Watching Godzilla, Part 6: The End

This will be the last entry about Godzilla movies. I wanted to cover the most recent film, Shin Godzilla, and just write some final thoughts.

I’ve decided not to write about the trilogy of animated Godzilla films on Netflix (I saw the first one, and it didn’t really capture my interest for some reason) nor the American films (I didn’t like the Roland Emmerich one from the 90’s at all, but I do like the recent Legendary/Monsterverse ones quite a bit). Mostly I feel that Godzilla is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, I guess, and that’s what is of interest to me.

Shin Godzilla is the first film in what is known as the Reiwa period (the eras are named for the Japanese emperor when the first film is released). The film is the first to incorporate CGI instead of “men in rubber suits,” and Godzilla is given a fairly radical redesign, most noticeably smaller, beady eyes. The film is a hard reboot, which is almost welcome at this point – after so many movies deciding that the first movie happened but none of the rest, this one clears the slate completely, and we get an all-new Godzilla origin story.

Rather than being a parable for Hiroshima like the 1954 film, this Godzilla is inspired by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Godzilla emerges as a very small creature at first, swimming up a Japanese canal, armless, then crawls up on shore, spewing blood from his gills everywhere. He stops, and goes through a sudden evolution, growing arms and standing erect. He grows throughout the film, evolving as the Japanese attack him and try to figure out what to do, which was a pretty interesting new take on the creature.

A lot of the film is a very realistic approach to how Japan deals with this attack. We’re shown council meetings and the inner workings and conflicts of Japanese bureaucracy and red tape, which gets even more interesting and political when the U.S. gets involved. The U.S. wants to nuke Godzilla, and the Japanese want to come up with another solution, so there’s a bit of geopolitics involved, along with a more body horror approach to Godzilla.

I would have liked to have seen this approach with another kaiju for Godzilla to fight, but it’s a pretty solid reboot, and there’s plans for sequels in the works, so maybe we’ll get there.

And now just some final thoughts.

It felt like a lot to take this project on – I watched over 30 films! But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. As I said in the first entry, I have a high level of nostalgia for Godzilla. And my intention was to track Godzilla as a character, to see what his character arc was over so many films.

To that point, I would have to say that the project was a failure. There is very little continuity in Godzilla movies. They reboot constantly, or straight up ignore everything that came before. Godzilla will sometimes suddenly display new powers that are never used again, look different for no apparent reason, and switch back and forth between being the Earth’s protector to being a destroyer of cities.  Some of the early films take place in the future, where Japan has colonized the moon, then they go back to present day. It’s pretty messy. I’m walking away feeling like the filmmakers have a serious problem of committing to the character somehow.

In that respect, Godzilla is such an iconic character that he somehow ends up being bulletproof. I think this has a lot more to do with his design than any sort of character building – you can go wrong with a giant lizard who spits fire and stomps on cities. Throw in other giant monsters for him to fight, and it’s time to break out the popcorn. The best Godzilla movies are the ones where there’s just monsters throwing each other around on top of tiny cityscapes.

The closest analogy I could think of for this kind of thing is Batman. Batman is also bulletproof as a character, and they’ve done a thousand different incarnations of him. But Batman also has a backstory, and there’s a character there to work with, so even that isn’t a one-to-one comparison.

I can’t, with a straight face, say this was a wise investment of time. I’m glad I’ve ticked it off my mental bucketlist, but I would not recommend the experience. Some of the films are great fun, but, with a few exceptions, you really could watch them in any order and get the same experience out of them.

I am looking forward to this year’s Kong vs. Godzilla film, though.  I think the Legendary films have done a good job of building up their Monsterverse, and I’ll be there opening weekend to see the big monsters smack each other around.

Thanks for reading.

Watching Godzilla, Part 5

After the big wind-up of the Heisei era, Toho took 4 years off from the Godzilla franchise, and then returned in 1999 with yet another reboot, starting off with once more having the original Godzilla film being the only one that counted (except for the part where Godzilla dies at the end, so maybe it reboots after the second one, or partway through?).

Thus begins what is knows as the Millennium era, and they kick things off with Godzilla 2000. The first thing you notice is the special effects have gotten yet another significant upgrade. CGI had now become a thing, and though the majority of the Godzilla shots are still a person in a suit, the monster, Orga, seems to be mostly CGI. The plot is basically that Japan wakes up a long dormant UFO under the ocean, and the UFO seeks out Godzilla’s DNA, then feeds the DNA to a sort of “blank slate” monster that resembles a Triffid, and then morphs into Godzilla. As it morphs, it can’t contain Godzilla’s DNA, and mutates into a horror movie version of Godzilla. It grows huge, and then tries to consume Godzilla, who charges up with radiation and blows it apart from the inside. This movie also casually introduces swearing, notably with a newspaper editor telling a reporter, “Quit your bitching.” Godzilla also has undergone a modern design transformation, with larger, more spiky teeth, and a more snaggly set of dorsal fins.

