Kaiju – Origin
Kaiju (怪獣, kaijū) – the term is a little bit vague in its origin from where it comes from but it is mostly attributed to Godzilla’s popularization of the term meaning “strange beast”. For that reason is most probably a cinema term, but of course the perception of the huge monster is rooted in mythology.
Kaiju is for the strangeness of the creature but Daikaiju is attributed to the largeness. Everything from Godzilla to Mothra, Amano Shiratori, Gamera, Kamacuras, Kamoebas and many more.
Kaiju and Dajkaiju are terms especially for the Japanese cinema, but western film also gives us some analogies of the big monsters. Although, only King Kong can be viewed as a true Kaiju because of the practical miniature effects – in Japanese cinema this is the stamp of these kinds of movies. The man in a suit destroying miniatures and somewhat silliness started from a political commentary of atomic bombing to a spectacle of pure illusion not necessarily grounded in reality and drama.
For reference – the Godzilla franchise at some point became even kid-friendly and had children playing with Godzilla’s children. In the mind of Japanese directors this is their way of making these “frowns upside down” and still true to the practicality of miniatures, costumes and origin of the Godzilla legacy.
Kaiju Types in other Cultures
Here are some examples of the types of Kaiju creatures that resemble the Japanese take.
Godzilla american variant old and new (1999 and 2018) – the old version from 1999 is considered a flop because lack the “spirit of Godzilla” – the studio made quite a lot of difference from the source material like no atomic breath, strictly looking like a lizard (originally Godzilla is a type of mistery – no one knows if he is mutated lizard, a dinosaur or some other type of creature or hybrid). The 2018 version is highly praised for the same opposite reason – closely resembling the source material, look and feel of the monster.
King Kong Legacy – one of the most emblematic practical effects movies of all time, not only for Kaiju movies, but for their execution and vision. The legendary practical effect artist Ray Harryhausen worked on the set. He is also remembered for his incredible work in “Clash of the Titans”, “Jason and the Argonauts” , “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” and many more.
One of the inspired modern directors is Peter Jackson and he even paid homage to the legacy with his own spin – “King Kong” (2005).
Moby Dick – the killer white whale from Herman Merivale’s novel inspired directly from the Leviathan (the giant whale that ate Jonah) in the Bible.
Cthulu – from H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories comes the “terror from deep space”. Actually, all of the creatures from Lovecraft’s work, but Cthulu the most famous, originally just mentioned and later other writers filled his backstory. This is a unique monster in the beginning very obscure but exactly that gave it so much power into the imagination of so many people. A huge monster that travelled to Saturn from unknown region and then Earth.