The history of Godzilla, like any other major film franchise, is full of interesting “what if”s. What if the crossover between Godzilla and the Adam West Batman series hadn’t fallen through? What if Jan de Bont had actually made the American Godzilla in 1994? What if Tsuburaya had gone with an octopus design for Godzilla instead of the dinosaur one?
Movie-making is a process limited by talent, time, and budget, so even if the studio has a really great concept, 99 times out of 100 it’ll be filed away somewhere and never see a camera. Sometimes elements of these lost projects resurface: for example, the dinosaur made for the cancelled Hammer co-production Nessie was later used as a dragon in Princess from the Moon, designs for a cancelled Atragon sequel eventually morphed into Latitude Zero, or the monster Bagan was planned for several scrapped movies before eventually popping up in Super Godzilla for SNES. It’s quite rare in any franchise, though, to see an unmade franchise concept fully published in another medium. In 1978 (1979 by cover date), we got one of these unusual glimpses into a film that maybe could have been: A Space Godzilla, a short story published in the Japanese edition of Starlog, over two halves.
There’s a lot of debate, a lot of speculation, and a lot of misinformation circulating about this story, so I’ll do my best here to not lead anyone too far astray, with a “just the facts” kind of report.
First of all: It is general opinion that this concept was at some point considered by someone at Toho for Godzilla’s return to screen, but it’s not clear how seriously they took it, or whether pre-production/planning was ever done in earnest. Since there were already machinations to bring Godzilla back at this point (including a full-on reboot, a War of the Gargantuas sequel, and Godzilla vs. The Asuka Fortress) and Star Wars was on everyone’s minds (Toho itself had just cranked out War in Space and was considering an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series), it would have made sense to blend the two: a full space opera starring Godzilla.
A lot of people have glibly dismissed A Space Godzilla as fanfiction that somehow made it into a proper magazine, but it was published with Toho’s full cooperation, and more importantly, conceived by Toho employees. The “original story” is credited to Nobuhiko Obayashi and Mitsutoshi Ishigami. Because Obayashi never actually made a straight kaiju film, many Godzilla fans may not realize that he was quite possibly Toho’s hottest genre-film director at the time: he’d made his psychedelic ghost movie House despite studio impediments and it had made them a ton of money, then turned around to make Visitor of the Eye (the first film based on Osamu Tezuka’s wildly successful Black Jack manga), as well as their popular romance flick If She Turns Back, It’s Love. Ishigami was one of Obayashi’s actors, having appeared in both House and Visitor of the Eye, but was also a producer on Visitor of the Eye, and a script doctor, eventually working on The Drifting Classroom with Obayashi and Toho’s Princess from the Moon.
While Obayashi is credited for both “original story” and “composition”, the “script” is actually attributed to Sakio Hirata, also one of Obayashi’s actors from House, though honestly I have’t found much more info into other work there. Two relatively-unknown new wave artists did illustrations for the piece: one was Shirayama Nobuyuki, who published a handful of manga and art books (such October Planetarium) until his death in 2012, and the other was Katsuhiro Otomo, who eventually became one of the most influential comic artists in history, for works such as Akira, Roujin Z, Steamboy, and Short Peace, as well as for being a mentor to the likes of Satoshi Kon and Katsuya Terada. Actually, just recently, Otomo became the first Japanese person to win the Angoulême International Comics Festival lifetime achievement award, so it’s amazing to think that his publication career started with a weird little Godzilla story.
A Space Godzilla is presented as if it were an actual film, with different text colors symbolizing scene transitions, and even includes fake credits, as though it were properly produced. In addition to listing Obayashi as director, there’s Obayashi’s cinematographer Yoshitaka Sakamoto as Director of Photography, Tatsuo Shimamura for SFX (I assume this is the same Tatsuo Shimamura who did effects on Tokyo: The Last War, not sure if he’s the same as the famous anime director), stop-motion wiz Masaaki Mori for model animation, and music by Godiego (the rock band that did the Galaxy Express 999 and Monkey Magic themes, and of course, the soundtrack for House). In a later Starlog interview, one of the puppets that Mori has on display is captioned as the “Space Godzilla”, presumably meaning that the small image of Godzilla in the first chapter is actually a photo of this puppet, though Mori doesn’t have an illustration credit for the story. Really, somebody really ought to just ask Obayashi about it the next time he does an interview or appears at a festival.
Lastly, I want to clarify, since there seems to be some confusion: A Space Godzilla has nothing to do with 1994’s movie Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, and it has nothing to do with this:
Star Godzilla may have a similar name, be from a similar time, and share the status of never being made as a Godzilla film, but that’s a coincidence (as much as every piece of science fiction at the time emulating Star Wars can be called a coincidence). Star Godzilla was an unauthorized Hong Kong movie that placed an ad in a May 1980 issue of Variety. Toho immediately crushed that production, but it persists as a sort of meme among hoaxers to this day, much like Cannon Films’ Godzilla vs. Cleveland (or the recent debacle with Colossal‘s PR campaign).
So, by this point you’re probably wondering “what the heck is A Space Godzilla about, anyway?” And at this point I think the text can speak for itself. Considering that there’s been no rumblings of an official translation of this story, we went ahead and mocked up a translation of the first chapter, with the second chapter/conclusion coming…eventually. Of course, in the extremely unlikely case that this does get licensed for English-language release, please discontinue distributing this and buy the official version… it’ll have a proper, professional translation, after all.
And now a message from Amanda, who did a fantastic job with a sometimes stubbornly tricky translation:
Hey guys! I’m Kevin’s excellent girlfriend, Amanda. I have a bachelor’s degree in Japanese, so I’m not completely incompetent but this was sort of a rough translation to do. There’s a lot of weird science, and it’s written more like a screenplay than a short story so you may notice that the transitions are a bit abrupt. Anyways, I hope you guys enjoy it! I’m maybe a quarter of the way done with part 2 and I’ll try to work through it at a good pace, so look forward to that! :)
P.S. It really does say diabetes. I was confused too. Hehe.
Addendum: For anyone wondering what Momo’s song sounds like, Obayashi actually included it in his 1983 adaptation of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time!