Zilla Controversy: Name, Continuity and more

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The Zilla digital model, developed for Godzilla: Final Wars.

Despite being influential to the subsequent Godzilla films (collectively labeled as the Millennium series) in one way or the other, Emmerich’s Godzilla was the object of inside-jokes or parodies in some of the films. The first example, arguably, is a simple inside-joke featured in Shusuke Kaneko’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack! (2001). In the beginning of the film, during a briefing regarding Godzilla’s return, it is mentioned that a Monster attacked New York in 1998 — initially believed to be Godzilla. One of the characters promptly debunks the suggestion, saying that “they say so in America; but not in Japan.” The line in the english dub is similar: “that’s what the American experts say, but our experts here have doubts.”

The most famous mockery of Godzilla would be presented three years afterwards: in occasion of Godzilla’s 50th anniversary in 2004, TOHO produced Godzilla: Final Wars. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, the celebratory film featured a total of 13 TOHO Monsters, besides Godzilla and his son Minilla. Included in this rogues gallery  is a new character introduced in the film, called Zilla (in japanese ジラ, Jira) — a creature of unknown origins that is employed by the Xiliens (the alien antagonists of the film) to attack Sydney. In an attempt to parody the American remake, the creature is defeated in less than 13 seconds — marking the shortest battle in the Godzilla series’ long history. In the original Japanese version of the film, the Xilien controller utters “I knew that tuna-eating lizard was useless”; the line was changed in the american dub: “I knew that tuna-head wasn’t up to much.”

Zillaconcepto

Concept art of the Zilla fight sequence.

Zilla was — intentionally — the only Monster of the film to be brought to the screen solely with the use of computer-generated effects. The digital model of the creature was initially obtained with a scan of Trendmasters’ ‘Ultimate’ Godzilla figure — part of the toyline dedicated to the 1998 film — which was then refined to create the final design. This peculiarity among the other characters of Godzilla: Final Wars criticized the American remake’s extensive use of digital effects (despite the also considerable employment of practical effects). Kitamura was notoriously quoted as saying that the American remake “took the ‘God’ out of Godzilla.”

Since the release of Final Wars, the belief that the American Godzilla was actually renamed Zilla underwent a rapid diffusion, both via the film itself and popular video reviews. For all intents and purpose, however, this fact is incorrect. In 1998, Sony Pictures acquired rights to make the film, and still owns the international film rights. In 2005, TriStar exploited the release of Peter Jackson’s King Kong to launch a new DVD release of Godzilla — labeled commercially as the ‘Monster Edition’. The copyright disclaimers on the back cover assert the following statement:

“GODZILLA and the GODZILLA character and design are marks of Toho Co., Ltd. The GODZILLA character and design are copyrighted works of Toho Co., Ltd. All are used with permission.” [sic]

TOHO is also known for its ‘Monster logos’, which are printed on the cover of many of their home video releases, as well as products related to their characters; with the release of the American remake, the new Godzilla received its own logo, as did Zilla when Final Wars was released. The 2007 limited edition release of Godzilla‘s soundtrack by La-La Land Records not only mantained the same copyright disclaimers, but also another appearence of Godzilla’s own logo.

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Godzilla’s logo (on the back cover of Starlog’s Godzilla: The Official Poster Magazine)…

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…and its return, 9 years later, in La-La Land Records’ release of the film’s soundtrack.

In 2009, TriStar released Godzilla in Blu-ray — whose back cover again presented the same copyright claims:

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The back cover of the British release of the Godzilla Blu-ray.

In 2014, Godzilla was released in a 4K mastered Blu-ray format, still mantaining the precedent claims; additionally, both as a celebration of the character’s 6oth anniversary and as a tie-in to the release of Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla, TOHO released the entirety of the Godzilla films in Blu-Ray — including a reissue of the 1998 film. Despite numerous claims, none of the releases of both the film and material related to it display copyright claims or logos mentioning Zilla, further debunking the false fact that the American Godzilla’s name was in any way changed.
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Zilla Controversy: Name, Continuity and more

  1. R.

    This explains so much!

    Zilla was created by Toho as a parody of Emmerich’s americanized Godzilla.

    Emmerich’s Godzilla (aka Trigoji) occupied a separate continuity from the original Toho Godzilla.

    If the proposed sequels to Tristar Godzilla HAD been made, how would folks have reacted?

    We may never know.

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  2. Rod G.

    I see your point.

    If Zilla is indeed a parody of the Tristar Godzilla created by Roland Emmerich, perhaps the Xiliens ventured into a reality where the first giant monster was in fact the creature dubbed “Gojira” by a survivor of its attack who was reminded of a mythical sea dragon of that name.
    (Remember, in that reality, Japan was NEVER attacked by ANY giant monsters.)

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  3. Since Toho had the rights to the Godzilla character, they therefore owned that extension of Godzilla. In fact, the initial dispute was about Sony’s rights to make a Godzilla movie, which they clung to despite Toho’s initial contract expiring. In fact, that quote about “taking the god out of Godzilla” came from that very court case. Since Toho owned the rights, they made 1998 a part of the continuity in GMK (“The New York attack was Godzilla, right?” “That’s what all the American experts think, but our boys here have our doubts…”) and Final Wars. Zilla is indeed a character, not a parody, and 1998 was officially deemed a mislabel in terms of continuity. So yes, the name change DID happen.

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