Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Godzillas at Home

The Godzillas at Home

The Godzillas at Home (2003)

From Stomp Tokyo:

On April 2nd, 1997 Godzilla fans everywhere lost an idol: Tomoyuki Tanaka died. Tanaka was the producer of all of Godzilla's screen exploits. Along with special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya and director Ishiro Honda, he was primarily responsible for the creation of the enduring screen icon we call Godzilla. With his passing, all three of these men have left us.

Godzilla can make a claim to fame that can be made by few other fictional characters who have appeared in a series of films. He was created on, and for, the movie screen. While Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes have both appeared in more movies, both were created on the printed page. And Godzilla is quite nearly the first enduring character to be created on screen. Although King Kong came before him, Kong's movie work in the last decade has been scant. Unlike the many characters who came after him, Godzilla has been a popular character for over 40 years.


Godzilla is very much a child of the fifties, in particular post-war Japan's fifties. To the original audience, the metaphor of a huge radioactive creature coming out of nowhere and destroying cities was uncomfortably close to something that already happened.


We would suggest that this technique of putting a guy in a dinosaur suit may be the secret to Godzilla's continuing popularity. Anyone who is watching a Godzilla movie knows that there is some guy in that suit having the time of his life destroying a city, and people want to be that guy. True, it turns out that in real life being in the suit is not much fun at all, as it is unbearably hot, but we think it works on people subconsciously. The thrill of destroying a city vicariously is just too much to resist.

Godzilla has earned its place in film history. The image of a giant lizard creature knocking over buildings and breathing fire has incorporated itself into the culture of the modern world. To catalog the effect Godzilla has had on American pop culture alone would be impossible. During our childhood Godzilla was a regular feature of Saturday afternoon movies on TV, and now you can see Godzilla films on the Sci-Fi Channel. There was the animated series from Hanna-Barbera, and a 24 issue Marvel Comics series. Godzilla has appeared regularly on Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. Godzilla has made cameos in such US movies as Mars Attacks, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and One Crazy Summer.

From the conference report of In Godzilla's Footsteps:

Sayuri Shimizu, Michigan State University, noted that Godzilla’s success in the United States was made possible as much by the consumption patterns and anxieties of high Cold War America as by his Japanese origins. Similarly, Yulia Mikhailova, Hiroshima City University, observed that anxiety in post Soviet Russia among Russian youth helped make them receptive to themes of anxiety and uncertain identity present in anime and manga. Hirofumi Katsuno, University of Hawaii, noted that it was a combination of liminal geography, youthful nostalgia and canny marketing that help to explain the phenomenal popularity of the 1970s suitmation (ala Ultraman) series Kikaida in Hawaii.

While Japan’s pop culture exports have contributed to what Douglas McGray calls “Japan’s Gross National Cool,” and helped establish a distinct Japanese brand of export, Anne Allison, Duke University, noted that the attributes of this product have undergone considerable change. From the monstrous Godzilla we have morphed into the friendly Pokemon. However Christine Yano, University of Hawaii, pointed out that this strategy is not without its pitfalls. Even the tabula rasa cuteness of Hello Kitty can come to seem monstrous when the Japanese cultural brand appears little more than an invitation to consumption.

And, finally, from the Chicago Area Mensa site:

I'm half Japanese. Well, more accurately, I'm half Okinawan, but let's not let that little detail get in the way of our story. Given my cultural heritage, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for that big, lumbering brute with the radioactive halitosis.

As a kid, I used to watch Godzilla movies on our little black-and-white Zenith TV and, like most kids, I really enjoyed watching the guy in the rubber suit smash miniature buildings with gleeful abandon.

Hit the fast-forward button. It's 1993, I'm in my early 30s and my fiancée Lynn and I are making preparations for our wedding with our cake baker, JoBella. JoBella asks if we want a "groom's cake" for our wedding and if we want to do something fun with the cake. Lynn offhandedly remarks, "What about a Godzilla cake?" A fire fills JoBella's eyes and she's jumping up and down because she's so excited by the idea. The next thing we know, Godzilla has taken over our wedding. Not only do we have a Godzilla cake, but we have a little four-inch-tall "Mr. and Mrs. Godzilla" on the gift box. During the reception the wedding party is introduced to the tune of Blue Oyster Cult's song "Godzilla" ("Oh no, there goes Tokyo, go go Godzilla ..."), and we had a six-foot, inflatable Godzilla in a tuxedo. He was the "best monster." You should have seen the strange looks I got when I took Godzilla to the mall to get him fitted for his tux. As an added bonus, a photo of our Godzilla cake made the front page of the June 10, 1993, food section of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Here are Mr. and Mrs. Godzilla in exile and recast in a domestic setting. He'll lose the remote and start the grill with his breath. She'll clip coupons and stomp around Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a rebuilt Tokyo sleeps...


...until Godzilla Jr.

1 comment:

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