Next we get Godzilla vs. Megaguirus. I was honestly expecting an upgraded version of Anguirus, judging by the name, but that’s not the case at all. Megaguirus is a giant dragonfly, basically, injected with Godzilla’s energy. The film starts with a “history lesson,” and, oddly, they end up ignoring the previous film of this new era, and once again only acknowledge the first two films. Which is kind of confusing, if you’re looking for continuity, but at this point, are we? In this alternate universe version of Japan, the Japanese have developed a weapon that’s a satellite that can shoot a controlled black hole at Godzilla from space. During the testing, a worm hole is created temporarily, and a prehistoric/alien dragonfly creature lays an egg. The egg eventually hatches, becomes a swarm of dragonflies, and they siphon off Godzilla’s energy before molting into their pupae forms, and feeding the Godzilla energy to the new queen, who becomes Megaguirus. The monster battle is pretty cool, and there’s a cool scene at the end where the satellite starts to plummet to Earth, but they still manage to fire the black hole weapon as it enters the atmosphere.

In what seems to be a theme now, in the next entry, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, the movie YET AGAIN disregards any other entry in the franchise except the first Godzilla movie (it’s just reboot after reboot with kaiju, I guess). Godzilla goes through another redesign, this time less spiky, more cat-like, he loses the pupils of his eyes for some reason (which is admittedly more creepy and kind of cool), and his flame breath is extra powerful now (he completely disintegrates Baragon without trying very hard). Godzilla is also, it turns out, haunted by the ghosts of Pacific soldiers from WWII. And, in a twist, Baragon, Mothra, and Ghidorah are now “Guardian Monsters,” waiting to defend the Earth from Godzilla, because of a legend they find. It’s a little strange, and really doesn’t connect to anything at all that’s come before, but there’s some satisfying moments in it. Godzilla destroys Mothra, who becomes energy, which merges with Ghidorah to become King Ghidorah. In previous films, King Ghidorah was sent by aliens, and was evil to be vanquished by the big G, but here he’s a hero and Godzilla is the villain. Godzilla kills all the monsters, but is blown up from the inside by a brave Japanese commander. As Japan celebrates, the camera goes to the bottom of the ocean, and shows Godzilla’s beating heart, laying on the ocean floor. Which is also sort of strange and out of nowhere.

For Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, the 27th film, we see see all the film continuity restored. No, I’m kidding, of course, they reboot the series again! The movie starts by acknowledging the first film again, and a couple of other monsters (most notably Mothra), but that’s it, it’s another all-new Godzilla again. The military has the original Godzilla’s skeleton, however, so they decide to build a robot exoskeleton on top of that. When they first take Mechagodzilla (renamed Kiryu here) into battle against the actual Godzilla, Godzilla’s roar somehow awakens memories in the skeleton, and Kiryu goes on a rampage, destroying the city for an hour, until the robot’s power dies out. They repair and reconstruct Kiryu/Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla attacks the city again. With surprisingly little consideration for things going wrong again, they decide to send Kiryu back in again, with a lot more success (we end with Godzilla walking back out to sea again, possibly a tip of the hat to the earlier films?). Better special effects, and some decent character building and plotting here, all things considered.

And finally we get some between-movie continuity! Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is a direct sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, taking place one year after the previous film. The Prime Minister of Japan is played by the same actor, and we also get some returning actors from previous Godzilla films (most notably Hiroshi Koizumi, who played another character as far back as Godzilla Raids Again, but here reprises his role as Dr. Shinichi Chujo, from the first Mothra film). Mechagodzilla is still being repaired, and Tokyo is still rebuilding after Godzilla’s devastation. The Shobijin (the miniature twins who speak for Mothra) show up and warn Dr. Chujo that Godzilla will attack again, because they used the other Godzilla’s bones to create Mechagodzilla, and the dead must be able to rest. They say that if they return the bones to the sea, Mothra will become Japan’s protector, and if they don’t, Mothra will declare ware on Japan. Sure enough, Godzilla attacks. Mothra tries to defend, but is taken out fairly readily, spawning the birth of twin larval Mothra. Mechagodzilla is deployed, and is defeated, but thanks to a plucky mechanic, he is repaired, and wounds Godzilla severely. Godzilla’s roar awakens the soul in the bones again, though, and Mechagodzilla becomes independent, picks up the wounded Godzilla, and flies him to the ocean, where they both, it seems, will drop below the ocean into a trench. However, there’s a post-credit scene, depicting some kaiju DNA being implemented at a mysterious location…

