tapes from more Godzilla-friendly countries, the only way to watch these films was through foreign TV and satellite networks like the German ProSieben or Sat1, which aired a selection of Showa and Heisei movies throughout the decade. Kurír even gave a snide shout-out to Sat1, recommending the movies only to the young-at-heart while also taking shots at them, saying they’re not good at all and describing Godzilla as a “thirty meter tall, fifteen ton T. rex made out of papier-mâché”.
Reporting on the production of the TriStar adaptation in 1996, they also matter-of-factly stated that Godzilla has never been successful outside of Japan, and that these movies don’t count as science fiction because “science fiction actually produces some masterpieces, while Godzilla only entices laughter”. Technically, they weren’t fully wrong, as the U.S. and even Germany cut off their release of the Heisei films around the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The franchise experienced extreme global irrelevance in those days, which is partially why the Sony-TriStar film turned out the way it did.
I missed out on all the German reruns, and our relatives in the States probably cared less for monster films than for us, so before the American adaptation rolled around, the sole Godzilla-related entertainment I had (apart from the fancy stories I drew on paper) was the Hanna-Barbera animated show that reran on Cartoon Network at the time, in English. While Hungary has an immense fondness for old-school Hanna-Barbera crap, dubbing ‘70s Yogi Bear shows as recently as 2017, their Godzilla series was never picked up, not even on Boomerang.
Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla was the next one to be released, and the only one to strike a chord with local moviegoers. Though the film had already been thoroughly trashed in the U.S. by the time it reached local cinemas on August 27, the advertising campaign and the barrage of merch was a bit more successful here. Mixed reactions aside, the movie reportedly sold close to 141,000 tickets by its opening weekend, and over 492,000 in total, an okay number for a country of 10 million people. In fact, it was only outdone by two other films that year: Titanic, which was released here in January 1998 and drew in twice as many viewers, and Armageddon, which just barely edged out. It became the country’s second best-selling DVD by 2000, only topped by Matrix.
I won’t look at reviews because there’s too many, but the movie was hardly revered by critics. The only aspects to get more or less consistent praise were the effects, some memorable sequences (like the fisherman scene) and of course Jean Reno. Audiences reacted better, so here’s some scores:
- Port.hu: 7.5/10 (368 votes)
- Kritikustomeg.hu: 2.8/5 (817 votes)
- Filmkatalogus.hu: 3.81/5 (1842 votes)
- Mafab.hu: 7.9/10 (151 votes)
- Mozi24.hu: 6.2/10 (? votes)
The film benefited from the lack of a local Godzilla fandom and from monster movies in general being so unknown. This made the deviations from its source material and derivative elements borrowed from non-Godzilla films feel less insulting. Even the media shilled hard for the movie, celebrating its differences from the Japanese films. I distinctly remember seeing a TV report that dedicated a segment to praising the film and its special effects, all the while explaining how bad the Japanese movies were by selectively using the most ridiculous clips from Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Megalon to illustrate their point. Even Mothra showed up to be poked fun at. It was the first time most people had seen anything from the Toho Godzilla films, and the media’s narrative was that they’re awful and should be hated. But since I could find no archive of this report, my memories might have colored it to be more negative than it really was. (I have also talked about this report here.)
Some magazine articles, which I sadly never came across, were more thoughtful in their approach to the classic movies. In specific, issue 82 of Cinema Magazin ran a 23 page special overview of the franchise. This isn’t too surprising, as the magazine originated from Germany, and as mentioned, they have always been one of the few European territories to have some amount of love for the Big G – Emmerich notwithstanding.
The Sony-TriStar product’s failure in the States lead to a slight reappraisal of the Toho films, and the Western fanbase became more outspoken and visible than before. Fans-turned-film historians gave scholarly analyses of the films in books, magazines and interviews, generating insightful and accessible discourse to make up for the severe critical trashing the franchise had received in previous decades. Many formerly neglected films also came out on DVD.
Meanwhile over here, the American movie just cemented itself into the status of the only Godzilla movie worth talking about, the only one to ever exist in the general public’s mind, and the occasional reruns of its animated spin-off (which still kept cropping up on television in recent years) gave people even less incentive to think that this wasn’t the “true” Godzilla. So it’s no surprise that, just as it had happened with Heisei, the Millennium series was also glossed over. This wasn’t the only Japanese property to suffer at the time, as what little anime there had been on local TV also got attacked by media regulators and enraged parents, but that’s a different story.
