The Japanese word (dai)kaiju describes monsters in Japanese monster movies in which they battle with one another or with humans.
The most well-known monster of this kind is Toho’s Godzilla (Godzira), but other notable entrants include Ultraman from Tsuburaya Productions and Gamera from Daiei movie.
Movies based on these characters have been produced in abundance, with Godzilla’s most recent installment, dubbed “Godzilla Resurgence,” set for release in July 2016.
These movies, sometimes coupled with monsters from various genres, dominated the box office for almost four decades.
At times they draw on themes like the atomic bomb and the enmity between Japan and the US or Russia.
They had a lot of commercial success at the time. In recent decades, however, many of these movies, especially the earlier ones, have been moved to the cult movie category.
This is because of their outlandish premise and shaky special effects, which relied on produced miniatures and performers dressed in rubber costumes.
Below is a list of Japanese monster movies.
1. Godzilla (1954)
- Director: Ishirô Honda
- Star cast: Takashi ShimuraAkihiko HirataAkira Takarada
- IMDB rating: 7.5
This is one of the best Japanese monster movies. The detonation of an atomic bomb causes Godzilla to rise from the depths of the ocean and wreak havoc on a few coastal towns before moving on to Tokyo.
As Godzilla roars across the city, he kills dozens of people without showing any interest in them, perhaps pulled in by the city’s electrical systems.
An oxygen-sucking weapon invented by a scientist may be the only chance against the kaiju since the army seems helpless against them.
Japanese audiences were captivated by the movie because of the novel idea of kaiju and the obvious exploitation of fresh memories of the A-bomb.
Featuring an all-star cast led by Takashi Shimura, the movie was highlighted by the special effects work of Eiji Tsuburaya.
He produced beautiful disaster sequences using made models rather than computer images. In addition, the idea of the scientist who sacrifices himself appealed greatly to the Japanese. They were also fascinated by the bomb, “the Kamikaze”, during World War II.
The production company was concerned about releasing a Japanese movie so close to the war, yet “Godzilla” was a huge financial success in America as well.
The American release was modified from its original form by adding new content and using different sound and dubbing methods.
2. Atragon (1963)
- Director: Ishirô Honda and Shûe Matsubayashi
- Star cast:Tadao Takashima, Yôko Fujiyama, and Yû Fujiki
- IMDB rating: 5.9
When compared to the other Japanese monster movies in the Toho collection, Manda stands out as the most distinct.
He’s a massive sea monster with disgusting, stubby legs and a serpentine body. Manda is introduced as “death on tiny little kicky legs” in the movie Atragon.
He looks like a traditional Japanese dragon, and that alone conveys a feeling of doom and disaster to the audience. That is until the super sub freezes him. Manda, one of the monsters in ‘Destroy All Monsters, was defrosted at some point.
Manda uses his serpentine body to destroy a bridge in a spectacular sequence. Even though it was shot, the scene where Manda battled Godzilla did not make the final cut.
However, Manda makes a spectacular appearance at the end of the movie, is well equipped to fight against Ghidorah, and does little to help either side throughout the conflict. Manda is the first Japanese monster movie (kaiju) to emerge in Godzilla: Final Wars.
3. Rodan (1956)
- Director: Ishirô Honda
- Star cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa And Akihiko Hirata
- IMDB rating: 6.2
When Shigeru and a gang of miners explore a cave after a string of mysterious deaths, they face a massive bug known as a Meganulon. The group soon learns that the monster is immune to their firearms and is only spared by a cave-in.
Rodan, a pterodactyl searching for his partner, who is protecting eggs within the Aso volcano, begins attacking jets shortly afterward. Everywhere he goes, he causes chaos in the city of Tokyo.
Kenji Sahara gives a fantastic performance as Shigeru, one of the most nuanced characters in the history of Japanese monster movies.
You can see that a lot of care and attention to detail went into making these miniatures of Rodan and the Meganulon.
More importantly, Honda kept the movie’s overall tone somber, rejecting the humor that would become standard in subsequent Rodan movies.