All the goodwill points earned by Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. gets thrown out the window with Godzilla: Final Wars. It’s another reboot, not following up on the post-credits scene of the previous film, and this movie was one my least favorites. There are aliens pretending to help humanity before wanting to take over the Earth, which is sort of a nice callback to the Showa era films, but this movie simply doesn’t know what it wants to be. It incorporates mutant humans, so it’s like the X-Men, and there are attempts at bullet-time fight scenes like The Matrix, but it all seems too campy, isn’t well done, the story doesn’t make sense, and, for some reason, they bring back Minilla. Even the music is terrible (and the soundtrack features Keith Emerson, who I love as a musician). There are some good fight scenes, but most of the kaiju have been given “edgy” power-ups that feel out of place. Seeing Gigan in action again was nice, for example, but now his arms are chainsaws and he shoots saw blades out of his chest. Anguirus gets some cool effects and usage, but that’s about it. The end of the Millennium era of films ends on a stinker.

 

 

Watching Godzilla, Part 4

We now switch to what is known as the Heisei period of Godzilla films. This group of movies is a reboot, ignoring everything that came after the first movie in the original run. Which is sort of confusing, but it does end up making for a much more coherent timeline, and it brings back the notion that Godzilla is a monster and a force of nature, and not the “friend to children everywhere” he came to be by the end of the previous run. The special effects are much better in this run, though still a little dated.

We kick things off with The Return of Godzilla, or Godzilla 1984, as it was known in the States. This movie basically has Godzilla emerging from a volcano, and mankind inventing the Super X, a flying super weapon, to try and fight Godzilla. Lots of stomping on cities and Godzilla fighting armies.

I couldn’t find the next film, Godzilla vs. Biollante, and used copies online are expensive, so I skipped this one. My friend Spencer has given me a link to an online version, but by that time I’d moved on, so I’ll have to come back to this one at some point.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is a bit messy, largely due to a time travel component. People from the future show up in the present in a UFO, and then travel back in time to prevent Godzilla from being created (they say Japan in the future is devastated by Godzilla). But (surprise!) they create King Ghidorah by leaving 3 small creatures in the past (they mutate over time), and it turns out Japan is actually a superpower in the future that they want King Ghidorah to overthrow by destroying Japan in the present. There’s also an android from the future involved, but that’s probably confusing enough. The Japanese end up recreating Godzilla in the present, who defeats King Ghidorah, so the future people head back to the future and create a cybernetic King Ghidorah (Mecha-King Ghidorah, of course) and return to the present. Godzilla defeats that one, too. The plot is overly complicated, but this one does have some great monster battles in it.

Next we get the return of Mothra in Godzilla vs. Mothra, which also features a “dark” version of Mothra called Battra. There’s some mystical prophecy stuff here, and an evil corporation that hopes to use Mothra for publicity purposes. In the end, Godzilla fights both of the winged giant insects, Battra is defeated, and Mothra flies off into space as Godzilla is trapped under the ocean.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is another strange one – it’s not really a sequel, so the name is confusing, for starters. There’s some nice continuity, though, as the Japanese sort of reverse engineer pieces of Mecha-King Ghidorah to create a new Mechagodzilla, as well as a military spaceship. Rodan returns as well, and there’s an egg that eventually hatches and we get a new Baby Godzilla (it looks a lot better than Minilla, and isn’t nearly as annoying). This film sort of sets up a mini-trilogy involving a woman with psychic abilities, who has a mental connection with Baby Godzilla. The spaceship and Mechagodzilla combine, Voltron-style, but still isn’t strong enough to win against Godzilla, who eventually wins and heads out to sea with Baby.

