We all love Japanese giant monsters and Kaiju, even if we don’t realize it.
Japanese giant monster movies are a distinct subgenre with a dedicated fanbase. It all started with the original 1954 Godzilla, and from there giant monsters have become a longstanding staple of pop culture… even outside of giant monster movies.
Perhaps you don’t think you love Kaiju (Japanese for “Strange Beast”), but you probably do and just don’t know it. Were you ever a fan of Power Rangers? What did you think the bad guys turned into when Rita Repulsa shouted “Make my monsters grow!”? If you like anime, then don’t even get us started. Everything from Gurren Lagann’s Anti-Spirals to Attack on Titan‘s Titans draw influence from Kaiju, even if they aren’t necessarily “monsters” in the traditional sense. And of course video games are no stranger to Kaiju. Bowser has arguably become a Kaiju in many Super Mario Bros. games, and Final Fantasy‘s Eidolons were originally referred to as “genjuu,” a made up word that carries a similar meaning to Kaiju.
The DNA of giant monsters is everywhere. You typically see it in Japanese media, but it’s not uncommon to see the influence in Western media. After all, Godzilla was originally inspired by King Kong… which I suppose makes King Kong the original Kaiju? I digress, but the point is, there’s clearly something about this trope that we all must love a lot, right? Well, while the giant monster movie subgenre is beloved for a number of reasons, the overlaying pop culture appeal boils down to this:
We love things that are bigger than us.
People like being a part of something bigger than themselves. Perhaps it’s not always the case, but we’d say it’s true more often than not. This is why projects finished by a well-coordinated team are so satisfying. Just look at the enormous success of Twitch Plays Pokémon, for example. For those unfamiliar, Twitch Plays Pokémon was a project that tasked thousands of people in a Twitch chatroom to play a single game of Pokémon at once. The results were often ridiculous, since in no way was this even remotely as efficient as just playing the game by yourself. Still, Twitch Plays Pokémon drew a dedicated community that strategised how to complete the game amid all the chaos, and you can still see the fan art and Youtube videos that were made when the game was finally completed. Twitch Plays Pokémon was ultimately a silly idea, but it shows how awestruck people become when faced with something greater than themselves.
Giant monsters tap into that same sense of awe. Even a C-tier monster movie can elicit this reaction, despite the cheesy special effects. When we think about all the man-hours it takes for a single skyscraper to be built, we get even more invested in giant monsters that make even those seem small in comparison. What’s more, when we get into monster movies that are about giant monsters vs. giant monsters, then that sense of scale goes into overdrive. It’s like watching a tidal wave get into a fight with a hurricane, and you’d be totally powerless against either of them.
The best part is, regardless of whether the giant monster is a good guy or a bad guy, the trope is just as effective. In the case of the “protagonist” giant monster fighting on behalf of humans, you know they’re the only one capable of saving the day. All of the human characters are pinning all their hopes on it, and we as audience members can participate by rooting for the good guy from our seats. For the “antagonist” giant monsters, it becomes the humans’ job to fend off a beast that makes them look like ants in comparison. Oftentimes you have entire military armies coming together to take it down, which again drives home that sentiment of togetherness. No one person can stand toe to toe with such a beast, but when everyone bands together and fells it, it’s as if you just experienced a revolutionary step in the evolution of man.
It’s hard to talk specifically about giant monsters, especially when their exact purpose and meaning depends on context. But when it comes to the base instincts of human nature, there’s no denying that innate sense within all of us. Half the reason fiction even exists is to bring the impossible to life, and giant monsters are a logical extension of that. Perhaps you don’t like Kaiju movies, and hey, that’s perfectly fine! I personally like it when a monster is clearly an average sized man in a rubber suit, but then again, I also think The Room is a cinematic masterpiece. But to say you don’t get why people are obsessed with giant monsters at all? Well… I won’t say you’re wrong, but I hope we’ve maybe convinced you otherwise.