Kaiju (怪獣, kaijū, from Japanese "strange beast") or Japanese monster movies is a Japanese genre of films which feature giant monsters. The term kaiju (which comes from the Chinese text Classic of Mountains and Seas) can refer to the giant monsters themselves, which are usually depicted attacking major cities and engaging the military, or other kaiju, in battle. The kaiju genre is a subgenre of tokusatsu (特撮, "special filming") entertainment.

The 1954 film Godzilla is commonly regarded as the first kaiju film. Kaiju characters are often somewhat metaphorical in nature; Godzilla, for example, serves as a metaphor for nuclear weapons, reflecting the fears of post-war Japan following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Lucky Dragon 5 incident. Other notable examples of kaiju characters include Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Gamera.


The Japanese word kaijū originally referred to monsters and creatures from ancient Japanese legends;[1] it earlier appeared in the Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas.[2][3] After sakoku had ended and Japan was opened to foreign relations, the term kaijū came to be used to express concepts from paleontology and legendary creatures from around the world. For example, in 1908 it was suggested that the extinct Ceratosaurus was alive in Alaska,[4] and this was referred to as kaijū.[5] 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.[6]

The first appearance within a film title of kaijū was Genshi Kaijū ga Arawareru (原子怪獣現れる), literally "An Atomic Kaiju Appears", and the title in Japan of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.[7] However, Gojira (transliterated as Godzilla) is commonly 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. Seeing how well the Hollywood giant monster movie genre films King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had done in Japanese box offices, and himself a fan of these films, he set out to make a new movie based on them and created Godzilla.[8] Tanaka aimed to combine Hollywood giant monster movies with the re-emerged Japanese fears of atomic weapons that arose from 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, a creature that would become the monster Godzilla.[9] Godzilla initially had commercial success in Japan, inspiring other kaiju movies.[10]



The term kaijū translates literally as "strange beast".[11] Kaiju characters can be considered giant science fiction and fantasy creatures, and can be depicted as antagonistic, protagonistic, or a neutral force of nature. Godzilla has taken on all three roles at various points in the Godzilla franchise. Other examples of kaiju include Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Gigan, Gaira and Sanda, King Kong, Gamera, Daimajin, Gappa, and Guilala. Mecha characters, such as Mechagodzilla and M.O.G.U.E.R.A., have also been referred to as kaiju. The term urutora-kaijū ("ultra-kaiju") is longhand for kaijū in the Ultra Series.


Daikaijū (大怪獣) literally translates as "large kaiju" or "great kaiju" and refers to the larger monsters. The exact distinction is debated. This term is used for the most powerful kaiju, the prefix dai- emphasizing great power or status. The first appearance of the term 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 daikaijū, the three great kaiju.[12] An example of the term exists in a 1908 book.[5]


Kaijin (怪人) refers to humanoid kaiju found in tokusatsu media, 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), literally "star people", appears within Japanese words for extraterrestrial aliens, such as Kaseijin (火星人), which means "Martian". Aliens can also be called uchūjin (宇宙人) which means "beings from space".

Kaijū eiga

Kaijū eiga (怪獣映画, "kaiju movie") is a film featuring one or more kaiju.

Toho has produced a variety of kaiju films over the years (many of which feature Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra); but other Japanese studios contributed to the genre by producing films and shows of their own: Daiei Film (Kadokawa Pictures), Tsuburaya Productions, and Shochiku and Nikkatsu Studios.

Monster techniques

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 used stop motion to animate the monsters, Tsubaraya decided to attempt to create suits, called "creature suits", 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, filming would often be done at double speed, so that when the film was shown, the monster was smoother and slower than in the original shot.[8] Kaiju films also used a form of puppetry interwoven between suitmation scenes which served for shots that were physically impossible for the suit actor to perform. From the 1998 release of Godzilla, American-produced kaiju films strayed from suitmation to computer-generated imagery (CGI). In Japan, CGI and stop-motion have been increasingly used for certain special sequences and monsters, but suitmation has been used for an overwhelming majority of kaiju films produced in Japan of all eras.[14][15]

Selected media




Video games

Board games


Other kaiju

  • Batholith The Summit Kaiju (Summit Kaiju International; July 07, 2017 – present)

Other appearances

  • Steven Spielberg cited Godzilla as an inspiration for Jurassic Park (1993), specifically Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), which he saw in his youth.[16] During its production, Spielberg described Godzilla as "the most masterful of all the dinosaur movies because it made you believe it was really happening."[17] One scene in the second movie (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), the T-Rex is rampaging through San Diego, One scene shows Japanese businessmen fleeing. One of them states that they left Japan to get away from this, hinting that Godzilla shares the same universe as the Jurassic Park movies. Godzilla also influenced the Spielberg film Jaws (1975).[18][19]
  • In the Japanese language original of Cardcaptor Sakura anime series, 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.[20]
  • 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.
  • Alternate versions of several kaiju - Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, King Ghidorah and Daimajin - appear in the Usagi Yojimbo "Sumi-e" story arc.[21]
  • 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.[22][23]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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.[25][26]
  • 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 are giant inter-dimensional monsters that invade Earth and attempt to exterminate humanity.[27]
  • 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.[28]
  • In Legendary Pictures' modern MonsterVerse, the in-universe organization Monarch refers to kaiju as "titans".

See also


  1. https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/le-grand-bain/le-grand-bain-10-mai-2014
  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. Glanzman, Sam. Red Range: A Wild Western Adventure. Joe R. Lansdale. IDW Publishing. ISBN 978-1684062904. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  5. "怪世界 : 珍談奇話". NDL Digital Collections.
  6. Foster, Michael (1998). The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. Oakland: University of California Press.
  7. Mustachio, Camille. Giant Creatures in Our World: Essays on Kaiju and American Popular Culture. Jason Barr. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476668369. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  8. Martin, Tim (May 15, 2014). "Godzilla: Why the Japanese original is no joke". Telegraph. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  9. Harvey, Ryan (December 16, 2013). "A History of Godzilla on Film, Part 1: Origins (1954–1962)". Black Gate. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  10. Ryfle, Steve (1998). Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G. ECW Press.
  11. 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.
  12. 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. 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. Ryfle, Steve (1998). Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G. ECW Press. p. 15. ISBN 9781550223484.
  17. Ryfle, Steve (1998). Japan's Favorite Mon-star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G". ECW Press. p. 17. ISBN 9781550223484.
  18. Freer, Ian (2001). The Complete Spielberg. Virgin Books. p. 48. ISBN 9780753505564.
  19. Derry, Charles (1977). Dark Dreams: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film. A. S. Barnes. p. 82. ISBN 9780498019159.
  20. Cardcaptor Sakura, season 1 episode 1: "Sakura and the Mysterious Magic Book"; season 1 episode 15: "Sakura and Kero's Big Fight"
  21. Usagi Yojimbo Vol.3 #66-68: "Sumi-e, Parts 1-3"
  22. ""The Zillo Beast" Episode Guide". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  23. ""The Zillo Beast Strikes Back" Episode Guide". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  24. "The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Godzilla". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  25. Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri, book I: "Contact", chapters II and V
  26. Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri (anime series) episode 2: "Two Military Forces", episode 3: "Fire Dragon", and episode 4: "To Unknown Lands"
  27. "Pacific Rim - Legendary". Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  28. "Kaiju (Original Mix) by Space Laces on Beatport". www.beatport.com. Retrieved 2018-07-11.
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