They probably could have called him “90’s Godzilla,” but instead we get Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla next. It’s a stretch, but his origin story is that Godzilla’s cells were transported into space by either Mothra or Biollante, and found their way into a black hole, and then radiation, and then, boom, SpaceGodzilla, which is a lot like Godzilla but with giant crystals on its back and scarier looking 90’s fangs. The Japanese have upped their game, sort of, with their defense plan, and now have a giant robotic penguin in their arsenal. SpaceGodzilla is detected coming towards Earth, so they send the robot penguin at it, and the penguin surprisingly loses. SpaceGodzilla sets up a bunch of giant crystals, so that it can suck energy from the Earth. Godzilla teams up with the robot penguin and Baby Godzilla at points and defeats SpaceGodzilla. The twin tiny Japanese women show up a couple of times in this one, always a fun thing, and try to warn the psychic woman from the previous film. Her psychic relationship with Godzilla is strange, but kind of intriguing.

And finally we get to Godzilla vs. Destroyah, the last film of this era. This one ties together this whole run of films in a surprisingly satisfying way, and culminates in the death of Godzilla. All that radiation in Godzilla finally creates a kind of meltdown situation, and Godzilla goes on a rampage. He’s glowing with red radiation and has red eyes as a result. The grandson of the scientist in the original Godzilla movie shows up to help, and the concept of the oxygen destroyer returns as well. Some micro-organisms mutate into much larger creatures, and eventually combine to create Destroyah, an actually scary looking monster that has a lot in common with the Alien creature from the Ridley Scott movie. The psychic woman from the previous movies guides Baby Godzilla to fight Destroyah, and Baby Godzilla goes through a power-up to become full sized Godzilla. The Japanese deploy the third iteration of their military spaceship, the Super-X III, now with freeze rays, and there’s some great battle sequences. In the end, Baby Godzilla (now called “Junior”) dies, but Godzilla gives him some of his radiation energy, and Junior becomes the new Godzilla. There’s a nice little callback at the end, where they show the very first appearance of Godzilla from the first film, as a tribute to the now-dead original Godzilla.

I’ll take a break from Godzilla movies again here, and next up will be the final era! Thanks for reading!

Watching Godzilla, Part 3

Destroy All Monsters is a much-needed return to what passes for greatness in the Godzilla world. All the monsters live more or less peacefully on an island managed by the U.N. Science Committee, which studies them. Which, of course, doesn’t last long, when an alien race called the Kilaaks show up and mind control the monsters. There’s some great scenes of all the kaiju destroying major world cities, as everyone tries to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it. They eventually break the Kilaaks’ control of the monsters, but the Kilaaks (surprise, again!) have control over King Ghidorah. All the Earth monsters realize they’re on the same side, and all team up against King Ghidorah, killing him, and Godzilla destroys the aliens’ base. The monsters all return to their peaceful island. This one’s a bit weird, in that it sort of seems like it takes place in the future, but also sort of not.

All Monsters Attack is the worst film in Godzilla history. It’s terrible. It’s only saving grace is that, at 69 minutes, it is the shortest of the films. A young Japanese boy who loves all things kaiju is being bullied by a local gang. To escape, he dreams of Monster Island, and how he is friends with Minilla, who, we’ve established, is a terrible character. Minilla, it turns out, is being bullied by a monster, too, Gabara. As expected, the young boy and Minilla learn how to stand up to bullies together, in dreams. A lot of the Monster Island footage is also repurposed footage from previous movies, and you can tell this one’s just a cash-in situation, targeted at kids.

With the next installment, Godzilla vs. Hedorah, we get a pretty heavy-handed environmentalist message, but Hedorah is actually pretty creepy, with weird eyes and a blobby body made out of pollution, and is completely unlike anything Godzilla has fought before. There’s moments where you think, “Huh, how’s he going to defeat a blob?” The humans end up creating a device that will pull the moisture out of Hedorah and dry him up, and Godzilla sort of teams up with the military to get Hedorah between the electric plates that will do the job. Hedorah can turn into a pancake shape and fly, and can also pick Godzilla up and drop him, making him that much more powerful. But, in a pretty silly scene toward the end, with Hedorah flying away, Godzilla sudden turns around, jumps up in the air, tucks his tail, and fires off his radioactive breath, and then flies across the Japanese landscape, overtaking Hedorah, and returning him to the plates, where he’s defeated. In a nice touch at the end, Godzilla kind of looks back over his shoulder disdainfully at the humans for polluting the Earth.

Godzilla vs. Gigan gives us a new monster, Gigan, who has a cool design factor – kind of ski goggles eyes, a beak, hooks for hands, wings, and a weird saw on his belly, so he can hug another monster and start the saw blades going and inflict some pretty serious damage. The plot of this one involves aliens again, this time giant cockroaches who take over human bodies, and this time they’ve taken over an amusement park. I realized with this film, and all the alien subplots, that Godzilla actually qualifies as more of a science fiction franchise than a horror one. Godzilla and Anguirus team up to battle Gigan and King Ghidorah, mysteriously back from the dead (you can’t keep a good monster down). The battle ends with the rote ending, the bad monsters returning to space and the good ones walking back into the ocean.

