THIS DIDN’T all happen overnight,” says Thommy Saraceno, a former Museum of Fine Arts student who’s been active in Kaiju since 1997. “Kaiju has evolved. It started as kids in art school who all had this common interest [in wrestling and kitsch] and decided to put on a spectacle.” According to Kaiju lore, the first so-called spectacle unfurled on Halloween in 1994 at Boston’s Revolving Museum, and featured characters like the Atomic Cannon (a man-size point-and-shoot disposable camera), Powa Ranjuru (a Power Ranger–helmeted angel), and Midori No Kaiju (“a greenish terror lizard” whose height is listed as “75 Osaka City Buses”). “The group did a couple more shows, got a good response, so they kept going,” Saraceno recalls. “And then it gained more interest, more people joined, and the older people left. Now, we’re on a second generation.”
That second generation transformed Kaiju from a wacked-out extracurricular hobby for a handful of art-school students into a monolithic live show with thunderous buzz in the Boston underground. “At first, we never thought of a show as A to B, beginning, middle, and end, like a play,” Saraceno says. “Only within the last year or so did we start thinking of our events as complete shows with cohesive plots, rather than just a string of separate matches.”
As the minds behind Kaiju came to realize, matches between bulbous monsters attract attention, but once the novelty of warring rubber giants wears off, the audience’s enthusiasm can lapse. “The minute you see four matches with goofy costumes, it’s just the goofy costumes,” says Saraceno. “We realized that the viewers didn’t understand who was wrestling whom. There were no consequences of the matches, no real reason why a big sandwich would be clubbing someone in the head.” So these days, when the character named Club Sandwich — two slabs of white bread with lettuce fringe — whacks someone on the noggin with a prehistoric club, there’s actually a reason for the beating. And when Dr. Cube stalks Super Akuma, a Japanese businessman who sold his soul to the devil (or “devils,” as Saraceno says), it’s because Super Akuma shanghaied the Kaiju championship belt from the square-headed physician and tried to sell the trophy on eBay.
Also, Camille Dodero interviews Dr. Cube
The backstory isn’t the only thing that’s improved. “Within the last year or so, we’ve also stepped up the business side,” Saraceno explains. Specifically, stepping up the business side meant hiring a full-time marketing, accounting, event-scheduling, and public-relations jack-of-all-trades, which for a fiscally challenged group like Kaiju came in the form of PR guy David Borden.
“They needed help setting it up as a business,” Borden explains. “Before that, they didn’t really do anything besides sending out, like, five press kits, and selling the videos at the shows.” Now Kaiju actually has a small enterprise that offers merchandise online and at live shows: T-shirts, trading cards, lunch boxes, wall clocks, pins, stickers, handheld pinball games, magnets, videos — even hot sauce named after one of Cube’s toady monsters.
And within the last few weeks, Kaiju has centralized its forces by moving from four locations into one, a studio space in Jamaica Plain with ample storage, room for construction, and a second-floor office that Saraceno kiddingly calls “the Honeycomb Hideout.”
When I first walk into the Honeycomb Hideout, er, Studio Kaiju, the black-clad Saraceno — who, in multitasking as a builder, designer, and driver, has been busy preparing the skeleton of the steel cage that’ll be used in the next Kaiju “Big Battel” — greets me. It’s immediately obvious that this clean, second-floor office is an unusual place: one of the first things I notice is a dry-erase board with the words “surgical masks” scrawled in blue marker.
Aside from scripting the actions of Luciferian shogun Cube, Saraceno and his colleagues work every day to create a physical and mythical realm that evokes the World Wrestling Federation without the gratuitous T&A, Pokémon without the cloying childishness, and Godzilla with a sense of irony. They construct steel cages, assemble monsters’ costumes, and engineer alliances between warring brutes. And they iron out the details of each Kaiju Big Battel — live events where ogreish goliaths duke it out, leap off top ropes, and sometimes even bang each other with garbage cans and metallic ladders.
Fans can buy videos featuring excerpts from these live events. While watching a match billed as “Kaiju’s most brutal battel,” where one masked wrestler leaps off a balcony and another gets fiercely tossed into a wooden table, I can’t help wondering whether anybody ever gets hurt. “When you’re hitting people with ladders, jumping off of things that are like eight feet high, there is a potential for getting hurt,” admits Saraceno, who is himself a wrestler. “Things can happen — sometimes someone lands wrong. My friend from Florida, who comes up to perform, broke his heel. I’ve dislocated my pinkie, I’ve broken noses, I’ve had several concussions.”
But he emphasizes that the violence is a side effect of wrestling, and not the intent. “We don’t try to be violent. Actually, some of our characters can’t wrestle. Like, say, the Chicken Soup guy. It’s hard to see or move in there because you feel like you’re in a stockade. But whatever we do, we do for the spectacle.”
Besides wrestling, Kaiju also features other sorts of spectacles. Spectacles like 40 pounds of bananas piled on a table. Spectacles like hip-hop MCs who rap in between matches and also announce the action. Spectacles like a grease pit where you could get greased up like a wrestler: “Girls in hot pants and dudes in Speedos who would grease you up if you wanted to,” Saraceno explains.
KAIJU’S NOT about being cool — Kaiju’s the most uncool thing that you could ever see,” Borden says. But no matter what Borden says, Kaiju is cool. At its last two live appearances, it shared the stage with indie buzz bands like the Explosion and Cave In, and both events drew incredibly hip audiences of local rockers and artists. As the press release for Kaiju’s latest video, Mayhem in the Atrium III, reads: “This Boston-based pop phenomenon boasts sold-out events, making hipsters fight for standing room only.”
And while underground cachet is definitely important, Kaiju wants more. “We’re not short on ideas,” Saraceno says. “We’re just short on money to make those ideas happen.”
Saraceno tries to explain the diversity of Kaiju’s demographic this way: “It’s weird — you’ll have college kids, older people, and then you’ll have 40-year-old parents bringing their young kids to their shows. Plus, we’re really fortunate to have a good mix of males and females. Because it’s really tiresome to go to a wrestling show and the whole audience is fat, angry kids with Limp Bizkit shirts.”
And Kaiju Big Battel doesn’t see itself as a WWF knockoff. “We don’t want to be just a wrestling federation,” Saraceno admits. “We couldn’t pass as wrestlers. And we wouldn’t want just strictly wrestling fans. We kind of gear for high school and up. It’s kind of geared to the 12-and-above market. That’s the parameter we set for ourselves.”
“New York’s the next place we’re pushing,” Borden says of Kaiju’s strategic plan. “As soon as Boston is under wraps with a strong fan base and community support, New York is the next place we want to go. We’re already trying to set up a street team there, so by next fall we’ll be doing heavy promotion there. And after New York ... well, New York is the launch pad for the rest of the country.”
Kaiju’s next conquest involves producing a short film/television show. “There’ll be scenes outside of the ring, there’ll be live footage, and there’ll be jets, tanks, and cityscapes blown up.” And Borden adds, thinking out loud, “This is do-or-die for us to get it out of Boston.”
“There’s no reason why it couldn’t go on tour,” says Saraceno, smiling. “There’s no reason why it couldn’t be a television show. There’s no reason why there couldn’t be action figures.”
Borden adds, “We’re not at all scared of getting that big.”
But Dr. Cube puts it best. Asked to cite his ultimate goal, he writes: “Spencer Gifts is the ultimate.”