Take Two #124: 60 Years of Godzilla

By Kyra-lin Hom

Sixty years after its original Japanese incarnation, America and Hollywood are finally paying a real tribute to the monster to end all monsters, Godzilla. After Roland Emmerich’s 1998 AmericanGodzilla travesty, geeks like myself were understandably cautious, but, while this 2014 film has some glaring flaws, it stayed surprisingly true to the Japanese concept. Let me explain.

Anyone who has ever vaguely studied film and the monster movie genre knows that Godzilla goes hand in hand with WWII’s nuclear devastation of Japan. Godzilla and the other monstrous creatures in his world are larger than life, dino-based chimeras that either feed on or are mutated by nuclear waste.

Originally in 1954, Godzilla was a 350-foot tall beast mutated and awakened by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He rose from the depths of the ocean and devastated Japan. Unable to destroy him with conventional means, Japanese scientists invented a weapon called the “Oxygen Destroyer” that did finally put him down. The movie ends with both a feeling of relief (ding-dong, the monster’s dead) and fear as to what this escalation of violence will precipitate in the world, especially since there are hints that this Godzilla isn’t the only “kaiju” nuclear bombing has disturbed.

True to that last sentiment, Godzilla and other monsters of his ilk have been parading across the big screen since that day.

Though Godzilla began his reign on earth as a bad guy, he doesn’t stay that way. As the tech-age evolved, so did Godzilla. In some versions, he’s a downright family man just trying to protect his son (and humanity) from the rage of other less benevolent creatures living on “Monster Island.” In others, as is the case in this 2014 film, Godzilla is viewed as a terrible protective force, something beyond human comprehension – supernatural and god-like – living solely to restore balance to the world.

And while I’m skeptical about the protector of the earth’s sole job being the ravaging of other big and very ‘natural’ monsters like himself (instead of, you know, taking out the one species to have truly wreaked havoc on this planet) I was glad to see the restoration of Godzilla as more than just your typical meathead.

Instead of being portrayed as a metaphor for nuclear power, this Godzilla (and his M.U.T.O. enemies) is a force of nature. He acts on a scale humanity just can’t touch. And though the little humans in the film try so very hard, they manage nothing but survival in the face of this god-like battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say that the humans’ best plan fails spectacularly (though not as spectacularly as it should have – someone really should have fact checked a few tidbits at the end…).

For all humanity’s power, all it managed to do was quite literally feed the beasts. Our best efforts just made them stronger, angrier and more destructive. Sound familiar? Instead of being all but helpless and filled with despair over the potential of nuclear power, we’ve switched gears and are now helpless in the face of nature and global climate change.

Between 2000 and 2009 the world saw three times the number of natural disasters as between 1980 and 1989. Eighty-percent of these are attributed to weather and climate-related events. In fact, according to the US emergency disaster database EM-DAT, the number of annual global natural disasters has steadily increased from 78 in 1970 to 348 in 2004. The death and damage toll is similarly rising as well.

Godzilla might not be the same metaphor he once was, but his story still embodies our society’s fears, those grand scale things that we have so little power against. So if you can stand the painful dialogue, this new Godzilla is actually a very decent tribute and worth the look.

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