There’s a special place in my heart for Godzilla vs. Megalon, as it’s the one I saw quite a bit as a kid in the theater. It was strange to rewatch this one – Godzilla is almost a side character in it, and there’s a good reason for that. It was originally meant to be a Jet Jaguar film, with Jet Jaguar being a heroic robot character. In this one, we meet an undersea kingdom of people pissed off at the surface worlds’ nuclear testing, so they awaken their giant beetle monster god, Megalon, who heads to the surface to cause mayhem. The Seatopians (yeah, that’s really the undersea kingdom’s population) take control of Jet Jaguar, a robot created by a Japanese inventor, and use the robot to guide Megalon to places they want to destroy. The inventor eventually regains control of Jet Jaguar, and sends him off to get Godzilla. The Seatopians see this is going on, and call for help to the cockroach aliens from the previous film, and they send Gigan to help Megalon. Then, with no precursor for this at all, Jet Jaguar become sentient, and can grow to giant monster size, and enters the battle! It’s an extra bloody monster battle, but Godzilla and Jet Jaguar win.

Another of my childhood favorites is next, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. We start with Godzilla on the rampage, and everyone is confused, because Godzilla had seemed like a friend to humanity by now. But another Godzilla shows up, the real one, and burns the skin off the pretender, revealing it’s a giant robot Godzilla. We learn that this monster is once again created by world-conquering aliens (this time it’s just people in gorilla masks for some reason). The big curve ball in this film is a prophecy leading to another new monster, King Caesar, who looks like a giant puppy. After a plucky group figures out the prophecy, and retrieve a magical statue that turns the sun’s rays into a laser beam that destroys the side of a mountain and reveals King Caesar, it’s time to sing a hymn and wake him up. A Japanese priestess sings and dances on the beach below, and the hymn sounds like a Japanese pop song, with a full orchestra, which is one of the strangest scenes in the whole franchise, but it’s so weird and wonderful. Godzilla pretty much loses against Mechagodzilla at first, but returns to Monster Island to lick his wounds, and is then struck by lightning, which heals him. In the final battle, Mechagodzilla tries to fly away, and Godzilla calls up the lightning he’s stored, which for some reason makes him magnetic now, and he pulls Mechagodzilla back to him and rips his head off. It’s a strange, but somehow satisfying, victory.

Finally, the last film of the Showa era, Terror of Mechagodzilla. This film was the least financially successful of the series, and the first to be a direct sequel to the previous film. Despite the promise in the title of a lot more Godzilla vs. his robot doppelganger, a lot of the movie ends up being about the introduction of a new monster, Titanosaurus, with sort of a strange subplot featuring a scientist who wants to end humanity and his cyborg daughter. Godzilla ends up fighting both monsters, and finally gets the advantage when the cyborg daughter commits suicide, which destroys the device within her that was controlling Mechagodzilla.

This film ends what is known as the Showa era, named for the Japanese emperor at the time. After this, Toho takes a 9 year break from making Godzilla movies, before launching what is known as the Heisei era, which is where we’ll start the next entry.

 

Watching Godzilla, Part 2

The Showa era of Godzilla movies is 15 films total, so I’ll break these up into two parts – this blog will cover the first 8.

The first Godzilla film (or Gojira, the Japanese name) came out in 1954, from Toho studios in Japan. Toho released Seven Samurai, the classic Akira Kurosawa film, the same year, and the two movies almost caused the studio to go bankrupt. Fortunately, they ended up both being massive hits for the studio, and putting Japanese cinema on the global radar.

Godzilla is played as an ominous, mysterious force of nature in the first film, and is definitely an avatar for atomic paranoia. As will be the case with many of the Godzilla movies, the special effects are very dated. A lot of the movie doesn’t even feature the title character, and instead focuses on Japan’s reaction and preparation for Godzilla. A scientist creates an “oxygen destroyer,” which is deployed and kills Godzilla. The oxygen destroyer plot device will end up being used again in 2019’s American version of the monster, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, in a nice tip-of-the-hat moment all the way back to the original movie.

