(Editor’s Note: The following was originally written by Keith Feltenstein.)
Next up in our “Versus” round up, we have two bad-ass monsters destroying anything in their path! In one side of the city, we have the King of the Monsters, Godzilla! And across from him, coming in from the ocean, we have the mighty Kraken! Who would be the true king of the monsters here? Would it be Godzilla, or the Kraken? We will let you decide! Here is a little bit about each monster.
Kraken is a legendary sea monster of large proportions that is said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. The legend may have originated from sightings of giant squid that are estimated to grow to 12–15 m (40–50 ft) in length, including the tentacles. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the kraken have made it a common ocean-dwelling monster in various fictional works. After returning from Greenland, the anonymous author of the Old Norwegian scientific work Konungs skuggsjá (circa 1250) described in detail the physical characteristics and feeding behavior of these beasts. The narrator proposed there must only be two in existence, stemming from the observation that the beasts have always been sighted in the same parts of the Greenland Sea, and that each seemed incapable of reproduction, as there was no increase in their numbers.
There is a fish that is still unmentioned, which it is scarcely advisable to speak about on account of its size, because it will seem to most people incredible. There are only a very few who can speak upon it clearly, because it is seldom near land nor appears where it may be seen by fishermen, and I suppose there are not many of this sort of fish in the sea. Most often in our tongue we call it hafgufa. Nor can I conclusively speak about its length in ells, because the times he has shown before men, he has appeared more like land than like a fish. Neither have I heard that one had been caught or found dead; and it seems to me as though there must be no more than two in the oceans, and I deem that each is unable to reproduce itself, for I believe that they are always the same ones. Then too, neither would it do for other fish if the hafgufa were of such a number as other whales, on account of their vastness, and how much subsistence that they need. It is said to be the nature of these fish that when one shall desire to eat, then it stretches up its neck with a great belching, and following this belching comes forth much food, so that all kinds of fish that are near to hand will come to present location, then will gather together, both small and large, believing they shall obtain their food and good eating; but this great fish lets its mouth stand open the while, and the gap is no less wide than that of a great sound or fjord, And nor may the fish avoid running together there in their great numbers. But as soon as its stomach and mouth is full, then it locks together its jaws and has the fish all caught and enclosed, that before greedily came there looking for food.
Carolus Linnaeus classified the kraken as a cephalopod, designating the scientific name Microcosmus marinus in the first edition of his Systema Naturae (1735), a taxonomic classification of living organisms. The creature was excluded from later editions.Linnaeus’s later work, Fauna Suecica (1746), calls the creature singulare monstrum, “a unique monster”, and says of it Habitare fertur in mari Norwegico, ipse non dum animal vidi, “It is said to inhabit the seas of Norway, but I have not seen this animal”.
Kraken were also extensively described by Erik Pontoppidan, bishop of Bergen, in his Det Forste Forsorg paa Norges Naturlige Historie “Natural History of Norway” (Copenhagen, 1752–73). Pontoppidan made several claims regarding kraken, including the notion that the creature was sometimes mistaken for an island and that the real danger to sailors was not the creature itself but rather the whirlpool left in its wake. However, Pontoppidan also described the destructive potential of the giant beast: “it is said that if [the creature’s arms] were to lay hold of the largest man-of-war, they would pull it down to the bottom”.
According to Pontoppidan, Norwegian fishermen often took the risk of trying to fish over kraken, since the catch was so plentiful (hence the saying “You must have fished on Kraken”). Pontoppidan also proposed that a specimen of the monster, “perhaps a young and careless one”, was washed ashore and died at Alstahaug in 1680. By 1755, Pontoppidan’s description of the kraken had been translated into English.