4. Varan the Unbelievable (1958)
- Director: Ishirô Honda and Motoyoshi Oda
- Star cast: Kôzô Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, and Koreya Senda
- IMDB rating: 5.4
Kaiju monster with a bat-like and reptilian aesthetic appeared in Toho’s last black and white kaiju movie. The Katanami River region is where a rare species of butterfly is uncovered in the late 1950s.
When two entomologists show up to examine the specimen, they turn up dead. The locals hold their god, a monster known as Baradagi, responsible.
Eventually, another expedition is dispatched to the area and finds the huge beast, Varan, emerging from the river. Tokyo receives reports and responds accordingly with its defense forces.
However, their efforts have little impact on the monster, and Varan continues his assault on Tokyo. The battles between the SDF and the kaiju in the Katanami River region provide the movie’s only light entertainment.
However, “Varan the Unbelievable” is one of the worst Japanese monster movies. The second part, set in Tokyo, is generally dull, and the human characters, portrayed as stereotypes, don’t help.
The black-and-white photography by Hajime Koizumi is the movie’s only real strength, with the explosions and flares appearing especially impressive.
5. Mothra (1961)
- Director: Ishirô Honda
- Star cast: Furankî Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, and Kyôko Kagawa
- IMDB rating: 6.5
The gigantic, multicolored moth is the prettiest creature ever to rain havoc upon a city, using energy waves from its flapping wings to send its opponents flying.
As a larva, Mothra is equally as dangerous due to a silken surprise that ensnares her prey. The most powerful moth in the world is a god worshiped on tropical Infant Island.
It’s called upon to defend mankind against monsters like Godzilla and eventually join forces with him to take on even greater threats like King Ghidorah and Gigan.
The ever-forward-thinking collective cinematic body typically perceives ‘The Divine Moth’ as a female due to its feminine appearance and demeanor. However, no one has ever bothered to examine the actual gender of any of these creatures.
6. Big Man Japan (2007)
- Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
- Star cast: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, and Ua
- IMDB rating: 6.2
Daisato Masaru, a middle-aged man who has been forgotten by society, lives alone with his cat and a bowl of cat food. However, he’s also Big Man Japan, a superhero who can jump 30 meters with the use of high voltage electricity, much like his ancestors.
His job requires him to battle similarly enormous creatures that threaten Japan. Nonetheless, in contrast to the widespread acclaim and acceptance that his father and grandfather had, he is often jeered at and even cursed by the people.
This is because of the enormous amounts of power he consumes and the trash he leaves behind after each bout. The movie ridiculously shows humanlike-kaiju, with sexually voracious monsters and a hero who often battles while dressed only in underpants. This is one of the finest Japanese monster movies.
7. Gamera (1965)
- Director: Noriaki Yuasa
- Star cast: Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, and Junichiro Yamashita
- IMDB rating: 5.1
Toho’s only true contest for the hearts and wallets of Japanese high school students was the enormous fanged turtle Gamera.
The series was distinguished by its willingness to splatter the collapsed city streets with the limbs and crimson that Toho tastefully skimped on.
Gamera can breathe fire, regenerate in a state similar to slumber, and launch himself into the air. As part of Daiei’s cinematic takeover of the teenage market, the enraged reptile’s main weaknesses are a fear of the cold and resolve to defend children.
8. Attack on Titan (2015)
- Director: Shinji Higuchi
- Star cast: Haruma Miura, Kiko Mizuhara, and Kanata Hongô
- IMDB rating: 5.1
The live-action adaptation of “Attack on Titan,” which is based on a popular franchise, was eagerly awaited by viewers all around the globe.
The movie is set in a universe where gigantic humanoid Titans arrived out of nowhere and almost eradicated civilization by consuming them. The last of mankind has been confined inside a ring of three massive walls.
Frustrated by being confined within the wall, Eren, Armin, and Mikasa plan to make a stealthy escape. As they approach the barrier, however, the Titans resurface, tearing it down and unleashing their wrath once again on the populace. Mikasa becomes separated from the others during the assault.
A few months later, Eren and Armin have enlisted in the military and are preparing to confront the Titans in battle. Yoshihiro Nishimura did an outstanding job with the design and overall representation of the Titans.