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A kaiju (giant monster) Godzilla from the 1954 Godzilla film, one of the first Japanese movies to feature a giant monster.

Kaijū (怪獣, kaijū) (from Japanese "strange beast")[1] is a Japanese film genre that features giant monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle. It is a subgenre of tokusatsu (special effects-based) entertainment. This word originated from Shan Hai Jing (The Classic of Mountains and Seas).[2][3]


There are no traditional depictions of kaiju or kaiju-like creatures in Japanese folklore but rather the origins of kaiju are found in film.[4] Gojira (transliterated to Godzilla) is regarded as the first kaiju film and was released in 1954. Tomoyuki Tanaka, a producer for Toho Studios in Tokyo, needed a film to release after his previous project was halted and upon seeing how well American Hollywood giant monster movie genre films King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had done in the box offices of Japan, as well as personally being a fan of the films, Tomoyuki Tanaka set out to make a new movie based on those American giant monster movies and created Godzilla.[5] Tomoyuki Tanaka aimed to combine Hollywood giant monster movies with the re-emerged Japanese fears of atomic weapons, which came about due to the Daigo Fukuryū Maru fishing boat incident, and so he put a team together and created the concept of a radioactive giant creature emerging from the depths of the ocean which would become the iconic monster Godzilla.[6] Godzilla was initially met with commercial success in Japan, inspiring an entire genre that came to be known as kaiju movies.[7]



Translates to strange beast. A science fiction and fantasy giant creature that often takes the role of either antagonist, protagonist, or force of nature. Godzilla is an example of a kaiju; others include Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, Rodan, Gamera, Gyaos, Daimajin and even King Kong. The term ultra-kaiju is longhand for kaiju in the Ultra Series. Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra are the san daikaiju, the three great kaiju.[8]


Daikaiju (大怪獣, daikaijū, mighty kaiju), specifically meaning the larger variety of monsters. Translates to large strange beast. The literal translation is about a size difference between a kaiju and a daikaiju however, the implications are that the daikaiju is a greater beast. The exact definition of what determines a kaiju from a daikaiju is debated. Now this term was use for the most powerful kaiju, the prefix dai- emphasizing great power or status.

Kaijū Eiga[edit]

Kaijū Eiga (怪獣映画, kaijū eiga, monster movie), A film featuring giant monsters or a single giant monster.

Toho has produced a variety of kaiju films over the years (many of which featured Godzilla and Mothra) but other Japanese studios contributed to expanding the genre in Japan by producing films and shows of their own, including Daiei Film Co., Ltd., Kadokawa Pictures, Tsuburaya Productions, and Shochiku and Nikkatsu studios.


A technique that was developed to portray the kaiju. An actor plays the part of the kaiju while in an articulated costume.[9]

Monster techniques[edit]

Eiji Tsubaraya was in charge of the special effects for Gojira developed a technique to animate the kaiju that became known colloquially as a suit-mation.[10] Where Western monster movies often utilized a technique known as stop motion to animate the monsters, Tsubaraya decided to attempt to create suits, now referred to as a creature suit, for a human to wear and act in.[9] This was combined with the use of miniature models and scaled down city sets to create the illusion of a giant creature in a city.[11] Due to the extreme stiffness of the latex or rubber suits often filming would be done at double speed, so that when the film was shown the monster was smoother and slower than the original shot.[5] Kaiju films also utilized a form of puppetry interwoven between suit-mation scenes which served to have shots that were physically impossible for the actor to perform in the suit. Later CGI was used for certain special sequences and monsters, but overall, the suit-mation technique has been present in an overwhelming majority of kaiju films produced in Japan's of all eras. American produced kaiju films strayed from this however, and began to focus on CGI in recent releases such as the 2014 release of Godzilla. These suit-mation techniques were adapted by almost all kaiju films, and continue even in modern Japanese kaiju films and tokusatsu although more stop motion and CGI are utilized.[12][13]


Kaiju are typically modeled after conventional animals, mythological creatures, and sometimes even plants; however, there are more exotic examples. While the term kaiju is used in the West to describe monsters from tokusatsu and Japanese folklore, Monsters like some overseas titanic creatures would fall into this category, But it is rare that other types of monsters can be metamorphosed into Kaiju (Frankenstein's monster was once a kaiju in the Toho films Frankenstein Conquers the World). Kaiju are sometimes depicted as cannon fodder serving a greater evil. Some kaiju are elite warriors which serve as the right-hand man to the greater villain and are destroyed by the heroic forces. Others have a neutral alignment, only seeking to destroy buildings and other structures. During the early eras of tokusatsu, "heroic" monsters were seen in daikaiju eiga films, and it wasn't until later when television tokusatsu productions began using kaiju which aided the hero, saved civilians, or demonstrated some kind of complex personality. These kaiju adopted many classic monster traits, appearing as the "misunderstood creature."

Ishiro Honda, one of the genre's creators, said "Monsters are tragic beings. They are born too tall, too strong, too heavy. They are not evil by choice. That is their tragedy. They do not attack people because they want to, but because of their size and strength, mankind has no other choice but to defend himself. After several stories such as this, people end up having a kind of affection for the monsters. They end up caring about them." This statement alone would give fans the impression that his intent was to give all kaiju a distinct personality instead of just being a monster-on-the-loose.