Swedish author Jacob Wallenberg described the kraken in the 1781 work Min son på galejan (“My son on the galley”):
Kraken, also called the Crab-fish, which is not that huge, for heads and tails counted, he is no larger than our Öland is wide [i.e., less than 16 km] … He stays at the sea floor, constantly surrounded by innumerable small fishes, who serve as his food and are fed by him in return: for his meal, (if I remember correctly what E. Pontoppidan writes,) lasts no longer than three months, and another three are then needed to digest it. His excrements nurture in the following an army of lesser fish, and for this reason, fishermen plumb after his resting place … Gradually, Kraken ascends to the surface, and when he is at ten to twelve fathoms, the boats had better move out of his vicinity, as he will shortly thereafter burst up, like a floating island, spurting water from his dreadful nostrils and making ring waves around him, which can reach many miles. Could one doubt that this is the Leviathan of Job?
In 1802, the French malacologist Pierre Dénys de Montfort recognized the existence of two kinds of giant octopus in Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques, an encyclopedic description of mollusks. Montfort claimed that the first type, the kraken octopus, had been described by Norwegian sailors and American whalers, as well as ancient writers such as Pliny the Elder. The much larger second type, the colossal octopus, was reported to have attacked a sailing vessel from Saint-Malo, off the coast of Angola.
Montfort later dared more sensational claims. He proposed that ten British warships, including the captured French ship of the line Ville de Paris, which had mysteriously disappeared one night in 1782, must have been attacked and sunk by giant octopuses. The British, however, knew—courtesy of a survivor from the Ville de Paris—that the ships had been lost in a hurricane off the coast of Newfoundland in September 1782, resulting in a disgraceful revelation for Montfort.
Gojira is a portmanteau of the Japanese words: gorira, and kujira, which is fitting because in one planning stage, Godzilla was described as “a cross between a gorilla and a whale”, alluding to his size, power and aquatic origin. One popular story is that “Gojira” was actually the nickname of a corpulent stagehand at Toho Studio. The story has not been verified, however, and, in the nearly sixty years since the film’s original release, no one claiming to be the rumored employee has ever stepped forward nor have any photographs ever surfaced. Kimi Honda (the widow of Ishiro Honda) always suspected that the man never existed as she mentioned in a 1998 interview, “The backstage boys at Toho loved to joke around with tall stories”.
Godzilla’s name was written in ateji as Gojira where the kanji are used for phonetic value and not for meaning. Many Japanese books on Godzilla have referenced this curious fact, including B Media Books Special: Gojira Gahô, published by Take-Shobo in three different editions (1993, 1998, and 1999).
The Japanese pronunciation of the name is [ɡodʑiɽa] ; the Anglicized form is /ɡɒdˈzɪlə/, with the first syllable pronounced like the word “god”, and the rest rhyming with “gorilla”. In the Hepburn romanization system, Godzilla’s name is rendered as “Gojira”, whereas in the Kunrei romanization system it is rendered as “Gozira”.
Although the specific details of Godzilla’s appearance have varied slightly over the years, the overall impression has remained consistent. Inspired by the fictional Rhedosaurus created by animator Ray Harryhausen for the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla’s iconic character design was conceived as that of an amphibious reptilian monster based around the loose concept of a dinosaur with an erect standing posture, scaly skin, an anthropomorphic torso with muscular arms, spikes on its back and tail, and a furrowed brow. Art director Akira Watanabe combined attributes of a Tyrannosaurus, an Iguanodon, a Stegosaurus and an alligator to form a sort of blended chimera, inspired by illustrations from an issue of Life magazine. To emphasise the monster’s relationship with the atomic bomb, its skin texture was inspired by the keloid scars seen on Hiroshima’s survivors. Godzilla’s appearance has traditionally been portrayed in the films by an actor wearing a latex costume, though the character has also been rendered in animatronic, stop-motion and computer-generated form. Godzilla has a distinctive roar, which was created by composer Akira Ifukube, who produced the sound by rubbing a resin coated glove along the string of a contrabass and then slowing down the playback. Godzilla is sometimes depicted as green in comics, cartoons and movie posters, but the costumes used in the movies were usually painted charcoal grey with bone-white dorsal fins up until the film Godzilla 2000.
Godzilla’s iconic design features a reptilian visage, a robust build, an upright posture, a long tail and rows of serrated fins along the back.