After the first film’s financial success, Toho put together a sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, which features a second Godzilla, created by more hydrogen bomb testing, along with another monster, Anguirus, who will become a staple of the franchise (although Godzilla kills him in this one). Toho created entire franchises out of other monsters, such as Rodan and Mothra, and they always end up in Godzilla’s movies, but this is really where that world building begins. The same scientist from the first film is also in this one, creating a small sense of continuity. In the end, Godzilla is buried under a mountain by the military.

Toho let Godzilla go dormant for 7 years after this, then returned with King Kong vs. Godzilla. It’s the first film that both characters appear in color, and still holds the record for the most attended of any of the movies. It is also one of the worst movies, in my opinion. The black and white films managed to conceal just how bad some of the special effects were, so the detail that color brings does this film no favors at all, especially for King Kong, who looks like an incredibly cheap gorilla suit. One nice nod to continuity is that, in the beginning of this one, Godzilla is still under the avalanche they buried him from the previous film. It’s also revealed that for some reason electricity revives Kong and gives him a power up, and he ends up beating Godzilla as a result, offscreen, underwater.

Godzilla washes up ashore in Godzilla vs. Mothra, and we’re introduced to some mythology from the Mothra franchise (here, mostly that Mothra comes from Infant Island, where she’s worshiped by the tribe that lives there). Godzilla kills Mothra (don’t worry, Mothra reincarnates pretty frequently), but her two offspring spit webs all over Godzilla and force him into the sea again.

Godzilla emerges from the sea again in Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, and this is the film where things start getting delightfully weird. Rodan and Mothra are prominent characters, and we learn that the monsters talk to each other. And Mothra has two tiny Japanese fairy women called Shobijin that speak for her to humans. They also speak simultaneously. King Ghidorah, we learn, once devastated all life on Venus, and has arrived on Earth, and we learn this because a Venusian has possessed the body of a princess, who starts making prophecies that come true. Mothra tries to get Godzilla and Rodan to help her fight King Ghidorah, but they refuse, so Mothra goes it alone against overwhelming odds. Godzilla and Rodan finally get over themselves and help Mothra, and they collectively defeat King Ghidorah, who flies off into space. Godzilla and Rodan kind of wander off towards home at the end, and the continuity factor starts to fade a bit here – where the films had begun with wherever Godzilla left off, now most of the films end with “Godzilla walks out into the ocean and sunset as the credits roll.”

Weirdness continues in Invasion of Astro-Monster, which takes place in the nebulous future, where Japan sends spaceships into the void regularly. They explore “Planet X,” and find an alien civilization living under the planet’s surface, having been driven there by King Ghidorah. They ask to “borrow” Godzilla and Rodan from Earth to help fight King Ghidorah, and offer a cure for all disease on Earth in exchange. Which sounds like a good deal, but after the deal is made (surprise!), it turns out the aliens have a device that controls monsters, the disease cure was a fraud, and now they want to rule Earth using all three of the monsters. The humans, through a pretty contrived love story subplot, figure out a way to disrupt the device that controls the monsters, so they do, the monsters fight, and King Ghidorah once again flies off into space and Godzilla and Rodan head off in the sea, resting easy that Earth is safe again. The special effects budget goes up noticeably in this one, though, with lots of cool spaceships and planetscapes.

We return to the present day in the next two entries, which are a bit weaker. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep has Godzilla fighting a giant crab and a giant condor, after being awakened by a couple of guys hooking him up to a lightning rod and being recharged by lightning (presumably tired after fighting King Ghidorah back in the normal timeline?). Mothra makes an appearance, and there’s a terrorist organization involved, but this one’s pretty forgettable. It seems like Godzilla should have been able to take out a crab pretty quickly, and the condor literally last seconds, and is barely a threat at all.

Son of Godzilla is just straight up terrible. Toho had decided to court a younger audience, so they created a cute “son” for Godzilla, Minilla, who looks terrible and tries to play things too cute. Godzilla and Minilla fight giant praying mantises and Kumonga, a giant spider, and it’s just sort of painful.

 

Watching Godzilla, Part 1

A few months back, I went to see the movie “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” in the theater. Afterwards, I got to thinking about it, and I realized I’d never sat down and watched the Godzilla movies back to back in order before, and that many of them I’d never seen at all.

My interest in Godzilla is pretty much nostalgia – when I was in third and fourth grade, they showed matinee viewings of kids’ movies in the local theater in my small town, and Godzilla was a frequent subject (along with cartoons and the Marx Brothers). To my young mind, these movies were pretty epic. I knew they wouldn’t hold up as well as my youthful imagination would have me to believe, but I decided to indulge my nostalgia a bit for once, something I don’t do all that often.

