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We’ve already seen multiple cities laid to waste in blockbusters this summer, and
now even more are in peril thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s monster mash Pacific
Rim. But that movie inherited its appetite for destruction from the ultimate source
of unplanned urban renovation: the giant-beasties kaiju films of Japanese cinema,
a genre best known for the movie that started it all, Godzilla (1954, 1 hr., 38
mins., Not Rated). Born out of a combination of the nation’s postatomic fears and
burgeoning studio system, this classic film created the model that most of its
successors would follow: An enormous rubbery creature, often of radiated origin,
attacks a metropolis, stomping down streets packed with screaming bystanders
and shrugging off artillery fire like mosquito bites. A large stable of recognizable
kaiju soon developed, mostly a product of Japan’s fabled Toho Studios and its
director, Ishiro Honda, to whom del Toro has dedicated his film. In addition to
introducing the world to Godzilla, Honda brought us Rodan, Mothra, and the
three-headed King Ghidorah.