Godzilla 1998 continues to be spammed frequently on the airwaves, being shown every couple of weeks or months on multiple TV channels, and it got another short theatrical run in 2014 to ride the publicity of the Legendary Pictures reboot and give an alternative to viewers driven away by that movie. It was still getting attention through Sony’s 2018 open-air cult movie screening event that took place this summer in Budapest, celebrating the film’s 20th anniversary. While Sony’s Hungarian website acknowledged its bad reputation, the event organizers still promoted it as a highly successful movie. And from their viewpoint, who could argue with that assessment? Godzilla 1998 was huge moneymaker and a beloved cult classic here. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s hopes of crushing the original Godzilla and endearing the public with their replacement had come true, sort of, they should have just looked away from the U.S. and Japanese market for a moment to realize it. One nation’s trash is another nation’s treasure.
Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, released on May 15, also garnered mixed reactions, tilting a lot more towards negative. Despite the promos and trailers being for the most part well received, general non-fans were again left scratching their heads and even many fans felt underwhelmed. Lovers of the TriStar movie were of course the most furious, having spent all those years waiting for a sequel without realizing that boat had long sailed, and sunk.
Box office data closely mirrored the rest of the world; the film started off with the best numbers of the year up to that point (59,000 tickets), followed by the biggest drop, losing close to three quarters of its audience after its first week. The movie produced a total of about 113,000 admissions, which isn’t a terrible number, but it’s a pretty pathetic follow-up to the successful opening. It drew in less people under four weeks than G-98 had under four days – granted, this film had plenty more competition, and the movie-going landscape has changed a lot since the ‘90s, especially in this country where disposable income is low and movie piracy is high. That said, while I haven’t attended any screenings, cinema crowd reports have spoken of hugely negative reactions. Middling reviews and horrible word of mouth brought the film down.
Again, I won’t go browsing through all the reviews, but a lot of them were in the ‘meh’ and the ‘thumbs down’ camp – one of the more publicized ones even summed up the movie as “lowering the bar,” and wished it was more like the ‘98 one, which the writer also hated, but found it more memorable, fun and less pretentious.
The film’s viewership also waned a lot in its domestic market, but thanks to the success of the opening, it performed rather well overall, compared to the TriStar version at least. The mostly positive American press and other Godzilla-related writings from Western fanboys presented it in a flattering light. This even influenced books like Brian Solomon’s Godzilla FAQ, a volume celebrating the franchise’s importance on the two sides of the Pacific, which judged the film a “worldwide triumph”. To which I refer back to the quote “That’s not really what was going on in the world if you cast your eyes more broadly.”
All this is not to say the movie didn’t have its supporters. Aside from the just about universally panned human plot and characters, some reviewers spoke highly of the monster bits and were relieved that it was closer to the Toho movies than the previous American installment. But the film was still met with a lot of disapproval from the general crowd, so to the extent that the TriStar version can be called a failure for its negative reception in its home land and Japan, much of the same can be said for Legendary Pictures’ reboot in this small market. Whether this can be traced back to the popularity and cult status G-98 enjoys in certain circles is an unclear matter, but a lot of internet-goers were disappointed or outright mad that the film tried to take Godzilla back to his Japanese roots, give him a more traditional design with his traditional abilities, which were wholly alien and unappealing to them. What more, some even complained that the film “ruined Emmerich’s original vision.” Aside from the major difference in the reception of the two movies, their depictions of their titular creatures also became a stark point of division, with apparently the majority of people not merely preferring TriStark’s take on Godzilla to the Toho and Legendary versions, but outright refusing to accept the latter two -- “GINO” here applies to the genuine Godzilla.