The main reason I wanted to do this is to see if there was some sort of narrative thread that went between the films. Does Godzilla, as a character, grow, or learn anything, as he’s destroying various parts of Japan over the years? How does the cinematic world in the films accommodate a giant radioactive monster over time? Do they adapt to reconstructing cities and widespread disaster on a regular basis? Questions like these are, in part, the product of literary criticism classes during my ill-fated grad school stint in the Literature program at Iowa State…

As of this writing, I’m about 20 movies in. There are about a dozen left, depending on how you count, so I thought I’d start writing about the experience, while the movies are still somewhat fresh.

Godzilla is the longest running franchise in cinematic history. There are more Godzilla movies than James Bond movies, and the franchise holds the Guinness Book record (so far) for most films. The first movie came out in 1954, which is some serious longevity. One of the other things that I’ve learned through this process is that they’re kind of difficult to see, as well. Not all of the Godzilla movies are kept in print. They’re also spread across multiple streaming services, due to arcane licensing procedures regarding the different eras of films. Some of the movies I’ve had to buy, and luckily many of them are a bargain (I got two box sets of the latter era movies for a song), but some of them are crazy expensive – I’ve had to skip one film, Godzilla vs. Biollante, because it’s not on any streaming service, it’s out of print, and even a used copy of it on DVD is well over a hundred bucks.

It felt crazy enough to take on this task, but I’m not that crazy.

I felt like I needed to explain a bit about why I was doing this, and how it was actually trickier than I’d anticipated, but that’s enough preamble.

In the next segment, we’ll dig into the actual films themselves. It’ll be pretty high level, taking whole sections at once – the movies don’t really necessitate a lot of detail. We’ll start with the most commonly known group of films, the Showa era, which encompasses all the movies from 1954-1975.

 

Buffer

I haven’t used this blog in years. When I started it, it was as an exercise, when I was a Technical Writer for a software company. The goal was to try and improve my skills in Tech Writing, and also with a bent on professional writing in general.

After leaving the Tech Writer position, things have gone in multiple ways for me. But I’ve been wanting to blog again, and this seem like as good home as any, and I don’t really want to delete any of the stuff that’s gone before, so this blog post will serve as a buffer.

Now I’m going to write about any old goddam thing I want to write about.

Probably the first thing I’m going to write about is Godzilla movies. But after that, who knows? Maybe this will be a diary or something.

Adapting Processes

n/p – Savages – Adore Life

One of the things I constantly struggle with is how important processes are – and I still don’t have a great answer, other than “if they’re working and helping you out, then they’re important and/or valuable.”  And if they’re not, they should either be fixed or thrown by the roadside and left for dead.

The problem inherent there is that, generally, a process is an agreed-upon way of doing things amongst team members, so changing or abandoning them means the team must agree that the process should change, and how to go about that. This has to happen, otherwise no one will use a process anymore, and the idea itself becomes sort of dodgy. If only one person uses it, a process really isn’t valuable.

This was recently all brought into focus for me for a major project my team was working on, creating new articles and content for a new product. The content turned out great, and we launched on time, and it was successful. So, all good, and we even celebrated the achievement a little.

In the beginning, though, we created a storymap for the content, like we always do, giving us a general road map of what we needed, where it would go, and the overall flow of the whole product category. We use Google Drawings to create our storymaps, and they’ve been very valuable to us in the past, and are an integral part of our workflow. And with that, we were off to the races.

But, for some reason, the storymap began having dates and goals appear on it. It began being used as a project management tool, for the first time, and the information began to become secondary to the deadlines being moved around on it. I made the comment at one point that it looked like someone had vomited on our storymap, because it had become confusing, with too many colors and dates instead of actual content that we needed.

We also have a review process, where we run our materials past the subject matter experts (SMEs, pronounced “smees,” which is just fun to say, right?) to insure accuracy of the content, and to insure all features are included and labeled correctly, and that generally all the details are correct to a product manager’s satisfaction.

Only this time the deadline was deemed more important than the results of the review, and the draft of the materials was published before we got the results. This ended up meaning that we got feedback after the fact, and had to go back and correct things, without a good system in place to communicate the changes. The SMEs were a bit frustrated, we were frustrated, but the information got relayed through chats and incorporated, and all was well.

We’re going to have an upcoming retro meeting to discover why we didn’t follow our own processes, which may or may not lead to changes of them, but what this makes me think of is this – the work got done. It got done with a high level of quality. Everyone was happy.

