Happy 50th to Guilala, Japan’s ridiculous kaiju icon

While we may be in a new kaiju boom, it’s dwarfed by the one half a century ago. 1967 was the zenith, with the televised conclusions of the original Ultraman, Space Giants, Akuma-kun, and Booska, with the debuts of Ultraseven, Giant Robo, Akakage, Monster Prince, Captain Ultra, Esper, The King Kong ShowChibi Monster Yadamon, Oraa Guzura Dado, and the retooling of Ninja Hattori-kun into Ninja Hattori-kun+Ninja Monster Jippou. On the more theatrical side, we had cinematic releases from the big studios: Son of Godzilla and King Kong Escapes from Toho, Gamera vs. Gyaos from Daiei, Gappa the Triphibian Monster from Nikkatsu, Cyborg 009: Monster War and (the South Korean co-production) Yongary from Toei. Into that fray Shochiku submitted their one major kaiju feature (of the golden age, at least, since they did eventually go on to works like Moon Over Tao and Higanjima), Uchuu Daikaiju Guilala (Space Giant Monster Guilala), better known stateside as The X from Outer Space. (It’s not a great retitle, but at least we didn’t rename the monster “Itoka” like they did in France, or, as Germany always does, bring in Frankenstein.)

I won’t attempt posts for the anniversaries of all of the properties mentioned above, but I thought Guilala deserved a shoutout for having a career so strangely prolific and prolifically strange. While the monster’s debut film is a little silly, it hardly stands out for over-the-top in ludicrousness when you remember that the genre was dominated by a turtle that turns into a flying saucer. Yet, as the only (and therefor flagship) giant monster creation of the studio, Guilala became a stand-in for the genre as a whole in their productions, and thus had a storied career after his debut film in the world of comedy.

If you haven’t had a chance to catch the original film, by all means, check it out, along with the other Shochiku genre flicks available in a nice collection from Criterion. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s got a relatively high budget and decent production values (heck, Akira Watanabe worked on it!), an international cast, and plenty of scifi gadgetry, clearly aping the Toho formula. Better still, the monster’s design is quite memorable, even if its name (which basically boils down to “gi” from “gigas” and “la” from “largus”…we get it, it’s big) is a little generic.

Where it might have been too little, too late for launching a franchise in its own right, though, is that it feels more classically Toho, with a single monster rather than a wrestling match, and a love story that would bore the progressively younger audiences that the monster movies were attracting, on top of audience dilution and diminishing returns across the board. So, this was doomed to become Guilala’s only outing…almost.

Right off the bat, I’ll briefly mention that there was a manga adaptation of the movie that ran in Shonen King, by Takeshi Koshiro. I haven’t been able to track it down, but Koshiro’s  forte was adaptations, including the likes of Ultra Q, Terror of Mechagodzilla, Fight Dragon, Zone Fighter, Battle Fever J, Gaiking, Macross, and more. I’m particularly quite fond of his Godzilla vs. Gigan manga, but that’s a movie made to be a comic book.

I’ve been told that Guilala’s next appearance was a cameo the next year in the 1968 musical Chiisana Snack, though I haven’t tracked it down to confirm this, nor found much corroborating. The film gets its name from the biggest hit song of the group Purple Shadows, who star in the film, and also features future Kamen Rider star Hiroshi Fujioka (who you can also see in The X From Outer Space!). It doesn’t quite seem like the sort of thing a monster would fit into, but stranger things have happened.

A decade later Guilala got broad international exposure, in disguised form, with the 1978 US picture The Bad News Bears Go to Japan. There’s a sequence in the movie featuring a commercial for baseball bats, where a little leaguer uses one to smack down a rampaging kaiju. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognized the feet that are shown stomping through buildings at the start of the scene as belonging to Guilala, probably not done so much as a commentary on the use of stock footage as a simple employment thereof.

Guilala’s next outing was a little more high-profile, but still relegated to a comedy cameo. The 1984 film Tora-san’s Forbidden Love (the 34th in the series of comedies about the lovable loser Tora-san….and people think Godzilla has a lot of movies!) opens with a dream sequence (they all open with some dream sequence or another) where our protagonist must battle Guilala. It’s relatively short, and the rest of the film is just about our hero developing a crush on a married woman, so this would be more of a recommendation for completists or intersectional cinephiles, but it was the first new footage of the monster in quite a while (spoilers, what’s not stock footage is a cheap-looking model). The subject of the dream sequence here was definitely a play on the 1984 reboot of Godzilla (they even mistake Guilala for Godzilla as a joke), but I wonder if it influenced Godzilla’s own similar cameo in Always: Sunset on Third Street 2.

In the mid-1990s there were rumors of a revival, including an article about a Guilala vs. Gappa movie that was printed in G-Fan, which makes sense considering how the characters are frequently marketed together, but it doesn’t seem like that film was ever seriously considered by the studios involved. A super deformed version of Guilala did show up in 1998 as a mascot at the Kamakura Cinema World theme park, but the attraction shut down shortly thereafter.

The most significant revival to date was 2008, though. Director Minoru Kawasaki was no stranger to tokusatsu comedies, having hit international stardom with titles like The Calamari Wrestler and The World Sinks Except for Japan, so he made a natural fit for the new film, Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit, which was essentially an extended political cartoon about the actual G8 conference going on in Japan at the time. The movie goes full parody of the kaiju genre (even the Japanese title “Guilala no Gyakushu” plays on what a cliche that verbiage is in monster movies, like “Return of X” or “Bride of X” would be in English). This time, stock footage is used deliberately for comedic effect, and while debatable,  I have an inkling that Kawasaki deliberately uses gaijin with poor line delivery because he thinks it’s funny… he’s just done it too many times in too many films to feel like a coincidence (I mean, come on, the French PM is played by an Iranian dude who flat-out admits to not knowing any French).

The end result is a mixed bag that’s generally not terribly well-received, but even detractors generally admit to a chuckle in the scene where a precocious child is kicked out of the war room. The fact that the Russian politician quickly suggested killing Guilala with Polonium 210 was my personal favorite gag (dark and tasteless it may be, at least it was topical), followed by the fact that the US president is literally named Burger, and the…end…reveal…well, it must be seen to be believed. However, the battle between Guilala and Take-Majin, who’s a giant Beat Takeshi, is the biggest highlight of the picture for sure.

This wasn’t Guilala’s only clash with another giant, though, as Kawasaki’s signature hero (aside from Iko-chan) Den Ace, the goofy, beer-powered jerk of the genre, also met the creature in a direct-to-video special Zettai Yaseru Den Ace (which would translate to something like “The Den Ace Who’s Definitely Going to Lose Weight”) at the same time. I still haven’t quite gotten around to plopping down $25 on this one, but based on the other Den-Ace stuff I’ve seen, I expect some very low-rent but amusing short episodes, most of which would not have Guilala involved.

One last, even stranger hurrah in 2008, Guilala was selected for a commercial for job hunting site the Ladders. It’s not entirely clear if he was the company’s number one choice, but the character was licensed, and the suit was flown to South Africa to film a commercial for American television. That same advertising company had previously done an awesome kyodai hero commercial for Garmin, so I guess it’s just in their DNA.

As of March 25th, Guilala is 50 years old. I can’t think of another character who’s had a track record so consistently off-beat, but hopefully the future holds some more surprises for this spore-born, x-shaped, radioactive space lizard.

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