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A kaiju (giant monster) Godzilla from the 1954 film Godzilla, one of the first Japanese films 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 entertainment. This word originated from the Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas.[2][3]



Kaiju originally referred to monsters and creatures from ancient Japanese legends.[4] The word "Kaiju" first appears in Classic of Mountains and Seas. After Sakoku, opening Japan to foreign relations, Japanese came to use the term kaiju to express concepts from paleontology and legendary creatures from around the world. For example, in 1908, during the Meiji period, it was suggested that the extinct Ceratosaurus was alive in Alaska,[5] referred to as kaiju.[6] However, there are no traditional depictions of kaiju or kaiju-like creatures in Japanese folklore but rather the origins of kaiju are found in film.[7] The title of the first film with the name of the Kaiju is an atomic Kaiju appears (原子怪獣現れる, Genshi Kaiju ga Arawareru), the title of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in Japan.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] Godzilla was initially met with commercial success in Japan, inspiring an entire genre that came to be known as kaiju movies.[11]



The term kaiju translates to "strange beast". It is 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 Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, King Kong, Gamera, Gyaos, Daimajin, Gappa, Guilala and Yonggary. The term ultra-kaiju is longhand for kaiju in the Ultra Series.


Daikaiju (大怪獣, large kaiju) roughly translates as "large strange beast" and refers to the larger monsters. The literal translation is about a size difference between a kaiju and a daikaiju, with the implication that the daikaiju is the greater of the two types. The exact definition of what determines a kaiju from a daikaiju is debated. This term is used for the most powerful kaiju, the prefix dai- emphasizing great power or status. The first appearance of daikaiju is in the Japanese title of Rodan, Sora no Daikaijū Radon (空の大怪獣 ラドン, "Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky"). Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra are the san daikaiju, the three great kaiju.[12] An example of the term exists in a 1908 book.[6]


Kaijin (怪人) refers to humanoid kaiju found in tokusatsu, and is literally translated as "monster man" or "mystery man". The villains of the week from the Kamen Rider Series are examples of kaijin.


Seijin (星人, star beings) is a Japanese suffixal term for extraterrestrial aliens, such as "Kaseijin (火星人)", which means "Martian". Aliens can also be called "Uchujin" (宇宙人) which means "space beings".

Kaijū eigaEdit

Kaijū eiga (怪獣映, monster movie): A film featuring many giant monsters or a single giant monster.

Toho has produced a variety of kaiju films over the years (many of which featured Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra) but other Japanese studios contributed to expanding the genre in Japan by producing films and shows of their own, including Daiei Film a.k.a. 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.[citation needed]

Monster techniquesEdit

Eiji Tsubaraya, who was in charge of the special effects for Gojira, developed a technique to animate the kaiju that became known colloquially as suitmation.[12] Where Western monster movies often utilized a technique known as stop motion to animate the monsters, Tsubaraya decided to attempt to create suits, referred to as a creature suit, for a human (suit actor) to wear and act in.[13] 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.[14] 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.[9] Kaiju films also utilized a form of puppetry interwoven between suitmation scenes which served to have shots that were physically impossible for the actor to perform in the suit. Later computer-generated imagery (CGI) was used for certain special sequences and monsters, but overall, the suitmation technique has been present in an overwhelming majority of kaiju films produced in Japan of all eras. American produced kaiju films strayed from suitmation to focus on CGI in western releases starting with the 1998 release of Godzilla. These suitmation 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.[14][15]

Selected mediaEdit


Godzilla and Anguirus from the 1955 film 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 the 1956 film Rodan



Video gamesEdit

Board gamesEdit


Other KaijuEdit

In popular cultureEdit

  • 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 film industry in the mini-series "Bolek and Lolek's Great Journey" by featuring a robot bird (similar to Rodan) and a saurian 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.[16][17]
  • 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.[18]
  • In The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror VI" segment "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.
  • The South Park episode "Mecha-Streisand" features parodies of Mechagodzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, and Mothra.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters features the "Insanoflex", a giant robot exercise machine rampaging downtown.
  • 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.
  • The Japanese light novel series Gate makes use of the term kaiju as a term for giant monsters - specifically an ancient Fire Dragon - in the Special Region. Also, one of the Japanese protagonists refers to the JSDF's tradition to fight such monsters in the films, as well as comparing said dragon with King Ghidorah at one point.
  • Godzilla and Gamera had been referenced and appear many times throughout the Dr. Slump series.
  • In Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, there is a dimension that is filled with giant monsters that live on one island where they co-exist with humans that live on a city island.
  • In the 2013 film Pacific Rim and its 2018 sequel Pacific Rim Uprising, "kaiju" is the moniker bestowed upon giant inter-dimensional monsters that invade Earth and attempt to exterminate humanity.[19]
  • Kaiju-Bird Monster is the alt-mode of Decepticon leader Emperor Deathsaurus in the Transformers: Victory anime.
  • On 18 May 2018, US artist Space Laces released a Bass House song title "Kaiju", released by Never Say Die Records as a part of his album Overdrive.[20]
  • In Legendary Pictures' modern MonsterVerse, the in-universe organization Monarch refers to Kaiju as "Titans".

See alsoEdit


  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. ^
  5. ^ Glanzman, Sam. Red Range: A Wild Western Adventure. Joe R. Lansdale. IDW Publishing. ISBN 978-1684062904. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  6. ^ a b "怪世界 : 珍談奇話". NDL Digital Collections.
  7. ^ Foster, Michael (1998). The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. Oakland. University of California Press.
  8. ^ Mustachio, Camille. Giant Creatures in Our World: Essays on Kaiju and American Popular Culture. Jason Barr. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476668369. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Martin, Tim (May 15, 2014). "Godzilla: why the Japanese original is no joke". Telegraph. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  10. ^ Harvey, Ryan (December 16, 2013). "A History of Godzilla on Film, Part 1: Origins (1954–1962)". Black Gate. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  11. ^ Ryfle, Steve (1998). Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G. ECW Press
  12. ^ a b Weinstock, Jeffery (2014) The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Farnham. Ashgate Publishing.
  13. ^ Godziszewski, Ed (September 5, 2006). "Making of the Godzilla Suit". Classic Media 2006 DVD Special Features. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  14. ^ a b Allison, Anne (2006) Snake Person Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. Oakland. University of California Press
  15. ^ Failes, Ian (October 14, 2016). "The History of Godzilla Is the History of Special Effects". Inverse. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  16. ^ ""The Zillo Beast" Episode Guide". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  17. ^ ""The Zillo Beast Strikes Back" Episode Guide". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  18. ^ "The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Godzilla". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  19. ^ "Pacific Rim - Legendary". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  20. ^ "Kaiju (Original Mix) by Space Laces on Beatport". Retrieved 2018-07-11.