Cinema: Godzilla Again!
By Ryder Miller
There is something strange about this new Godzilla movie that seemed to strike me as unusual or if something has changed. One should know that by now there have been 30 Godzilla movies. The first was made in Japan in 1954 and has been shown around in a restored version since the 50th anniversary of the film. It is now historic and Godzilla is now an International icon. One might say that he is a tale of The Pacific and for some maybe still one of it’s cinematic rulers. He was joined by other in Pacific Rim, even though he doesn’t make an appearance in that movie.
In the original film the name was “Gojira”, a cross between gorilla and whale in Japanese. Some have suggested that it was a reaction to King Kong. The monster which we have had a changing relationship has gone on to take on new meanings as a symbol or metaphor. King Kong represented in some ways our troubled relationship with the wild and nature. One might say that Godzilla was an expression of the anger Japanese people had over the bomb, they being it’s real victim. It seems obviously so, but that is clearly not the story.
The Godzilla films have been for some an anti-nuclear track with the monster representing the bombs that could still fall again. In the original, an old man had seen the monster before. They even sacrificed young virgins to appease the monster. This likely had taken place before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There had been creatures from the deep in stories for the Japanese before. By the end, the scientist Dr. Yamane says Godzilla will come back if we continue to use nuclear weapons. Understand that this was a monster movie, but the bigger than life monster evoked deep fears of nuclear weapons. Godzilla, like the bomb, has ripted the town apart. On the surface it seemed as if it was Japanese anger at the use of the bomb, but it was actually fear of the bomb. The monster in the 1954 film was not indestructible though.
Godzilla who was out for destruction went on to fight other monsters that were scarier even than itself. One might shudder at the roar of this creature, but in some ways he was an ally against some of the other Atomic Age monsters that we needed to be concerned about. Like in the new movie, it is Godzilla who can take on some of these creatures who were attracted and not destroyed by nuclear weapons and radiation.
On a somber note Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins play scientists in what is film number 30 and pointing out in this trans-generational story that the creature was attracted out of the depths by the use of nuclear weapons. There was plenty of radiation down below the mantel of the Earth where the creatures usually resides. Godzilla stands here as a creature not necessarily out to seek retribution. But he does for some reason have some issues with the other monsters that are causing us problems.
It is not clear that this remains an allegory like in the original. The viewer like many may not have seen the 28 movies in-between the new movie and the first.
The new Godzilla movie is spectacular and one can enjoy it more than once. The storyline in intricate, but not confusing. There is family, passion, and danger. When Godzilla shows up people don’t cheer, but there is the sense that he is welcome. We have gone to the movies to see him again. One does not hear his roar for the first hour of the movie. His monster adversaries are far more yucky, producing slime and laying eggs. They are more like giant moths than giant butterflies. Godzilla ends up being a hero in this tale that saves San Francisco, but in many ways, he is still mysterious even though we seem to have seen him before. The military debate about the issue, but big Godzilla has his own agenda. The military does refer casually to a 1954 incident which is when Godzilla is killed in the first movie. The military bombs have gotten bigger.
It is interesting that his name is pronounced without the “d” by Ken Watanabe who usually calls him “Gah zilla”. Wikipedia notes that there was also a female Zilla and child, but they are not in this movie. As some have noted he has also gotten a lot bigger, and maybe we are really seeing a film about Junior. It is not clear why the showdown is metaphorically in San Francisco, but Gahzilla is following the other monsters there. Watanabe does seem to have some foreboding and reverence for this dangerous creature who takes on a mating pair of monsters who eat radiation. The science is not the best because radiation is far from a complete meal, even for a monster. The film, however, is fulfilling and in many ways. Godzilla swims away at the end of the film, but he is likely to be back. Maybe when we need him again.
Ryder W. Miller is an environmental reporter, independent scholar, critic, and eco-critic who writes about Nature, Astronomy, the Sea, Academic books, Art, American Literature, and Genre Literature. He also writes short stories (usually genre stories) and poems. He is the editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey and co-writer of San Francisco: A Natural History. He is currently looking for a publisher for a book of Nature Writing/News Columns called An Ocean Beach Diary (published in The West Portal Monthly and Redwood Coast Review), and a collection of genre stories (many already published in Mythic Circle and The Lost Souls website). He has published on the web what could be a book collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy. He is also working on a anthology of Environmental stories called Green Visions. Following the dictum of C.S. Lewis he has come to believe that it is easier to criticize than understand, but not every book is worthwhile or a contribution.