Showdown of the Godz (US- 2007; short [15 min]; dir. Julien Calderbank)
Film and television are hothouses of fanaticism. To “outsiders” obsessive media fans, known in Japan as Otaku, can be seen as weird, pathetic, sad, dysfunctional — even if, ultimately, endearing. This is the stereotype and it is a stereotype that has been used as the background for the narrative and thematic content of a number of films and TV shows, including Galaxy Quest (US-1999; dir. Dean Parisot) [based on “Trekkies” — Star Trek fans], the BBC telemovie Cruise of the Gods (UK-2002; dir. Declan Lowney) [’70s TV scifi fans in general, for example, fans of Blake’s 7] and even the hilarious British sitcom Spaced (UK-1996; TV series; dir. Edgar Wright). This latter stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost pre-Shaun of the Dead, with Pegg as a genre film/TV fanatic obsessed with Star Wars and the like. The show is crammed with visual and verbal references (often unheralded) to Star Wars, TV shows such as Babylon 5, zombie flicks and much else besides. In this respect it is made for the fans rather than being about them. Wright, Pegg and Frost would go on to make Shaun of the Dead (UK-2004) and Hot Fuzz (UK-2007), which are in themselves fannish love-fests directed at zombie movies and cop shows respectively — yet which have managed to transcend the fan-base.
Another hitherto untapped source of obsessive fan behaviour is Godzilla fandom. It can get intense. Trust me, I should know; I’m one of them. I have a complete set of all 28 Japanese Godzilla films on DVD (plus variant editions and alternative cuts), lots of other giant monster DVDs, several cabinets full of Godzilla paraphernalia — beautifully made sculptures of Godzilla and his monster buddies, tacky vinyl models, genuine G toys, Taiwanese rip-offs, buttons, cups, t-shirts, a baseball cap, even a genuine 1980s Godzilla toilet-roll holder that adorns the wall of the bathroom. Mind you, my collection of this stuff is fairly small. Others have a collection that fills whole rooms. When we can, we gather in groups — at conventions, in bars, in loungerooms, on Yahoogroups — and swap Godzilla trivia, vying for the title of “The Most Esoterically Knowledgeable”.
So I can understand the dilemma faced by the main protagonist of Showdown of the Godz, Jesse (played with suspicious conviction by David Gasman), who is obsessed with Godzilla and the other daikaiju (Japanese giant monsters). I’m lucky; my partner may not have the Godzillaphile-gene, but she doesn’t mind a bit of giant monster action (in moderation) and completely understands obsession — having her own obsessions to deal with (James Bond movies and 1970s British cop shows, for example — the latter “mainly for the bad hair and clothes”, she says). Jesse’s wife, however, just thinks he’s wasting his life and her time — and their marriage teeters precariously on the brink. She wants him to grow up and, presumably, only concern himself with “serious” things.
After some counseling, Jesse vows not to mention Godzilla for a week in order to re-bond with his family. Unfortunately, a family outing to a restaurant called Monster Sushi introduces Jesse to the owner Ono (played with authority by Star Trek alumni George Takei, who has his own Godzilla connections, having voiced the US dubs of Gojira no gyakushû — Godzilla Raids Again, aka Gigantis the Fire Monster — and Sora no daikaijû Radon — Rodan! the Flying Monster — back in the late 1950s). Envious of a rare Godzilla toy on display in Ono’s restaurant, Jesse soon finds himself lured into a Godzilla trivia showdown with legendary Japanese monster movie archivist Matsuhisa Jin. If he wins, he gets the precious toy. If he loses, he pays Ono $1000.
Naturally Jesse’s wife isn’t impressed. Though his 7-year-old daughter understands that his Godzilla obsession is one of the few things in his life that ameliorates the boredom of the “serious”-side of life (in this case his dull insurance job), Mary (Alixx Schottland) doesn’t. She leaves him. With the showdown looming, Jesse falls into despair. But maybe there is a more serious side to the showdown than either Jesse or Mary had thought…
This is an excellent little film that is — in the tradition of other fandom-based films — funny, satirical and poignant. Though the G references may keep the G-fans amused, it is clever writing (which subtly shows us that there’s much more to Jesse than just a “sad fan”) and the effective work done by the ensemble cast that really propel the general viewer through the story. You don’t have to know anything much about Godzilla to appreciate the film, which on one level is more about the nature of obsession (and finding fulfilment) than it is about Godzilla fandom as such.
Effectively filmed and tightly directed overall, Showdown of the Godz is a joy to watch. As writer/producer Jim Cirile has commented: “It had to be funny, yet have heart. It had to have three acts, just like a feature. But most importantly, it was an excuse to geek out… I speak for all the creative team when I say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope the fun and excitement we all had working on this passion project, so personal to us, shows in the finished film.” It does.
My only quibble would be a sense that the pace of the ending (though not the resolution nor the final “visitition”) seems overly truncated, rushed. I believe that the original festival version was somewhat longer, so perhaps some last-minute edit is what creates this feeling of a lapse in concentration. But it doesn’t really matter. Showdown of the Godz certainly works as a whole and is a geekishly entertaining ride.
To quote Producer Robert Troch: “It’s funny, it’s heartwarming and well … it’s got Godzilla!” What more do we need!
Oh, I know! Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” song! And, yes, it’s got that, too.
You can find out where to catch Showdown of the Godz on its official website.