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While we’ve played the original 1954 Godzilla several times since The Frida first opened in 2014, the idea of playing the rest of the Showa-era films (the colorful, campy movies that made Godzilla a household name across the world and that most people think of when it comes to the King of the Monsters) always seemed unlikely. Sure, Frida programming director Trevor and I have kicked the idea around as far back as I can remember but securing the rights to any of them — much less all 15 of them — had the air of an impossible dream.
Yet with the acquisition of American theatrical rights for the movies by Janus Films and the sponsorship of Creature Bazaar, Atomic Art & Music, and Mission Control Arcade, this impossible dream finally came true two weekends ago when Showa Godzilla Weekend hit The Frida, with everything from the 1954 original to 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla playing that Friday through Tuesday. Between watching the movies and running around behind the scenes, I was there everyday for the marathon: I may not have been able to watch all of them, but I was able to get a good look and feel for the overall atmosphere of excitement that permeated our theater those five days.
Among the 8 films I caught were Godzilla Raids Again, the black and white 1955 follow-up to the original, 1971’s wonderfully trippy Godzilla vs Hedorah, and 1963’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I’d go as far to call the funnest entry in the series (two of which I reviewed in a Frida blog post). Growing up watching these movies on (often poorly-sourced) videotapes, it was incredible to see them not just on the big screen but in great condition as well. Hedorah in particular impressed me, with the crisp colors and high definition presentation standing in stark contrast to the poorly-saturated, panned and scanned AIP dub I remember watching as a kid.
Watching these movies with a crowd was also something of a revelation for someone used to watching them on their own. People laughed at the goofy dubbing and silly moments like Godzilla dropkicking the beetle god Megalon, but they also gasped at moments like cyborg alien Gigan drawing blood from the King of the Monsters and clapped at him taking flight in Hedorah. For a series that undergoes such dramatic tonal shifts as Godzilla, it was wonderful to see our audience eagerly embrace these different dimensions of the character and franchise.
The first night was particularly special, not just because it was the opening to the series but because we had a very special guest come on out to help ring it in. A film scholar and co-author of Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa, Steve Ryfle has come to our theater before for screenings of the original Godzilla and Dolemite, so it was only natural for me to reach out and see if he’d be up for introducing Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. He was more than happy to, but I don’t think even he was ready for the enthusiastic reception he received from our guests, with them swarming his table to shell out money for copies of his book and discuss all things Big G with him. This buzz carried over into his intro, with him hyping up the crowd with trivia about the cast (such as the fact that female lead Akiko Wakabayashi would go on to play Bond girl Aki in You Only Live Twice) and surprisingly intriguing parallels between the film and the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday.
But it was after Steve’s intro that, at least for me, the highlight of the night occurred. After asking the crowd to give him one final round of applause before the movie started, I walked down the aisle when I noticed a little girl in one of the rows holding something up for me to see. It turned out to be a little Ghidorah toy, with her brother excitedly asking if the golden dragon’s movie was the one we were about to watch. That these kids had the chance to come, toys in tow, to their neighborhood theater to watch Godzilla with equally-excited fans — an experience that I never in my wildest dreams imagined could happen as a kid — was heartwarming proof that this was truly an idea whose time, long in the making, had come. And judging by the consistent turnout and enthusiasm over the weekend, I won’t be surprised at all if the King of the Monsters returns once again one day to The Frida.