Ever since I was a wee lad sitting in my parent’s living room, I have loved Godzilla. The King of Monsters has been turning Tokyo to rubble to my great delight for over 25 years of my life. My love for him is not simply a love for destruction, any disaster movie can meet that need. Godzilla is special.
A little history may help. Godzilla was born on August 6, 1945 when the United States dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. three days later another bomb was detonated of Nagasaki. Over 100,000 people died in those blasts and the psyche of the Japanese people was forever changed.
The trauma from the sudden and irresistible destruction lead to a feeling of powerlessness. The creative minds at a Japanese production company named Toho developed a metaphor for this destruction: a 150 foot tall amphibious reptile that no military might can stop.
The name of this monster, Gojira, is a combination of the Japanese words from gorilla and whale. The film was released in Japan with great success and was later released in the United States in a much edited form (whole characters and plot were added). The American version, called Godzilla, was also a success and led to 28 films created to date and the 29th to be released Friday (I refuse to count Godzilla 1998 even though Toho did license it as a Godzilla film).
Godzilla is strange in the sense that he is neither good nor evil. He is more like a hurricane which has destructive power, but not moral accountability. Godzilla is often territorial and throughout many films he has defended Japan from the onslaught of other monsters. I guess he feels like leveling Tokyo is his job and no one else’s.
Godzilla has always been created/awakened by the US nuclear tests in all of the films. He has always himself been radioactive and breathes a radioactive fire that destroys just about anything. Godzilla can breath underwater and spends most of his time in the ocean. Generally, Godzilla likes to do battle with other monsters in cities. Why fight in an open plain when there are buildings to be toppled and helpless Japanese business people to step on?
One strange quality of some of the best Godzilla films has been the very personal touch they carry. In Godzilla 1954 (the original film), there is a scene with mother holding her little girl as Godzilla approaches. She is whispering, “It’s OK, we’re going to your daddy soon.” She is then crushed by a falling building. It is a reminder of all the real people who were killed in the nuclear blasts over Japan.
He is more than just a mindless beast who creates rampant destruction. Godzilla represents the deep feeling in all of us that our actions have serious consequences. The argument is always that man’s hubris in using nuclear weapons has created so much destruction we never intended. You can feel however you like about nuclear weapons, but the overarching theme remains. We are more powerful and more foolish creatures than we ever realized. Godzilla is our judgement. Godzilla is our rescue from ourselves.
And that is why I love Godzilla.
The picture above is from the Wikipedia Commons and used with permission