Godzilla shines the spotlight on Japanese monsters – Harvard Gazette

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Their last battle royale in 1962 earned both opponents a prominent place in pop culture, so it’s no surprise that interest in the upcoming revenge in the new movie “Godzilla vs. Kong” is high. Old fashioned Japanese lovers kaiju, Or monster, the movies are especially keen to see if this fight between giant gorilla Kong and dinosaur-like sea monster Godzilla ends in a definite winner. But that will probably be guessable, says William Tsutsui, Emeritus Professor of Japanese Studies Edwin O. Reischauer and Visiting Professor of East Asian Languages ​​and Civilizations, who has a borderline fixation with the reptile armed with atomic blast. since his childhood. His 2004 book, “Godzilla on My Mind,” provided an in-depth look at the character and his cultural impact. This semester, Tsutsui is teaching an East Asian Studies course that explores the rich history of Japanese monsters, including the violent Godzilla. Tsutsui has spoken to The Gazette about the 67-year-old bully and his journey, and cripples the fight.

GAZETTE: What is the story of Godzilla?

TSUTSU: The franchise, according to many accounts, is the oldest film franchise in the history of the world. It all started in 1954 when the original film was released by Toho Studios. There were subsequently 32 live-action films made in Japan and Hollywood. This includes “Godzilla vs. Kong” [out Wednesday]. There were also three animated feature films made in Japan.

There have been several origin stories over the years, but in the one established by the first film, Godzilla was a Jurassic period dinosaur that lived in the depths of the Pacific Ocean which was then irradiated by US H-bomb tests in the South Pacific. In the process, Godzilla has become mutated, monstrous, and radioactive. Of course, the central narrative of these films is that Godzilla then travels to Japan to attack Tokyo or other cities. The pattern that then developed, starting with “King Kong vs. Godzilla” in 1962, pitted Godzilla against another monster that had come from another island in the South Pacific or emerged from under the ocean or invaded space. The films are very stereotypical: Godzilla fights the other monsters; they fight ; they destroy one or two Japanese cities; and then in the end, Godzilla usually wins and the world is safe again. It’s done for the suites. All of this has made Godzilla one of the most famous icons in the world.

GAZETTE: Can you further explain what Godzilla symbolized, both in early Japan and over the years?

TSUTSU: The original 1954 film “Gojira” was serious and dark. It had a sharp political message about the Cold War and the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, and touched on Japan’s traumatic history of being the only place on earth where atomic weapons have been used. Over time, however, movies lost this advantage and became lighter entertainment for children. Most Americans associate Godzilla with this later [iteration], with actors in rubber suits wrestling in toy towns. For many, images of Godzilla, like spaghetti westerns, became the ultimate B-series movies. Of course, Godzilla has also become closely associated with Japan in the global imagination. Godzilla was truly a pioneer of Japanese pop culture coming to the United States. The giant monster movies were the first form of Japanese mass entertainment to resonate with American audiences and opened the doors to things that are now a part of everyday life, like manga, anime, and even Hello Kitty. .

GAZETTE: Godzilla has been the so-called “King of the Monsters” for almost 70 years. How do you explain this endurance?

TSUTSU: Godzilla got the title when the original 1954 film was imported to the United States by Hollywood distributors in 1956. This film is famous because most of the political commentary on the original was edited to make it more acceptable to them. American viewers. Some people called it censorship, or even shutout, but in the end, it was also just a good deal. The original film was almost certainly too critical of the United States, atomic bombings, and nuclear testing to appeal to American audiences at the time. Unfortunately, a lot of the quality content and the strong message of the film were lost in the translation. Labeling Godzilla the “King of the Monsters” was a reference to King Kong, who was riding a second wave of worldwide popularity after the 1933 Hollywood film re-released internationally.

Why did Godzilla endure? Godzilla in many ways is an empty metaphor. That is, you can read in Godzilla whatever you want to read in Godzilla and that may change over time. Japanese filmmakers were very adept at adapting Godzilla for different times and different audiences. For example, Godzilla goes from a very dark and menacing presence – a threat to Japan in this first film – to a heroic figure and protector of Japan. The issues Godzilla tackled also changed, from war memories and H-bomb testing in 1954 to things like pollution, political corruption, and remilitarization over the following decades. When I wrote “Godzilla on My Mind,” I asked American Godzilla fans why they love these movies so much. Almost to one person they said it was because they were classic good versus evil tales. This is a hero who beats the bad guys, holds out and wins.


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