Selected media[edit]


Godzilla and Anguirus from 1955 Godzilla Raids Again film. The film was the first to feature two kaiju battling each other. This would go on to become a common theme in kaiju films.
Daikaiju (giant monster) Rodan from a 1956 Rodan film








Japanese Manga[edit]

America comics[edit]

Video games[edit]


In popular culture[edit]

  • In the Japanese language original of Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura's brother Toya likes to tease her by regularly calling her "kaiju", relating to her noisily coming down from her room for breakfast every morning.
  • The Polish cartoon TV series Bolek and Lolek makes a reference to the kaiju movie industry in the mini-series "Bolek and Lolek's Great Journey" by featuring a robot bird (similar to Rodan) and a saurial monster (in reference to Godzilla) as part of a Japanese director's monster star repertoire.
  • In the second season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, there is a story arc composed of two episodes entitled "The Zillo Beast" and "The Zillo Beast Strikes Back", mostly influenced by Godzilla films, in which a huge reptilian beast is transported from its homeworld Malastare to the city-covered planet Coruscant, where it breaks loose and goes on a rampage.[17][18]
  • In Return of the Jedi, the rancor was originally to be played by an actor in a suit similar to the way how kaiju films like Godzilla were made. However, the rancor was eventually portrayed by a puppet filmed in high speed.[19]
  • In The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI - Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores, Homer goes to Lard Lad Donuts; unable to get a "Colossal Doughnut" as advertised, he steals Lard Lad's Donut, awakening other giant advertising statues that come to life to terrorize Springfield. When Lard Lad awakes, he makes a Godzilla roar. Guillermo del Toro directed the Treehouse of Horror XXIV couch gag which made multiple references to Godzilla and other Kaiju-based characters, including his own Pacific Rim characters.[20]
  • In the 2009 film Crank: High Voltage, there is a sequence parodying Kaiju films using the same practical effects techniques used for Tokusatsu films such as miniatures and suitmation.[21]
  • In the 2013 film Pacific Rim, "Kaiju" is the moniker bestowed upon giant inter-dimensional monsters that invade Earth and attempt to exterminate humanity.[22]
  • Kaiju-Bird Monster was the alt-mode of Decepticon Leader Emperor Deathsaurus in the Transformers: Victory anime.
  • A series of cards in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game called "Kaiju" are inspired, both in name and/or visually, by multiple kaiju from Godzilla-related films, including Mothra, Gamera, and direct monsters of (previous) said series - Gigan, Kumonga, Rodan, MechaGodzilla, and King Ghidorah.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yoda, Tomiko; Harootunian, Harry (2006). Japan After Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990s to the Present. Duke University Press Books. p. 344. ISBN 9780822388609. 
  2. ^ "Introduction to Kaiju [in Japanese]". dic-pixiv. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  3. ^ "A Study of Chinese monster culture - Mysterious animals that proliferates in present age media [in Japanese]". Hokkai-Gakuen University. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  4. ^ Foster, Michael (1998). The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. Oakland. University of California Press.
  5. ^ a b Martin, Tim (May 15, 2014). "Godzilla: why the Japanese original is no joke". Telegraph. Retrieved July 30, 2017. 
  6. ^ Harvey, Ryan (December 16, 2013). "A History of Godzilla on Film, Part 1: Origins (1954–1962)". Black Gate. Retrieved December 16, 2013. 
  7. ^ Ryfle, Steve (1998). Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G. ECW Press
  8. ^ Weinstock, Jeffery (2014) The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Farnham. Ashgate Publishing.
  9. ^ a b Godziszewski, Ed (September 5, 2006). "Making of the Godzilla Suit". Classic Media 2006 DVD Special Features. Retrieved July 30, 2017. 
  10. ^ Weinstock, Jeffery (2014) The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Farnham. Ashgate Publishing.
  11. ^ Allison, Anne (2006) Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. Oakland. University of California Press
  12. ^ Allison, Anne (2006) Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. Oakland. University of California Press
  13. ^ Failes, Ian (October 14, 2016). "The History of Godzilla Is the History of Special Effects". Inverse. Retrieved July 30, 2017. 
  14. ^ "Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero". Legendary Comics. Retrieved 2015-04-06. 
  15. ^ "IDW Solicits Godzilla: Rulers of Earth #12 and Vol. 3 TPB for May 2014 « SciFi Japan". Scifijapan.com. Retrieved 2014-04-29. 
  16. ^ "Pacific Rim: Tales from the Drift, Black Bag, Cops for Criminals - Comics Announcements". Legendary Comics. Retrieved 2015-03-25. 
  17. ^ ""The Zillo Beast" Episode Guide". Retrieved October 5, 2014. 
  18. ^ ""The Zillo Beast Strikes Back" Episode Guide". Retrieved October 5, 2014. 
  19. ^ "The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Godzilla". Retrieved October 5, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Treehouse of Horror XXIV Couch Gag by Guillermo del Toro". Youtube. October 3, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Crank: High Voltage: Godzilla Fight Scene". Youtube. October 1, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Pacific Rim - Legendary". Retrieved October 5, 2014.