What Godzilla Is and What It Can Be
I’ve talked a lot about different art forms in the past but now I would like to turn my attention back to cinema. Like most of my peers, cinema is something that I have fell in love with and have tried to look deeper into. Today I want to talk about a few things. All of it revolving around the King of Monsters, Godzilla.
Inspired by the 1953 film “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” and The Lucky Dragon 5 incident, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka wrote the outline for what would become Godzilla. In 1954, it would be produced by Studio Toho (known for Akira Kurosawa films, Studio Ghibli films, and other famous Japanese films). Hundreds of Godzilla films were produced by Studio Toho, some of them brought to America and some better left in a Japanese vault. Before we investigate the future of the Godzilla series, let’s take a dive into the very first Godzilla.
Godzilla, in a nutshell, is an anti-nuclear movie disguised as a monster movie. Japan was still under close eye by the American government, so they had to be discreet about their message. The movie takes place in the present (that is 1954) when Japan had just come out of World War II, defeated and badly wounded by the two atomic bombs that were dropped. Godzilla itself is a visual representation of nuclear consequences. The monster was created because of hydrogen bomb testing, which was being tested in real life as well. Instead of humans learning their lesson of how horrible nuclear weapons are, they continue to test the waters. As a result, they create a terrifying force of nature. It is nature taking it’s anger out on humanity for producing such dangerous tools and for causing destruction within the planet. It is putting a face on nuclear holocaust and showing how brutal it is. Godzilla was a symbol for human error and how costly an error can be.
Sadly though, when Godzilla was brought to America, it was re-edited to play more to the American audience. The brutality of the monster and message were toned down and an American actor was added in. The film was renamed “Godzilla: The King of Monsters” and shown as just a normal monster movie. You can find the original Japanese version on the Criterion Collection. The Americanized version is on there too but it’s best to leave that one alone.
Godzilla exploded in Japan and became a pop culture icon. Slowly, Godzilla would turn in to a franchise much like the Marvel Universe or the Fast and Furious series. Godzilla would turn into a hero, destroying monster that dare attack it or its home, Earth. Gone were the days of a message, Godzilla was an action star.
Godzilla has been around for almost 66 years and its timeline has been rebooted three times. The first timeline was called the Showa era, followed by the Heisei era, Millennium era, and Reiwa era, respectfully. The thing about these movies is that all the reboots keep the original 1954 film as the starting point, continuing the story from that point. The original story was not re-done. That is until 2016.
One thing I have not mentioned yet is the American versions of Godzilla. The first American studio to try their hand at Godzilla was Tri Star Pictures. It was very bad as you may know. After the failure of the Tri-Star Picture version of Godzilla and the failure of the Millennium era Godzilla in Japan, Toho Studios decided to lay low on the monster. Eventually, Toho would give the rights to a Godzilla film to Legendary Pictures. With that came Godzilla (2014). This film did very well and inspired Toho to try again. Out of this came 2016’s Shin Godzilla.
Shin Godzilla was the first Godzilla movie to re-do the origin story. Now instead of hydrogen bomb testing, Godzilla was created by chemical waste. Inspired by Japan’s waste problems and the Fukushima incident in 2011, this version of Godzilla has more personality in them. It starts of as a sea-based creature with gills, then transforms into an upright creature. Then finally a gigantic creature. This Godzilla visually represents how nuclear waste can and will come back to haunt us. The Japanese people are not being careful with their nuclear power again and Godzilla stands a powerful and hideous incarnation of the consequences. Shin Godzilla was a return to form for the monster. The film not only gave a powerful demonstration of destruction and impressive visuals, like the original did in 1954, it gave us a message of caution. Consider picking up Shin Godzilla digitally or physically
Monster fights are cool as hell, don’t get me wrong. I loved the fights between Godzilla and King Ghidorah. However, when it comes to storytelling there is not much there. I believe you can find a message in a film but when a film has a clear purpose, it makes it even more beautiful. A monster movie doesn’t have to be just monsters fight. It can be a message to audience. A message of cautiousness with what you create. A message of carefulness with what you play with. A message to take care of the Earth. A message to take care of each other. If not, who knows? Maybe we will have to take down our own Godzilla.