Suitamation Movies

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Suitamation is the name given to a special effects process most popular in Japan, where the effect of a giant, terrifying beast terrorising a city is achieved by putting a stuntman in a foam rubber costume and letting him tread on cardboard buildings. The genre is still popular in the far east despite the advent of more sophisticated techniques.

Obviously the most famous suitamation creature is Godzilla, the giant radioactive mutant dinosaur. The original Godzilla movie was a close remake of the American movie The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, whose monster was animated with stop-motion, but Toho, the makers of Godzilla, lacked the funds and expertise for this and opted for the simpler approach. The film was a huge hit and a sequel quickly followed, paving the way for a raft of similar films starring creations such as Rodan (giant supersonic pterodactyl), Mothra (giant moth with magic powers), Angilas (giant spiky turtle), and so on. In time the films developed their own continuity in which the various creatures interacted, usually violently. While Toho were the main exponents of the genre at this time, they were not alone as a rival studio's more juvenile-oriented franchise starring Gamera (a giant flying tortoise) came to rival Godzilla in popularity.

The 60s were the heyday of the suitamation movie nad while most were Japanese, cash-strapped B-movie makers worldwide tried their hand at the game. One of the most interesting attempts was the British movie Gorgo (1959) which presents the majority of its human cast as self-interested mercenaries and the monsters as exploited, sympathetic creatures. Most unusually the monsters win, demolishing London and ignoring all attempts by the authorities to stop them (a break from the usual formula in which the monster is killed at the last minute by some pseudoscientific means).

In the 70s, however, suitamation's popularity wavered and the last Godzilla film for nearly ten years, Terror of Mechagodzilla, was made in 1975.

In 1984, though, Toho revived their biggest (in every sense) star in The Return of Godzilla. The film was a success and revived the franchise, with a film a year being made from the early 90s to 1995. Characters and creatures from the original series were reinvented and up-to-date effects and serious scripts kept the tone closer to the orignal 1954 picture.

The revival continues to this day with many films available in British high-street stores. Inevitably, this has spawned imitators and Gamera was resurrected in 1995, in the first of another revived franchise. The continuing popularity of the genre in Japan and beyond makes it likely that the suitamation movie will continue to charn its admirers and bemuse its detractors well into the 21st century.

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