By Nathan Marchand
As Brian and I continue to develop Kaijuvision Radio, I thought it would be good to give you, dear listeners, a quick rundown on the many talented men who have sat in the director’s chair for Godzilla’s 60+ years of films. You’d be surprised by the caliber of talent possessed by these directors. (FYI: I’m only listing directors for films that have been released, so the several upcoming Godzilla films in both Japan and America are being excluded).
So, without further ado…
Showa Era (1954-1975)
Films: Gojira, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), Destroy All Monsters, All Monsters Attack (aka Godzilla’s Revenge), and Terror of Mechagodzilla
Mr. Honda directed more films in Big G’s filmography than any other in the franchise. For many fans, he’s unequaled in talent and skill. A longtime collaborator with the great Akira Kurosawa, Honda was drafted by the Japanese military during WWII, during which he was interned as a prisoner of war. He became a pacifist afterward, and he infused all of his many films with that idea along with a “brotherhood of man” theme.
Films: Ebirah: Horror of the Deep (aka Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster), Son of Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
The second-most prolific director in the franchise, Fukuda directed many of the “cheesier,” more kid-oriented films during the Showa era. He was known for “young guy” (i.e. teen) films and crime movies, which showed since his G-films tended to feature young people and lots of action. If Honda was the Spielberg of the franchise, Fukuda could be considered the Michael Bay.
Film: Godzilla Raids Again
Oda was the first of two one-off directors during this era. Trained by acclaimed director Kajirō Yamamoto (who also tutored Kurosawa and Honda), Oda became a workhorse for Toho, directing as many as seven movies a year. Sadly, only one of his movies has ever been released outside of Japan, which was the first sequel to Gojira, Godzilla Raids Again.
Film: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster)
Banno might be the most infamous of all of Godzilla’s directors since his only credit is arguably the redheaded stepchild of the franchise: Godzilla vs. Hedorah. With its trippy imagery, countercultural vibe, strange animation, and on-the-nose environmental message, it’s no wonder he’s a divisive figure. Even producer Tomoyuki Tanaka thought he’d ruined Godzilla after the release of Hedorah! Regardless, he was always a friend to the franchise and was responsible for what ultimately became the 2014 American reboot Godzilla directed by Gareth Edwards. He died earlier this year, the last of the Showa era directors to pass away.
Heisei Era (1984-1995) and Millennium Series (1999-2004)
Film: The Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 1985)
Hashimoto had the privilege of directing Godzilla’s first reboot in the mid-1980s. He previously directed the science fiction film Sayonara Jupiter in 1984, which featured the final role played by Akihiko Hirata before he died (he starred in many Showa era Godzilla films, most notably as Dr. Serizawa in Gojira).
Films: Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
Omori was one of the seminal members of the creative team that worked on most of the Heisei films, serving as both screenwriter and director. He loved American movies, and there were frequent references and homages (and rip-offs?) in his G-films. He also added a more potent Japanese nationalism to them, most especially in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Films: Godzilla vs. Mothra (aka Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Godzilla 2000)
Okawara is the only director to work on films in two different cycles of the franchise, being the most frequent director of the Heisei era and helming Godzilla’s second reboot in 1999. He started his career working with both Kurosawa and Honda on the 1980 film Kagemusha and was assistant director on The Return of Godzilla.
Film: Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla
Yamashita could be called the Motoyoshi Oda of the Heisei era. He was an assistant director hired by Toho to shell out a quick Godzilla sequel in 1994. His background was in teen films, which accounts for the picturesque cinematography and romantic subplot of his only G-film. Sadly, he died in 2016.
Films: Godzilla vs. Megaguirous, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.
Tezuka became the most frequent director on the Millennium series, and his three films could arguably be called a trilogy. His G-films focused more on human drama, featured strong female protagonists, and had a greater military presence. While his entries often underperformed at the box office, he was known for his great enthusiasm in each of his productions.
Film: Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monster All-Out Attack
Kaneko is by far the most celebrated of the Millennium series directors, helming what might be the most ambitious and different G-film in the franchise since Godzilla vs. Hedorah. He achieved acclaim with kaiju fans and filmgoers alike with his incredible Gamera trilogy in the 1990s, the third entry being considered one of the best kaiju films ever made. He infused his kaiju films with deep themes but featured fewer monster scenes so as to focus the budget on those less frequent sequences to make them look better.
Film: Godzilla: Final Wars
Kitamura was an independent Japanese filmmaker who could be called a modern-day Jun Fukuda in many ways (his favorite Godzilla is 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, which is no surprise). He’s known for his hyperkinetic action movies and horror films. While he was hired by Toho to direct Godzilla’s 50th anniversary film, Godzilla: Final Wars (and a potential finale for the franchise), he funded the production with much of his own money. The film actually had a Hollywood premiere in 2004.
Modern Films (2016-present) and American Films (1998-present)
Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Film: Shin Godzilla
This “dynamic duo” directed Big G’s most recent film, Shin Godzilla, which has become a box office smash and won several Japanese Academy Awards. Both of them got their start in anime, most notably Anno on his classic 1998 TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion. They’re known for their bizarre, often trippy imagery and cerebral storytelling with hints of satire and themes of nationalism, making Shin Godzilla one of the most unique films in the franchise.
Film: Godzilla (1998)
Some fans might say Mr. Emmerich shouldn’t be included in this list because he didn’t make a “real” Godzilla movie. I can understand that. Regardless, the film he and his collaborator, Dean Devlin, made (spoiler warning) will be covered in the podcast. (Please send your hate mail to email@example.com). Emmerich and Devlin gained popularity thanks to their sci-fi and disaster films, including their hits Stargate and Independence Day. They seemed like good choices for an American Godzilla film, but the results were less than stellar, especially for G-fans.
Film: Godzilla (2014)
Edwards was an independent British filmmaker who came to prominence in 2010 with Monsters, a kaiju movie set in Mexico. It made such an impression that Legendary Pictures hired him to direct their new Godzilla reboot, which became the first entry in the MonsterVerse. (So yes, the second film he ever directed was a big-budget Godzilla movie followed by a Star Wars film. Talk about moving up in the world!) A huge fan of Steven Spielberg, Edwards is known for his deliberate, suspenseful pacing and explosive finales as well as making low-budget films that look like big-budget blockbusters.
So there you have it! The many directors of Godzilla. Which one is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below.