For the first time in his 65 year history, the King of the Monsters came to San Diego Comic Con this year. Contrary to what many might assume, Toho’s Godzilla booth was not victory lap for the titanic star’s latest film outing stateside, but a celebration of the entire franchise with gems from throughout its history scattered about. This made for something of a unique booth, as there’s really no big product to push, save from a small number of exclusive toys that can be purchased at an attached store. Instead the booth serves as something of a small scale museum.
The Toho staff certainly seem to have had a museum exhibit in mind when they put the booth together, with historical objects juxtaposed against informational paragraphs and bits of trivia on the walls. The booth was designed by Godzilla: Rulers of Earth writer Chris Mowry and demonstrates his encyclopedic knowledge of the brand as well as his concern for longtime fans and newcomers alike. The set up is not small, but neither is it large for SDCC and much of it is taken up by the store and a photo booth. As such, and somewhat appropriately, the booth works upwards, filling every wall with information and images of the King of the Monsters and his entourage.
The crown jewel of the exhibit is the Godzilla suit used in filming Godzilla 2000: Millennium, known to fans as the MireGoji suit. In a rare opportunity for fans, the complete suit is not only on display but set up in a photo booth so you can square off with Gojira himself! Fans can choose from one of four different backgrounds (San Diego, under the wings of Mothra on Monster Island, in the sights of King Ghidorah, or amidst a volcano as Rodan looks on) and pose however they like, with a dedicated editor on hand to make sure their showdown is worthy of a Toho throwdown. The line can be a little long at various points of the day, but, thanks to the space constraints, much of your time can be spent looking at the rest of the exhibit.
The MireGoji suit is something to behold. It’s a good suit to exhibit, both because of its relative youth and because of its abundant and distinctive texture. It’s smaller than you might think up close, this design being given a notable hunch, and there are a few places where you can see the wear of time, but it does little to take away from the excitement. Being a nerd and a sentimentalist, I opted against the classic poster square off and tried to put together a quieter scene, based on my favorite moment in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).
Beyond the photo booth are glass displays filled with all manner of toys and merch. Obviously some of the most impressive are the S.H. Monster Arts figures. Godzillas from throughout the franchise are represented, with particularly nice incarnations of the 1963 KingGoji design and and the impressively beefy anime Godzilla. There are also plenty of cuter (and cheaper) chibi versions of the kaiju on display.
But, even alongside MireGoji, the most impressive part of the exhibition for me is a case containing a slew of props and costume pieces. There are props as old as the Oxygen Destroyer from the original Gojira (1954) and as new as the ORCA from Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). Between them are Showa Era classics, like the heads used for Mothra and Ghidorah, and more recent designs, like the Super X2 prop from Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989).
I think my favorite is the head of the final form Destoroyah costume. Unlike nearly every other piece in the collection, I think it actually looks bigger in person. It’s certainly sizable, with loads of molded detail, and the fact that Destoroyah’s head is actually relatively small for her body gives you a sense of just how imposing the full costume must have been. The VS series holds a mixed place in the memories of Godzilla fans, but I hold that the costumes and designs are some of the most vivid and lifelike of the series.
Speaking of the Heisei designs, the big attraction on the first two days was acclaimed tokusatsu artist and designer Shiji Nishikawa, who was on hand drawing and signing autographs. Against the far wall of the exhibit, Nishikawa drew a sharp and massive mural of Godzilla and most of his rogues gallery. Then, on day 2, Nishikawa sat down to sign personalized autographs. The line was capped early but, it still kept Nishikawa at the booth for hours as he patiently sketched on each attendee’s provided poster board. I was not fully aware of Nishikawa’s influence on the series when I arrived at Comic Con, but it was amazing to see just how iconic his designs and style have been on the brand and how quickly he can imbue those qualities into a sketch.
After all was said and done I talked to a Toho employee and asked what his takeaway from the show was. For him, it was all about the outpouring of love for Godzilla. Toys and promotional materials were running low early into the second day of the four day show and the booth was packed through the day. Toho apparently wasn’t certain how much affection the quickly assembled booth would receive, but fans of every age flocked to it, many with parents that introduced them to the franchise or children they hope to share their passion with in turn.
You can find Toho Studios and Godzilla at SDCC booth #3535