So, was following the processes important or not? Maybe we worked well enough together as a team that we intuitively adapted them on the fly. Maybe we don’t even need the processes we’ve used. Or maybe we need to correct what we’ve got.

I think the main takeaway, for me, is that a process shouldn’t be so inflexible that you can’t veer from it when needed. Make the process serve you, don’t serve the process. And learn to be good at improvising when you go off-script.

 

Being Organized

n/p – Fugazi – 13 Songs

I recently took a vacation. It was fantastic. I was gone for a week and a few days, and got to do a bunch of great stuff. My wife and I attended a music festival in Barcelona, Spain. We visited the Dali Museum a short ways away, where Dali’s tomb is. We toured Sagrada Familia, a beautiful cathedral that has been under construction for well over a hundred years and won’t be finished until 2026 (and even that’s an estimation). We went on a brief sailing trip to get away from land and bask in the Mediterranean air.

And we drank a ton of Heinekens and ate a lot of great food and generally forgot all about work and real life and the responsibilities that come with it.

In fact, I unplugged so much from work, that the morning I was driving back into the office, my vacation glow began to suddenly fade, and my vacation smile began to tremble, as I realized that I had no idea what it was I was working on when I left. It wasn’t a panic attack, exactly, but it felt like it was my first day of a new job again. I felt lost, and concerned that I was going to be stumbling around in the proverbial dark to figure out where the hell I was, exactly, with projects and tasks.

When I got to my desk, though, a funny thing happened: everything made sense.

Sure, I had hundreds of emails to sort, address, or, mostly, delete, but I was able to assess where things were pretty readily.

Upon reflection of this, after getting back into my work groove, I realized that, at heart, I’m a pretty organized person. I use the systems available at work to track progress on projects, sometimes send myself emails of things I’m worried I’ll forget, keep a pretty clean calendar, and so forth. On a day to day basis, if you asked me, I’d say that I’m “kind of organized,” but after taking time off and returning to my organizational system, it became clear to me that I’m actually more organized than I tend to give myself credit for.

Being organized is a highly underrated skill, so hats off to my past self, the pre-vacation schlub who didn’t realize the importance of what he was doing.

And I can’t recommend being organized highly enough.

 

Getting a tech writer job

np – The Wych Elm – Woodward

This is a continuation of the last blog post I wrote. The number one question I get about being a technical writer is “what is that?”, which I wrote about last time.  The number two question is “how can I do that, too?”

You can get a degree in technical writing, and there are a lot of courses in the field that would be very useful. Outside of teaching you basics, they would give you a feel for if you really, REALLY wanted to do it for a living or not.

This actually wasn’t my path, though. I don’t have a degree in it. I have other degrees, however, and in the process of earning those, I learned a lot about writing. I was an English major for awhile, and have worked in technical fields pretty extensively, and that most definitely played in my favor. But I honestly think that, outside of the techy knowledge, the thing that got my foot in the door was my background in education.

The manager of the department in charge of Help content for the company I work for at the time had a strong education background (Education was even in the name of the department name back then). She was also in charge of training for all employees, which meant that we had a strong percentage of people with teaching background in the group. When I interviewed with the company, it was actually for another job, but they needed a full-time technical writer, and hadn’t had a good candidate apply, so they interviewed me on the spot for the position.

I was pretty fascinated with the idea, and had honestly never considered it. They asked me to submit a couple of writing samples, something technical and something non-technical. This was no problem, as I had written a ton of papers while getting my Master’s degree, and during that time I realized that I LOVE to write.  I don’t much enjoy taking tests, but thankfully in grad school, or the program I was in, anyway, I mostly ended up writing papers.

I submitted a very technical paper I’d written on wireless communication, and I submitted another for a Technology in Education class I’d taken, talking about the Khan Academy (you can Google that if you don’t know what it is, but it’s the concept of the inverse classroom that was all the rage at the time).  It was the education paper that let them know that I could help customers out.

So, just to be clear, that means it was NOT the technical paper that I’d labored over for months to get just right. Technical writing isn’t nearly as much about being the master of information as it is being able to convey complex concepts to regular people, most often in the form of customers.

In the meantime, I’ve networked with a lot of tech writers, and spoken with potential job candidates, etc., and from what I can ascertain, there are a large population of freelance tech writers out there, who work on a contract level. I’ve gotten a few inquiries in this regard myself from LinkedIn and similar sites, and, as far as I can tell, there are some good tech writer positions out there, and there’s a need for people in this field.

I’d recommend it, but it definitely comes with expectations of certain skill sets, so it’s a good idea to know what those are before jumping in.