Five Obscure Toho Kaiju Movies

  

Although Toho has released a plethora of films featuring hugely popular giant monsters such as Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, it may surprise people to know that the major Japanese film studio has also produced and distributed a significant amount of lesser-known Kaiju movies starring a number of once-seen-but-unforgettable monsters who deserve just as much recognition as their more famous counterparts.

This list compiles five of Toho’s best obscure giant monster movies, so fans who are hoping to experience some of the less mainstream entries from the studio responsible for Godzilla will know where to begin.

Giant Monster Varan (1958)
Although he went on to make cameos in films such as Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla Final Wars as well as appearing in a number of video games and comic books, Varan still remains one of the more obscure members of Toho’s large gallery of giant cinematic monsters.

Originally introduced in 1958’s Giant Monster Varan (titled Varan the Unbelievable in the US), the enormous triphibian lizard was shown to emerge from a mountain lake and terrorise a nearby village before being killed by ingesting a specially designed chemical explosive. Like most of Toho’s monster films released around the time, Giant Monster Varan was directed by Godzilla’s Ishirō Honda, and it was also notable for being the last black and white monster movie released by Toho.

Despite not being a huge success, the film is still held in high regard by Godzilla fans, so Toho completionists who have yet to experience Giant Monster Varan should immediately seek out the uncut 87-minute Japanese version to enjoy the winged reptile’s first cinematic outing.

VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1958) Reviews and overview

Dogora (1964)
One of Toho’s most unusual monsters was the bizarre titular jellyfish-like alien creature which appeared in Dogora in 1964. Notable for also being one of the studio’s only creatures not to have been portrayed by an actor in a suit due to its clearly non-humanoid appearance, Dogora was instead created using soft vinyl miniatures and puppetry, and the results were nothing short of spectacular. The concept of a giant jellyfish creature attacking major cities might seem preposterous at first, but the scenes where Dogora emerged through the clouds like a Lovecraftian entity rising through the depths were effective enough to justify the silly premise.

At the same time, the film was also notable for a hand-drawn animated sequence where the titular monster attacks a bridge, making Dogora one of the earliest Japanese films to feature both live-action and animation. So if you have ever dreamed about watching entire city blocks being destroyed by a giant jellyfish (and let’s face it, we’ve all had that fantasy at one point) will have a great time with Dogora. Ishirō Honda once again returned to direct, so fans of the late filmmaker’s work will also definitely need to track down this obscure and highly entertaining monster movie. Released as Dagora the Space Monster in the US).

DAGORA THE SPACE MONSTER (1964) Reviews and overview

Gorath (1962)
This 1962 sci-fi picture featured a gigantic walrus-like monster known as Maguma, who plays a relatively small role throughout the film and was only given a few minutes of screen time. Nonetheless, the giant tusked beast is unquestionably one of Toho’s strangest-looking monsters, so it’s probably worth seeking out Gorath just to gander at the bizarre design of Maguma. His tusks alone were striking enough to almost seem comical, as was the way he waddled on all fours.

Either way, the plot of the film primarily focuses on a group of astronauts trying to stop a rogue planetoid named Gorath, which is on a collision course with Earth. Once again directed by the great Ishirō Honda, Gorath was a modest success upon its initial release and is generally held in high regard by fans, making it an unmissable instalment in Toho’s Kaiju library. Keep in mind that the US release cut out most of the footage of Maguma, so you will need to purchase the uncut Japanese version to see the full (although still relatively brief) scenes of the freakish walrus monster in action.

King Kong Escapes (1967)
Despite focusing on arguably the most famous cinematic monster in history, King Kong Escapes has been relegated to obscurity in the decades since its original release back in 1967. This is unfortunate because once you look past all the decided silliness that it has to offer, this is actually an incredibly fun and campy adventure starring everyone’s favourite giant gorilla.

Too still retained the rights to Kong after producer John Beck sold them the script for the planned ‘King Kong Meets Frankenstein’ (which eventually became King Kong vs. Godzilla), which led to the studio producing King Kong Escapes.

The film sees a villain named Dr Who (who obviously has no connection to the BBC TV series) constructing a robotic duplicate of King Kong named Mechani-Kong so that he can take over the world, before the actual King Kong show’s up to battle the doctor’s mechanical creation. If that premise does not get you hooked, we honestly don’t know what will, because the idea of King Kong fighting his giant robot clone is too damn awesome to ignore.

And as if that was not enough, the film also featured a scene where Kong battles a dinosaur known as a Gorosaurus (which would go on to appear in Destroy All Monsters), and another where he wrestles a gigantic sea serpent. With so many unforgettable monster battles taking place, this is arguably one of the craziest films in Toho’s entire library and fans should instantly add it to their watch lists.

KING KONG ESCAPES (1967) Reviews and overview

Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon (1994)
The only entry on this list not to have been directed by Ishirō Honda, Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon was a 1994 fantasy adventure about a banished prince who embarks on a journey to eradicate a hoard of savage invaders from his kingdom, while also encountering a gigantic dragon along the way.

Orochi-the-Eight-Headed-Dragon

Kaiju fans will be familiar with the work of director Takao Okawara, as he also helmed classics such as Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah and Godzilla 2000. Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon remains his only monster movie not to include Godzilla, but it is still often held in high regard.

The film featured a number of monsters, with the most notable being the gigantic titular dragon, who was introduced as a vengeful god with the goal of destroying humanity. Despite his name being in the title, Orochi did not have a huge amount of screen time, but the scenes where he did appear were certainly memorable due to his unique design and the fact that he literally has eight heads. It goes without saying that Orochi was undoubtedly one of Toho’s most striking Kaiju to date, and his unforgettable appearance helped the film to deservedly become a minor cult classic.

David Gelmini, MOVIES and MANIA

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