Monday, April 7, 2008

Godzilla: Deep in social philosophy and some science

Now no laughs please, but the ole Big Guy is interesting. There is some cool science...all problematic and some very real, deep-rooted philosophy involving an entire nation. The foreign market, especially the United States, viewed the cut and augmented Godzilla of 1954 totally different than what the Japanese viewed in light of the tragic end of World War II in the Pacific Theater.

After a lengthy perfunctory destruction of Tokyo and many conventional means of thwarting the critter, Godzilla was finally corralled at sea and quickly subjected to some unique tablets that were supposed to destroy the reptile by pulling the oxygen out of the water thereby rendering Godzilla inert and hopefully stabilized in a non-hostile posture--if not dead. Apparently not dead for he was resurrected many times.

"Godzilla and Postwar Japan"

University of Kansas Professor William Tsutsui

Center for Japanese Studies,

The Asia Institute,
and the
UCLA International Institute

May 23rd, 2005

"Godzilla vs. the Giant Scissors: Cutting the Antiwar Heart Out of a Classic"


Brent Staples

The New York Times

May 1st, 2005

Film directors who once stood helpless while studios recut their movies can now console themselves with "directors' cuts" put out on DVD. This option was not available to the influential Japanese director Ishiro Honda, whose 1954 classic "Godzilla" - known in Japan as "Gojira" - made a household name of the towering reptile who stomped a miniature Tokyo into the ground while raking the landscape with his fiery thermonuclear breath.

A fire-breathing reptile is pretty much the same in any language. But the butchered version of the film that swept the world after release in the United States was stripped of the political subtext - and the anti-American, antinuclear messages - that had saturated the original. The uncut version of the film is due out on home video early next year, and should push serious Godzilla fans to rethink the 50-year evolution of the series. It should also show them that they were hoodwinked by the denatured Americanized version that dominated many of their childhoods in the late 20th century. At the same time, Godzilla fans are on the edge of their seats about a new film that should be released in the United States soon.

The original "Gojira" was never intended as a conventional monster-on-the-loose movie. Nor did it resemble the farcical rubber-suit wrestling matches or the domesticated movies (with Godzilla cast as a mammoth household pet) that the series degenerated into during the 1960's and 70's.

As the historian William Tsutsui reminded us in last year's cult classic, "Godzilla on My Mind," the 1954 movie was a dark, poetic production that dealt openly with Japanese misgivings about the nuclear menace, environmental degradation and the traumatic experience associated with World War II.

The nuclear annihilations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in mind when the famous Toho Company embarked on the "Gojira" project in 1954. But Japanese fear of nuclear catastrophe was given fresh impetus in the spring of that year, when the United States detonated a huge hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the central Pacific. Japanese fishermen aboard a trawler were exposed to nuclear fallout. Japanese consumers panicked and declined to eat fish after irradiated tuna was found to have slipped into the nation's food supply.

In the film, the H-bomb blast awakens and irradiates a dinosaur that has somehow escaped extinction. The reptile strides ashore and begins his trademark devastation of the Tokyo landscape. The nuclear antecedents were not at all lost on Honda, a World War II veteran who passed through the bombed-out city of Hiroshima and witnessed the damage firsthand. Honda later said that he envisioned the fiery breath of Godzilla as a way of "making radiation visible," and of showing the world that nuclear power could never be tamed.

He also told an interviewer: "Believe it or not, we naïvely hoped that the end of Godzilla was going to coincide with the end of nuclear testing."

That was clearly a tall order for a monster movie. But Honda's message never had a chance because most of the world never received it. The American company that bought the rights to distribute the film in this country cut a large chunk from Honda's original film and rearranged the plot. The biggest change involved splicing in Raymond Burr, who played an American reporter chronicling the devastation for the press. Dialogue that dealt heavily with human suffering, the morality of all-out war - and the temptation to play God with weapons of mass destruction - was left on the American cutting room floor.

The exclusion of the antinuclear theme in the American version is hardly surprising. Hollywood had little stomach for anti-American rhetoric during the McCarthyite 1950's. But the American production of "Godzilla" that starred Matthew Broderick a half-century later showed that Hollywood did not understand the monster, either.

The sleek, animated "American" Godzilla somehow managed to be less scary than the Japanese actor in the latex suit. Part of the problem is that the American Godzilla relied on stealth and cunning instead of the brute force displayed by the original. Some fans felt like walking out when the American Godzilla, confronted by a military threat, turned and ran. The essence of Godzilla is that he keeps stomping relentlessly forward, no matter what you throw his way.

It is fitting, then, that the American Godzilla is K.O.'ed by the real thing in the 28th and perhaps final installment, "Godzilla Final Wars," which should make it into general release in America sometime soon. It's also fitting that the original Godzilla movie, which was dismembered a half-century ago in America, is finally being shown in its full and uncut form.

Einstein vs. Godzilla: The Green Guy Wins

So who’s this Einstein guy I keep hearing about? He writes these five papers a hundred years ago, and now the whole world wants a year to glorify him? Booshwah, I say. This year is WYOG — World Year of Godzilla, my 50th anniversary, kicking off my second half-century of tromping on Tokyo and New York, and whomping on any monster wannabe or pusillanimous professor I spot along the way. If this bad-hair egghead wants to do some banging — BRING IT ON!

Now, if, as some say, I’m the kinder, gentler sort of radiation mutation, I admit this much: I do give the guy a tip of my hat. “Einstein, old pal,” I say, “I really do owe it all to you, bless your relativistic, chain-reacting little heart. Why, without E=mc2, I would never have seen the light of day.” It’s true, too. Split some atoms here and there, toss in a little 1950s-style superpower brinkmanship, test a few nuclear devices, and — AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH! — I come bursting on the scene with tongue flaming and top billing right from the start: “GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!” It is good to be the king.

Sure, you’ve been on the cover of Time, Einstein, but do they call you “EINSTEIN, KING OF THE PHYSICISTS”? Do populations flee in fear when you’re near? No way, sockless savant! You got your five papers in early, but how many did you do 50 years later? Ha! I thought so. My 29th movie just came out in Japan last month — and I’m still doing all my own stunts! Match that, equation-head. You say you’ve still got some tricks up your sleeve, Einstein? Remember King Kong? I fought King Kong. I outlasted King Kong. And Einstein, you’re no King Kong!

Symmetry, Volume 2, Issue 1, February 2005

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