G-14 also gets ample TV showings, though not nearly as many as its overall more popular ‘98 sibling, making these the only two Godzilla movies to be in constant circulation and in the mainstream’s attention. They’re also the only two still available on any form of home media. Though Legendary’s Kong: Skull Island from 2017 was better received despite having its rating bumped up to 16+ (124,000 viewers and better user scores), the reeking stench of disappointment Godzilla had left on public consciousness means its 2019 sequel will have a lot to prove and make up for to draw back local audiences… which is something I don’t think the creators are losing a lot of sleep over. This country ain’t China, after all. Legendary Godzilla’s numbers are:
- Port.hu: 4.9/10 (339 votes)
- Kritikustomeg.hu: 2.7/5 (456 votes)
- Filmkatalogus.hu: 3.03/5 (676 votes)
- Mafab.hu: 5.9/10 (163 votes)
- Mozi24.hu: 6.5/10 (? votes)
Given the low number of votes on all of the films listed, these stats can hardly be extrapolated into concrete, “objective” facts. Using website user ratings to support any sort of point is a shaky business to begin with. But they are to a degree representative of the movies’ reception, and mostly correspond to the reactions that can be read/heard on various online platforms.
2016′s Shin Godzilla was a major success in Japan and its limited run in U.S. theaters also proved popular. It was famously set to open in 100 markets worldwide, but Hungary wasn’t on the list. From what I gather, Shin was screened unofficially at least once, on May 26, 2017, not in a theater but in a Japanese language class. The school described it as an “unusual movie”.
Despite the film’s unavailability, the now-defunct newspaper Magyar Nemzet gave it a positive review, noting its political backdrop and allusions to Fukushima, but their article still stuck to the usual cliche of dismissing the genre (apart from the original and Shin) as “so bad it’s good” schlock.
The anime movies, so far consisting of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters and Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, are on here purely due to Netflix releasing them internationally in 2018, on January 17 and July 18, respectively. They weren’t dubbed or subbed in Hungarian (not much content in the Netflix library is), but they can legally be streamed within the borders of the country, meaning that in a loose definition of the word, they technically got released. And the third part will also follow.
While the country has a large anime subculture, not many cared for these. IGN USA gave Planet of the Monsters a 7/10, calling it “fresh” and “like a video game”(?), IGN Hungary was meanwhile perhaps more reasonable by rating it 4/10 and calling it boring tripe that carries the worst elements of the live-action films. There’s practically nothing to go on regarding the reception of City on the Edge of Battle. But, given how divisive it has been elsewhere, and that it repeats so many of the first installment’s faults, I can guarantee it’s not going to be positive.
Division is also a keyword for 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters at this point, of which so far there’s only a trailer. While fans are hyped and news outlets maintain a positive outlook, the general audience reaction is more mixed, with a portion of the commenters continuing to sing praise of the TriStar version and condemning Legendary’s reboot series.
And this is where we’re now. It’s kind of a crappy story; there’s no Frankensteins and King Kongs creeping into the films like in Germany, no neat anecdotes about inventive marketing stunts or meme-worthy dub moments, no crazy film posters, no cultural attachment (other than to G-98). This is an extremely niche genre with a limited appeal, after all, and fans in places like America and Germany should consider themselves lucky that their homes got to experience most of these films in their heyday.
Though I have brought up Germany a lot as an example of a non-English speaking country that’s more open to Japanese fantasy cinema, I don’t want to give the impression that they belong in the same league as the States – despite Deutschland’s long history with Godzilla, the franchise is largely still obscure and mocked there, seen as little more than low grade trash by the mainstream. But their Godzilla-scene is still lightyears ahead of most other countries, thanks to the efforts of people like Jörg Buttgereit or Detlef Claus and the commendably produced German home video releases of these films. Nor is Germany alone in this, as mentioned in the beginning of this writing. Small subsections of the fanbase from other nations have also been gaining visibility, like the French toku fandom through conventions and in works like the G-Fan magazine and the (now unavailable) documentary film Kaijunited. Italy is another prominent territory in European kaiju movie history. None are as significant as the American one, but these small fan communities exist, strengthening Godzilla’s global appeal bit by bit. Hungary stands as an example of a market Japanese fantasy productions have almost completely avoided.