Within the context of the Japanese films, Godzilla’s exact origins vary, but it is generally depicted as an enormous, violent, prehistoric sea monster awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation. Its size is inconsistent, changing from film to film and even from scene to scene for the sake of artistic license. The miniature sets and costumes are typically built at a 1/25 – 1/50 scale and filmed at 240 frames per second, to create the illusion of great size. In the original 1954 film, Godzilla was scaled to be 50 meters tall (164 feet). This was done so Godzilla could just peer over the largest buildings in Tokyo at the time.In the American version, Godzilla is said to be “over 400 feet tall.” As the series progressed Toho would rescale the character, eventually making Godzilla as tall as 100 meters (328 feet). This was so that it wouldn’t be dwarfed by the newer bigger buildings in Tokyo’s skyline such as the 242 meter (797 foot) tall Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which Godzilla destroyed in the 1991 film Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. Supplementary information such as character profiles would also depict Godzilla as weighing between 20,000-60,000 tons. In the 2014 American film Godzilla, Godzilla was scaled to be 350 feet tall (106 meters), making him the biggest incarnation of the character yet. Director Gareth Edwards wanted Godzilla “to be so big as to be seen from anywhere in the city, but not too big that he couldn’t be obscured”. Godzilla’s signature weapon is its “atomic breath,” a nuclear blast that it generates inside of its body and unleashes from its jaws in the form of a blue or red radioactive heat ray. Toho’s special effects department has used various techniques to render the breath, from physical gas-powered flames to hand-drawn or computer-generated fire. Godzilla is shown to possess immense physical strength and muscularity. Haruo Nakajima, the actor who played Godzilla in the original films, was a black belt in Judo and used his expertise to choreograph the battle sequences. Godzilla can breathe underwater, and described in the original film by the character Dr. Yamane as a transitional form between a marine and a terrestrial reptile. Godzilla is shown to have great vitality: it is immune to conventional weaponry thanks to its rugged hide and ability to regenerate, and as a result of surviving a nuclear explosion, it cannot be destroyed by anything less powerful. Various films, television shows, comics and games have depicted Godzilla with additional powers such as an atomic pulse, magnetism, precognition, fireballs, an electric bite, superhuman speed, eye beams and even flight.
Godzilla’s allegiance and motivations have changed from film to film to suit the needs of the story. Although Godzilla does not like humans, it will fight alongside humanity against common threats. However, it makes no special effort to protect human life or property and will turn against its human allies on a whim. It is not motivated to attack by predatory instinct: it doesn’t eat people, and instead sustains itself on radiation and an omnivorous diet. When inquired if Godzilla was “good or bad”, producer Shogo Tomiyama likened it to a Shinto “God of Destruction” which lacks moral agency and cannot be held to human standards of good and evil. “He totally destroys everything and then there is a rebirth. Something new and fresh can begin.”
The gender of the Godzilla character has been a subject of confusion for English-speaking audiences. In the original Japanese films, Godzilla and all the other monsters are referred to with gender-neutral pronouns such as “it”, while in the English dubbed versions, Godzilla is explicitly described as a male, such as in the title of Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. The 1998 Hollywood reimagining contributed to this confusion, in which the titular character (subsequently known as Zilla) was depicted laying eggs.
In the various stories it has appeared in, Godzilla has been featured alongside many supporting characters. It has faced human opponents such as the JSDF, and other giant monsters, from recurring characters like King Ghidorah, Gigan and Mechagodzilla to one-shot characters like Megalon, Biollante and Megaguirus. Godzilla is also shown to have allies, such as Mothra, Rodan and Anguirus (though these characters were initially portrayed as Godzilla’s rivals), and children, such as Minilla. Godzilla has even fought against characters from other franchises in crossover media, such as King Kong and the Fantastic Four.
With that all said, who would you like to see win the monster battle? Would it be Godzilla, or would it be the Kraken? With these two behemoths, will you ever step into the ocean again? We want you the fans to decide which of these two monsters remain standing? Vote now! Make a difference!
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