In a world of CGI and increasingly impressive 3D technology, filmmakers strive to out do themselves and each other with each and every film release. 2016 promises the release of a new monster movie, which is sure to include every new technique it possibly can. The movie however, has deep roots in cutting edge filmmaking. It’s reputation however, is as a campy, B Grade movie. Few people fully understand the implication or importance of that first monster. In 1954, Ishiro Honda and Toho Productions birthed a monster with a film called Gojira. The monster would gain world wide and multi-generational fame. The monster is best known as Godzilla.
Godzilla was one of the first in a genre of Japanese movies known as “Kaiju.” Kaiju, translated as “strange creature,” are films that show some sort of monster, like Godzilla, normally attacking a Japanese city or battling another monster. These movies are metaphors for the atomic bomb, a massive, unstoppable power wreaking havoc on the innocent populous.
Far from the B grade, camp-fest most Americans view Godzilla, the Japanese Godzilla was a surprisingly somber allegory about war and the high price of peace. When Godzilla was first introduced to the Japanese viewers, fewer than 10 years had passed since an atomic bomb actually was dropped on them. Director Ishiro Honda purposely took the characteristics of an atom bomb and ascribed them to Godzilla. The result was a smoldering, apocalyptic ruin of a city, with radiation burned bodies filling the streets and hospitals, something the intended viewers could identify with all too well.
Gojira was reedited by American filmmakers to appeal to a wider, western audience and re-released as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in 1956. The addition of Raymond Burr’s narration chopped up the original films storyline and diluted the underlying symbolism. It would take 40 years before western audiences would see Godzilla as he was intended to be. Subsequent remakes by both Japanese and American filmmakers (which are still frequently watched through avenues like Amazon Prime, iTunes, and DTV thanks to their campy, cult status) failed to live up to the original with the exception of the recently released Godzilla directed by Gareth Edwards. The film gained many favorable reviews and was such a success there is a sequel slated to be released in 2018.
Before that though the films original studio, Toho Productions, will be releasing their reinvented Godzilla in 2016. Consequently, this will also be the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One hopes that being back with a film team that understand the intent of the story line will bring about a film that is both poignant and serious as well as being a good monster movie. Godzilla is, at its heart, much more than a monster movie, Godzilla is Japanese history.
Few in America today realize what Godzilla was originally meant to be. He was not just a monster, he was symbol of so much more. If he were only a monster, it would not have been so hard for the scientists to decide to use the oxygen destroyer on him. Godzilla was a life and even though his destruction meant the salvation of many more lives, the taking of a life should never be done casually. Let’s hope that 2016 will bring about a new era of Godzilla, something that is honest and true to its original intent. A new generation needs to discover the original Godzilla and the history behind it’s creation. We won’t object is there are a few smashed buildings or some good quality CGI either. Goodbye B Movie American Godzilla, welcome home Japanese Godzilla.