Godzilla was the #1 movie in America last weekend. Godzilla. Really? It’s hard to find a more worn-out movie star than say, Spiderman but they did. As a kid I would watch the poorly-dubbed, 1960’s versions of Godzilla (or Gorjira in Japanese) they’d play on Saturday morning television. Who could resist the weirdness of the rubber suited monsters, wonderful/horrible special effects, and little Japanese kids wearing short-shorts. Bizarre. So when I stumbled across critics trying to deconstruct Godzilla, and equating it with the chaos of post WWII Japan, I was hooked. Fear, guilt, confusion, anger…these are what Monsters are made of!
To quote John Law of Niagra Falls Review:
“More than any other monster, Godzilla was a giant, lumbering metaphor. He represented their guilt, their arrogance and ultimately their punishment. In Godzilla, Japan saw its sins for World War II returning, symbolized by a creature mutated by the same nuclear technology which instantly killed between 60,000 to 80,000 people that August day in 1945.
The first Godzilla was born of a mindset hard to sustain. When the film became an enormous success, a sequel was rushed into development. There was no time for soul-searching or cultural relevance – from now on Godzilla would just fight other big monsters.
On and on it went, against King Kong, against Ghidorah, against Rodan. Every movie cheesier than the last. Even worse, because the movies were aimed at kids, Godzilla became a superhero, protecting the people he once charcoaled.”
If monsters are a culture’s way of wrestling with life’s uncertainties, or an author’s personal demons (ie. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein) albeit at a safe distance, where does that leave us with an American Godzilla? Mr. Law suggests Godzilla’s “grumpy” return is prompted by the unending U.S recession, a divided electorate, climate change, the post 9/11 world. I tend to see monsters of ghosts from the past rearing their ugly heads, phantoms of guilt and/or anger we can’t get over, resolve or repress. They haunts us, terrorize us, and finally punish us. (It put’s the God in Godzilla.) But we can’t easily co-op a monster. I mean I guess we can, as in Hollywood can, but it loses it’s psychic power. It’s entertaining, but results in alot of WT…. moments.
In the original 1954 Godzilla the monster makes his entrance silently, with a blinding flash of light appearing in the middle of the ocean. The ocean’s waters begin to churn and boil uncontrollably, but still silently. I would bet that when the original Japanese audience members saw Godzilla’s entrance unfolding before their eyes on the the silver screen they had an uncomfortable feeling they’d seen it all before.