I believe Godzilla fans have a special place in their hearts for King Caesar (キングシーサー Kingu Shīsā), Godzilla’s ally in Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla (1974). He would have a brief appearance as his foe in Final Wars (2004). Growing up I affectionately called him “King Seesaw” like the playground ride. Little did I know that King Seesaw’s actually was King Caesar after the imperial title of the emperor of Rome. But the meaning of King Caesar goes deeper than that.
“When a black mountain appears above the clouds, a huge monster will arise and try to destroy the world; but then, when the red moon sets and the sun rises in the west, two more shall appear to save humanity.”
In Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, we learn of the ancient Okinawan prophecy of a monster who will arise to attack the people. But the Okinawan people have an ancient protector, King Caesar. Here’s where the mystery of this kaiju lies. King Caesar is actually based on the real Okinawan tradition of Shisa. Shisa is an artistically embellished lion statue that is common in Okinawa. The Shisa is a variation of the Chinese guardian lion(石獅; Shishi, meaning “Stone Lion”) from the Buddhist tradition. The Shisa is a cross between a lion and dog. The female has her mouth closed to hold good. But the male has his mouth open to ward evil. “Shisa” is a Japanese rendering of the title “Caesar.” It was common to place pairs of shisa on rooftops and gates to war off evil. So King Caesar will come to face evil for his people.
King Caesar is based on an Okinawan traditional tale in which a Shisa protects a village from a dragon. MechaGodzilla would be that great dragon. Dragons and their slayers are common in myths. In the ancient near east, there was the tradition of the combat myth in which cosmic divine forces engage in battle. In the Hebrew Bible, the serpent and the dragon are subdued by Yahweh in the creation and exodus stories. In his Apocalypse, John sees a great portent in the heavens of a great dragon who makes war in heaven and on earth against the people of God. Fascinatingly, two additional monsters arise from the sea and the land. Many prayers go up for God to deliver them from its wrath. Similarly, Miyarabi, an Azumi priestess, sees a vision of the monster and later she prays to wake up (ミヤラビの祈り) King Caesar to protect his people.
In the end, it would take both King Caesar and Godzilla to defeat the mechanical dragon MechaGodzilla. Each Toho kaiju has a deeper meaning to be known and appreciate. Each reflects the complexity of Japanese language, culture, and history. These kaiju are more than monsters. They are cosmic, mythical, protectors, and divine.
Listen to Miyarabi’s song