And it’s not just kaiju movies that had a rough history here, as the constant failures at trying to build up a Hungarian anime market can attest to. But despite loads of controversy, anime have slowly been getting more popular-ish over the years, and networks are less reluctant to air them. Some East Asian live action shows and movies have also made their way to television and built up minor cult followings. Korean and Japanese dramas, period pieces and Chinese kung-fu movies are slowly spreading. Tokusatsu, kaiju and Godzilla have very little chance of joining them, there’s just nothing for them to build on. A handful of Power Rangers series did get sporadic releases, but not enough to exert any staying power. And in spite of the fact that a number of prominent anime creators have worked on the movies in recent years, the numerous local weebs are just as likely to be either completely unaware of or detest the Godzilla franchise as an average person.
There are a few G-fans, there have been intelligent articles composed about the films, just not enough to kick off a legit discourse or form any sort of tangible, wider demand for Godzilla and his crew, their movies and their merch. This is a small country, which amplifies the obscurity of any niche interest and makes any small fandom seem even smaller. Unlike in the U.S., the lack of Godzilla-related media imports, including books, periodicals or documentaries analyzing the films, and the overwhelmingly negative writings published in journals provided no base for a bigger fandom to form over the decades. This was just compounded by the smash success of Godzilla 1998, a sentence I’m sure most Western fans probably have a hard time comprehending. And the downtime in Godzilla film production following the end of the Millennium series, which coincided with the rise of internet usage and social media, was a grand missed opportunity for popularizing the brand globally. This gap in the market was instead filled by shoddy Asylum creature features and the like, whose infamy quickly spread across the web, damaging the reputation of monster movies even further.
The thing is, this country obsesses over the “old and familiar” but tends to react harshly to the “old and unfamiliar”. There is very little variety in television programming, as Hungarians like to watch the same old movies and shows over and over. Had Godzilla and other monster films taken root here, this country could easily be one of their biggest supporters and consumers. But since they didn’t, they lack the “familiarity” that audiences are drawn to, and they entice rejection instead. As mentioned several times, G-98 is the only entry in the series to have enamored itself to viewers, and it continues to enjoy the benefits of that familiarity. American fans really, really underestimate how popular that film is in certain territories.
So far, neither G-14, nor Shin, nor the anime movies have given general audiences much enthusiasm to consider giving the franchise a chance, to which media distributors respond by continuing to ignore the films. As for Toho’s plans of branching out into international markets, I look forward to hearing about their achievements elsewhere.
Infermental was a series of international and highly experimental videotape “magazines” in the 80s, originally developed by the late Hungarian filmmaker Gábor Bódy. Presentations were made by people from all over the world, covering a variety of subjects and utilizing all sorts of visual effects and editing tricks. They were screened at special events that lasted for hours.
The 8th edition from 1988, titled In the Afterglow of TV Land, was all about Japan, and featured segments devoted to Godzilla under the title The Twilight of the Godz (see overview here and here). According to old newspaper summaries, the presentation showed Godzilla as a “freak of techno-corporation,” a reflection of the wastes of modern mass media flooding back into homes and influencing culture and art. Images of neon signs, sex shops, Godzilla toys, sleeping commuters and tired television reruns symbolized the state of ‘80s Japanese consumerism and pop culture. A strange but interesting piece of forgotten Godzilla-related media.
The “magazine” was also screened in Budapest. Both Magyar Nemzet and Video Magazin acknowledged Godzilla as the first Japanese film figure to draw global attention in their reports on the event, so that was nice. The tapes are now archived in the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe in Germany.
1988 also saw the birth of this unofficial Hungarian “Godzilla” game for the Commodore 16 and Plus/4, programmed by 16 year-old Attila Kosir. Our Godzilla-In-Name-Only on the cover is a cross between the 1967 South Korean monster Yongary and a Ceratosaurus, and is described as a fire-breathing dragon. In the game, he’s a small, vulnerable T. rex with bad breath.
The leading commercial TV station, RTL Klub got into hot water for scheduling reruns of 1998′s Godzilla: The Series to air on Saturday mornings. Our former dictatorial media authorities blasted this “Japanese cartoon” for showing Godzilla wrecking buildings while hunting giant rats, which they deemed unsuitable for impressionable children, and forced the channel off the air for 20 minutes as punishment at some point in July 2009. Kids waiting for their cartoons that morning were probably less than thrilled. Adults likewise, as the screen remained blacked-out for another 12 hours that day for the network’s other misdeeds. These were also the same people who had practically killed off anime imports a decade earlier to shield kids from any depiction of violence and consumerism.
