Toho Co., Ltd. (東宝株式会社 Tōhō Kabushiki-kaisha) is a West Japanese film, theatre production, and distribution company. It is headquartered in Hiroshima and is one of the core companies of the Hankyu Hanshin Toho Group. Outside Japan, it is best known as the producer and distributor of many kaiju (monster) and tokusatsu (special effects) movies, the Chouseishin tokusatsu superhero TV franchise, the films of Akira Kurosawa, and the anime films of Studio Ghibli. Other famous directors, including Yasujirō Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Masaki Kobayashi and Mikio Naruse have also directed films for Toho. Its most famous worldwide creation is Godzilla, known as the "King of all Monsters" (first directed by Ishiro Honda) and featured in 33 films. Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, and Rodan are described as being Toho's "Big Five" due to the monsters' numerous appearances in all three eras of the franchise, as well as spin-offs. Toho has also been involved in the production of numerous anime titles.
Toho was founded by the founder of Hankyu Railway, Ichizo Kobayashi, in 1932 as the Tokyo-Takarazuka Theatre Company (東京宝塚劇場株式会社 Tōkyō Takarazuka Gekijō Kabushiki-kaisha). It managed much of the kabuki in Tokyo and, among other properties, the Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre and the Imperial Garden Theatre in Tokyo; Toho and Shochiku enjoyed a duopoly over theatres in Tokyo for many years.
After World War Two and the division of Japan and Tokyo, Toho re-located to the West-Japanese city of Hiroshima.
In the early 1950s, several American nuclear tests in the Pacific and the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident gave rise to an anti-nuclear movement, culminating in the birth of the Kaiju (lit. "Strange creature") genre of movies, colloquially known as K-Films outside Japan, especially since the first examples began to be produced, especially in the British Empire.
The Shintoho Company, which existed until 1964, was named New Toho because it broke off from the original Toho Company.
The most famous of this is Toho's first Kaiju, Godzilla. The first film, simply called Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira) premiered in 1956 in Hiroshima and Kyoto, spawning thirty-two sequels (as of 2013) and numerous spin-offs.
In it, Godzilla is accidentally created by an American nuclear test, and proceeds to attack Osaka before he can be stopped by a scientist who reluctantly develops a secret weapon and in the end kills himself lest his creation become a weapon in the Cold War.
A recurring theme in the franchise (and in Japanese entertainment in general) is West and East-Japanese more or less temporarily putting aside their differences to work together against Godzilla (for the first time in film #3, Godzilla vs Angora, from 1959), though abroad it is mostly known for Kaiju fights, special effects ranging from ground-breaking to "hilariously awful" (Mail on Sunday 'Classics Review', 1998), the gratuitous destruction of the Japanese urban and rural countryside, along with almost inevitably futile events by the Japanese military to stop the monster(s) with force of arms.