“Fight-O!” And with that, and some loud music, Kaiju Big Battel begins. To the untrained eye, it might appear like a regular wrestling match. To the especially untrained eye, it might look like honest-to-god chaos. But it doesn’t take much to get attuned to the particular peculiarities that elevate Big Battel out of those realms, and once you do, it’s unmistakable for the “character driven, tongue-in-cheek hybrid of American pro-wrestling, Japanese monster-movies, and lowbrow pop-culture” that it is. If you’re really into it, you know there’s not much to say besides that it’s a matter of Good vs Evil. “Monsters are Real. Danger can Happen.”
Here’s the general concept: guys in Japanese-monster-movie-inspired costumes fight each other in a ring studded with foam skyscraper models. There’s a ref. There’s a DJ. The matches are called by an MC who goes by the name of Louden Noxious and his stooge “The Beav.” The cityscapes are tended to by a beer-swillin’, hardhat-wearing construction worker character named “Anthony Salbino.” Pretty much no one breaks character. Like wrestling, some monsters die, some retire, come back, etc. But the men behind Kaiju Big Battel did not stop there; they fleshed out the show by inventing their own universe and building up an elaborate mythology surrounding a revolving cast of 35+ monsters, replete with heroes, villains, and backstories. There’s enough lore out there that you could probably write a couple volumes worth of fan fiction, if that’s what you’re into.
Kaiju Big Battel was started way back in 1994 in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts1. Two freshmen, Randy Borden and Jeff Warmouth, had plans to make a monster movie (Kaiju is Japanese for “strange beast,” and has come to be primarily associated with big-screen, city-stompin’ baddies like Godzilla and company) of their own. They made some costumes for their film, but the project never materialized. As fate would have it, the KBB boys were asked to perform on Halloween night at The Revolving Museum and decided to put the costumes to good use by, what else? Suiting up and mock-beating the mock-crap out of each other in a cardboard cityscape, as they had planned to do for the film, anyway.
“People ate it up,” claims David Borden, KBB spokesman and younger brother of Randy2. The next year, the team put together a full blown event at the SMFA and officially dubbed it “Kaiju Big Battel.3” This led to more “battels” in and around the Boston area, and before they knew it, KBB had a pretty big following. Upon graduation, Borden (whom the Boston Globe claims was “one of Boston’s most promising artists” as a student) struggled to find his place in the art world in which he longed and deserved to be4. He decided to get serious about Kaiju Big Battel, and brought on David, who used his business expertise to turn “Studio Kaiju” into a full-blown operation.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least scrape the surface of Kaiju Big Battel’s hilarious and involved storyline5. Here goes: There are a bunch of monsters on Earth (throughout the galaxy, in fact) and they’re all angry and fighting with each other. It’s the Kaiju Commissioner’s job to facilitate their rage into Kaiju Big Battel matches in order to save the human race (and, presumably, its skyscrapers) from certain destruction. There are four constantly battling factions of monsters: Team Space Bug, the Rogues, Dr. Cube’s Posse, and the Heroes. Dr. Cube has become the de facto face of Kaiju Big Battel, thanks in no small part to the ubiquitous OBEY-esque stickers with his face on them. His story echoes that of fellow villain Dr. Doom: an orphan who grew up to be a surgeon, became disfigured, evil, and donned an iconic mask. He makes many of the very monsters that fight in Kaiju Big Battel. That, however, is just the germ of the 600+ word backstory that Kaiju has provided for Dr. Cube, and every other character. A taste: “After the war ended, a kindhearted infertile English couple adopted the gurgling bambino through a post-war waif-rescue program.6” You get the idea.
Having watched these videos, the fact that the very first match took place in a museum, of all places, is surprising. But the more I learned about Kaiju Big Battel, the more it made sense. It was started by a bunch of art students, after all. Press surrounding KBB tends to emphasize, perhaps at the creators’ request, the performance art aspect of the show. “None of us is a huge wrestling fan,” David assured an interviewer7. While it’s hard to deny that KBB and WWE share plenty of DNA (not to mention the equally obvious influence of Mexican lucha libre wrestling), I’m willing to give Borden the benefit of the doubt. What Studio Kaiju produces deserves to be called “performance art.” The costumes themselves (which can weigh up to 20 pounds) deserve to be displayed in a museum. Randy comes up with the idea and the sketch for each one, which may take up to six months to complete (and even more time, I would imagine, to come up with a character for it).
Studio Kaiju shares DNA with the indie community as well. In his pre-suit days, David was involved with promotion and management in Boston’s music scene. When they graduated from college gyms, Kaiju often had luck hosting their events in rock clubs. “Basically, we just promoted them as if they were rock shows,” he claims8. Battels themselves are often by opened by rock bands. Some of the more impressive ones include Les Savy Fav, Cannibal Ox, and DJ Spooky9.
The show has evolved drastically over the last decade. In 2010, operations were moved from Boston to New York. Each production takes months of planning, over 40 people (including monsters10, AV people, merch sellers, etc.), and costs thousands of dollars. There are dozens of DVDs, trading cards, action figures, t-shirts, stickers (you’ve probably seen the ubiquitous black and white sticker featuring Dr. Cube as the skull in a jolly roger), and they even sell Kaiju Big Battel underwear11, hot sauce, lunchboxes, and “monster meat.” While they haven’t yet got to the point where they can go on large tours, KBB is consistently tearing up the East coast. In 2011, they got to put on a huge show in spectacle’s natural habitat: Las Vegas. It’s always heartening to see a grassroots movement succeed. When it’s as wacky as this one, it’s downright life-affirming.
1 Yeah! Boston! In your face, anywhere else!
3 According to the KBB website, Rand misspelled “Battle” on a t-shirt but decided to keep it that way.
5 For the particularly curious, a 200 page tome of this awesome stuff called Kaiju Big Battel: A Practical Guide to Giant City-Crushing Monsters was published in 2004.
9 Can you imagine a crazier spectacle than Les Savy Fav opening for this?!
10 Gymnasts, wrestlers, or skaters, usually.
11 Obligatory Spaceballs: the Flamethrower reference.