Jenő Király’s Godzilla musings are a doozy. The highly respected and sadly recently passed film historian deserves a lot of praise for discussing kaiju movies with a positive mindset, looking for deeper thematic meanings instead of rudely dismissing them based on their technical aspects. However, it’s clear he had a very limited exposure to these films and perhaps no exposure at all to literature analyzing them, as only a handful of them are brought up in his writings, all under their strange German titles. He was more concerned with uncovering more universal (and at times latent) themes, like the symbolism of creation vs. destruction, technological deficiency or masculinity/monstrosity vs. femininity, rather than the specific themes the moviemakers actually intended to pursue in their works.
His observations about allegorical parallels can also come off as a tad abstract or overthought – Mecha-King Ghidorah shackling Godzilla is a metaphor for the inner humanizing powers of pure Japanese women, and Emmy controlling both machine and monster represents the unity between God and creation? It’s also a huge omission that his discussions on femininity gloss over Mothra, Biollante and the more important female heroines/villains of films like Invasion of Astro-Monster, Destroy All Monsters, and most of the Heisei movies. I guess he simply couldn’t watch most of these films, and it does make his theses and conclusions incomplete. He also uses some odd terminology (Moguera = Mechagodzilla, Biollante = Rosegodzilla, Godzillasaurus = Brontosaurus). Still, props for the man for respecting the films!
Király also introduced the literary term “biotitan” for creatures that encompass the genres of horror, science fiction, fantasy and disaster movies, without belonging strictly to one or the other. This is mainly in reference to kaiju and their genre-busting exploits.
On the topic of terminology mixups, the Hungarian dubs of Legendary’s Monsterverse films already have their inconsistencies. Monarch, the secretive organisation tying the movies together, was called “Király” (King) in Godzilla 2014, but the dub of Kong: Skull Island left the name in English. Oops. Just for the record, MUTO was translated as “Massive Ultra-Terrestrial Organism,” and the Skullcrawlers were named “Csontrágók” (“Bone Chewers”) in the trailers but “Koponyarágók” (“Skull Chewers”) in the movie itself.
To the surprise of no one, Gamera received even less love here. But unlike the original Godzilla or its American recut (or any other Japanese monster film ever made for that matter), 1966′s Gammera the Invincible, the American edit of the original 1965 Gamera, actually aired on TV in 2012, as part of the Sony-produced late-night cult movie program Max’s Midnight Movies, a kind of chill mix between MonsterVision and MST3K (both of which are also hugely obscure in the country) hosted by internationally known actress Lili Bordán. The film looked like, and may well have been, a low-quality YouTube rip and had no subs.
The show was supposedly erased from existence during the Sony hack of 2014. Recordings can be found online, but the main segment discussing Gam(m)era seems gone for good – at least, I can’t find it. Another short bit about Gamera has survived in the series finale up until very recently on writer Scott Alexander Young’s Vimeo account, but that video’s been taken down while I was writing this. Fuck. Godzilla wasn’t featured on the show, most likely due to his prohibitive expenses.
Godzilla may be one of the least noteworthy and popular franchises in this country, but Hungarians have influenced it in some ways. The original movie very briefly references the Budapest String Quartet’s Japanese tour. The American version of All Monsters Attack replaced the Japanese opening song with a modified version of a catchy stock tune called Crime Fiction by Ervin Jereb. The 2014 movie and its trailers have also made good use of György Ligeti’s Requiem. The film’s co-writer Frank Darabont, though born after his parents had fled their country, is Hungarian by descent. The mile-long credits of both American movies also list a number of other Hungarians among their multi-national crew. And Godzilla, the kaiju genre and Japan as a whole certainly owe a lot of acknowledgement to Leo Szilard and Edward Teller.
While Japanese kaiju remain neglected, television does occasionally show stuff like Syfy/Asylum monster flicks and even the 1999 Yonggary re-imagining. These have established a wide notoriety, influencing the public perception of their oriental progenitors, with people associating the “monster vs. monster” setup more with the Asylum than with classic Japanese fantasy. And aside from the 2014 American movie’s relative failure, the hugely negative reception of the PS4 game that came out around the same time has also taken a toll on the franchise’s acceptance. Or rather it would have, but it’s already been way below zero anyway.