Godzilla endureth forever!

There have been hundreds of monster movies over the years, but only a handful of enduringly great movie monsters. Of those, only two were created for the screen: King Kong, the giant ape atop the Empire State Building, and his Japanese heir, Godzilla, the city-flattening sea monster who’s a genuinely terrific pop icon. He not only stars in movies — Hollywood is bringing out a new Godzilla on May 16 — but he’s even played basketball with Charles Barkley in a commercial for Nike.

It’s been six decades since Godzilla first hit the screen, and to celebrate the big guy’s birthday, Rialto Pictures is releasing Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original — in a restored, 60th-anniversary edition — in theaters. I’ve seen Godzilla many times since I was a kid, but watching it again, I was struck that it might be the best single film about the terrors of the nuclear age…

That said, Godzilla’s real strength lies not in its effects — impressive for the time — but in its underlying emotional and cultural seriousness. It’s not simply that the music is often doleful rather than exciting or that we see doomed children set off Geiger counters. The movie has a gravity that comes from being created in a Japan that knew what it was to have children die from radiation poisoning and to see its capital city in flames. Both drawn to and terrified of the monster’s power, the movie is steeped in Japan’s traumatic historical experience. It has weight. It means something.

Godzilla’s resonance is also inseparable from something else that once defined the best monster movies — a sense of compassion for the monster. Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein may have been scary, but we also felt his frailty and fear at being hunted. King Kong was dangerous, sure, but his eyes were charged with almost human feeling when he gazed at Fay Wray. The same is true of Godzilla, who starts out wreaking havoc but, by the film’s end, takes on a melancholy, sad-faced grandeur.

These monsters always seem to become part of that noble savage myth Westerners love to believe in. You don’t mind him destroying all of contemporary society in a quest to return to natural glory. Contradictions which all too often reappear in populist politics.

Just in case you thought I might skip the parallel. 🙂

Thanks, Mike

11 thoughts on “Godzilla endureth forever!

  1. Kaijū says:

    “America sucks at making Godzilla movies. Critics and fans panned Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot for being too plot driven. It had too many characters, too much dialogue and not enough Godzilla. …Japan’s “Shin Godzilla” –  billed as “Godzilla: Resurgence abroad” – stomped into American theaters this week and showed the West just how much better Godzilla’s home country handles the beast.
    Hideaki Anno — veteran anime director and creator of the popular Neon Genesis Evangelion series  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hideaki_Anno — is the co-director this time around and his mark is all over the film. That’s for the best.
    “Shin Godzilla” is a disaster movie packaged as a political thriller. It’s a film about Japan, how it views itself and its relationship to America, and how bureaucracy can hamstring a democracy’s response to a crisis. https://warisboring.com/bureaucracy-is-the-villain-in-shin-godzilla-8965da832522#.3kn03k15o Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgyq6YKeIms

    • Maitei Jyakku says:

      “Shin Godzilla” came out in the States last week under the name “Godzilla Resurgence”, and it’s the strangest Godzilla movie in a very long time. Not since Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka the Smog Monster) have we seen such a relentlessly and bizarrely political film in this franchise. What’s more, we’ve never seen a complete reboot of the entire series from Toho studios. Yet here we have both, plus a Godzilla monster who is totally unlike its predecessors (it evolves like Pokémon!). The best part is that this new movie works, giving us a whole new perspective on the Big G, along with a whopping dose of Japanese anxiety about the country’s relationship with the US. …The bottom line is that Shin Godzilla is a must-see for any fan of Godzilla movies, but also for people who are simply interested in where Japanese pop culture is headed in the 21st century. As the nation changes, its fantastical preoccupations are changing, too.” http://arstechnica.com/the-multiverse/2016/10/shin-godzilla-is-a-weird-meditation-on-the-problems-with-japanese-bureaucracy/

  2. Hai-dozo says:

    ‘Godzilla vs the Smog Monster’ shows Japan grappling with its runaway pollution problem in the 1970s. It also offered a way forward. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/kz7w9w/godzilla-is-a-radical-environmentalist Also known as Godzilla vs Hedorah, the film was the 11th Godzilla movie to be produced by Toho studios, and by far its most unorthodox. Yoshimitsu Banno had cut his teeth working as an assistant director to the legendary Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa, and Hedorah was his directorial debut at Toho Studios. Made in just 35 days with half the budget of previous films in the franchise, Godzilla vs Hedorah underlined the threat of pollution in a very emphatic way. See also Yoshimitsu Banno interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u3TMCPwdLo and http://sidelongglancesofapigeonkicker.blogspot.com/2017/05/remembering-yoshimitsu-banno.html

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