Godzilla the Dinosaur

11.7.2020 (revised 6.28.2022)

Godzilla was an ancient extinct dinosaur. This fact is well established from the words of Dr. Yamane in Gojira (1954) to Godzillasaurus on Lagos Island in the Heisei classic Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991). In his Introduction to Godzilla (決定版ゴジラ入門), Toho Producer Tomoyuji Tanaka asked, “What is Godzilla?”「ゴジラとはなんだろう?」 He replies, “An extinct dinosaur”「ほろびさった恐竜」 (p12). He goes on to say, “The Godzilla clan lived leisurely in deep-sea caves in the South Pacific Ocean. And sometimes I went out in search of food.”「ゴジラの一族、南太平洋の深い海底の洞くつで、のんびりと暮らしていた。そして、時どきエサを求めて外へ出たりしていた。」(p54). In Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991), Masukichi Ikehata saw the dinosaur on Lagos Island,「私はその昔 本物の恐竜を見た。」And science fiction writer Kenichiro Terasawa says, “Ten years later, in 1954, an American nuclear test took place at Bikini Atoll. The dinosaurs on Lagos Island became Godzilla after being exposed to the radiation”「すぐそばのビキニ環礁でアメリカの実核験が生われてます。その放射を浴びてラゴス島の恐竜はゴジラになった。」

For many Godzilla fans, dinosaurs were the gateway to Godzilla. As a child I spent hours reading my dinosaurs books, playing with my plastic dinosaurs, and drawing my dinosaurs. My family, friends and teachers knew I loved dinosaurs, and of course Godzilla. Growing up, dinosaurs were very much a part of pop-culture. The regularly appeared in cartoons and movies and magazines. The classic Aurora prehistoric scenes plastic model kits were kid favorites. I have great memories of my giant T-Rex, Allosaurus, and Triceratops. There were many great books too. My favorite books were Album of Dinosaurs (by Tom McGowen and illustrated by Rod Ruth), The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs and More (by M. Jean Craig and pictures by George Solonevich), and the Giant Golden Book Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles (by Jane Werner Watson and illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger, published by Western Publishing Company in 1959). These children books made a long lasting impression. Their illustrations are itched in my memories. Of all the dinosaurs Godzilla was best. The two were always connected. In my earliest drawing that my father saved for me, I drew myself as a toymaker building a dinosaur with Godzilla written on its tail like on my plastic dinosaurs toys.

Perhaps the most famous dinosaurs book for Godzilla fans is found in Godzilla Raids Again (1955). Pilots Shoichi Tsukioka and Koji Kobayashi scan the pages of The Dinosaur Book: the ruling reptiles and their relatives by American paleontologist Edwin H. Colbert and identify Anguirus on p 74. Read The dinosaur book below (Source: Digital Library).

In Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, Terasawa is writing a book about Godzilla as the dinosaur from Lagos Island where it was exposed to the hydrogen bomb explosion from the U.S. Bikini Atoll test in 1954. The Futurian Emmy Kano brought his book, titled ゴジラ誕生 “Birth of Godzilla” (by 寺沢 健一郎, published by MU Books) back from the future.

Godzilla was born in the mind of Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who on his return to Japan from Jakarta learned the Lucky Dragon No. 5 fishing boat was exposed to the radiation of the Bikini Atoll hydrogen bomb test (1954). Shigeru Kayama (香山滋) would write the monster’s story in『怪獣ゴジラ』The Monster Godzilla. Its cover featuring the dinosaur Godzilla.

And then there is the photo of Director Ishiro Honda standing beside the Tyrannosaurus Rex on display at the National Science Museum (国立科学博物館) in Nagano, Tokyo, during the production of Frankenstein Conquers the World. In (Frankenstein Conquers the World フランケンシュタイン対地底怪獣 1956), Mr Kawai (played by Yoshio Tsuchiya) and Dr. Sueko Togami (Kumi Mizuno) discuss Baragon’s origins in front of this T-Rex. The museum’s director of Earth Sciences, paleontologist Hiroshi Ozaki (尾崎博氏) was also involved in the design and production of Godzilla (1954). He appeared on NHK educational programs and he wrote many books including illustrated books for children. He was the supervisor of the book Lost Japanese Creatures「失われた日本の生物」with illustrations by Masaru Shimizu.


A recent NHK news program raised the question, “Is the statue of Tyrannosaurus the brother of ‘Godzilla’?”「チィラノサウルス像は「ゴジラ」の兄弟?」Was this T-Rex statue one of the influences on the first Godzilla design? The program concluded, “Godzilla in the movie was made with reference to the model of the dinosaur in the main building” 「映画のゴジラは、本館の恐竜の模型など参考にして、つくられたものである。」At this time, this T-Rex is on display at The Saga Prefectural Museum and the Saga Prefectural Art Museum.

These photo show Director Ishiro Honda and Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka pointing at the Tyrannosaurus of the famous mural by an American-based Austrian-Russian artist Rudolph Franz Zallinger featured in part 5 of LIFE magazine’s series “The World We Live in” (September 7, 1953). “Tsuburaya’s friend since the Kyoto era, art designer Akira Watanabe (enrolled in the art section of the production department) who also participated in the Battle of Malay, Hawaii, and cheering sculptor Teizo Toshimitsu happened to be at hand. Looking at the Children’s Encyclopedia, referring to the body shape of Iguanodon, with the Tyrannosaurus and Stegosaurus added, and the design of Godzilla was drawn from the dinosaur special feature Tyrannosaurus of the magazine LIFE brought by Tanaka. According to Shinichiro Kobayashi’s theory of morphological monsters, this is all.”「円谷の京都時代以来の友人でハワイ・マレー沖海戦 にも参加していた美術デザイナー・渡辺明(製作部美術課美術係在籍)、応援の彫刻家・利光貞三は、たまたま手元にあった 玉川児童大百科辞典 を見て、イグアノドンの体形を参考に、ティラノザウルスやステゴザウラルスを加え、田中が持って来た雑誌 LIFE の恐竜特集のティラノザウルスから、ゴジラのデザインを描いた。小林晋一郎の 形態学的怪獣論 によれば、以上の通りである。」 (Source: Verification, the birth of Godzilla, 検証・ゴジラ誕生―昭和29年 by Hideyuki Inoue 井上 英之, 1994, p 56-7).

Zallinger’s mural, called “The Age of Reptiles,” was 110 feet in length, 55 feet in width, and 26 feet in height. He was asked to paint it for Yale University’s Great Hall in the Peabody Museum of Natural History in 1947. This painting made his career. Later, he was asked to paint illustrations for this edition of LIFE magazine. And his Tyrannosaurus inspired Godzilla’s original design.

Godzilla’s origin and appearance, rooted in the prehistoric past, were shaped and influenced by the same publications and illustrations that entertained many Godzilla fans in their childhood. My love for Godzilla grew out of my love for dinosaurs. The work of Rudolph Franz Zallinger found on walls, in magazines, and in our favorite books connected us to the past where we found Godzilla.