Wednesday, July 08, 2009

King Of Monsters

I stayed in last night. Now that I'm not married I have those kinds of options. Anyway, I stayed in, and to reward myself for cranking out a podcast and a record 4 voice acting auditions, I watched GOJIRA. I can't imagine you don't already know what that means but just in case I'll clue you in - released in Japan in 1954, the movie was a big enough success that Americans bought it, dumbed it down a little, added footage with Raymond Burr and retitled it GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS.

It's been probably 30 years since I saw GODZILLA and I've never seen GOJIRA until last night. It's considerably less fun than its 700 full color sequels but way, way more intelligent. Like any enduring classic, GOJIRA has allegorical elements. I didn't recognize them as a teenage geek, and I didn't much care for this dour, black and white spectacle. But I see now that Ishiro Honda, the director, went to great lengths to invoke the all-too-recent memory of the Nagasaki A-bomb attack, opening the film with a nuclear test at sea that destroys a boat and cemented by a long, solemn pan of Tokyo after Gojira's attack that makes it look exactly like the remains of Nagasaki.

For all that, the interesting thing is that the fearsome giant monster is NOT a metaphor the atom bomb. Gojira symbolizes a marauding army who must be stopped. The subtitle guys translate more than one line of dialogue as "But how do we defeat Gojira?" Not "destroy" but "defeat." The metaphor for the bomb is the Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon developed by a haunted scientist, who is wracked with anxiety over the use of his invention. Yes Gojira can be stopped by it, but once it is deployed, how can he prevent man from using it on his fellow man?

I bet one of the reasons the movie succeeded in Japan is that this scientist, unlike others one could name (*cough* Oppenheimer! *cough*) takes the trouble to destroy his notes and even himself so that the fearsome weapon can never be used again.

Like nuclear power, Gojira could not be stopped. He (she, as it turns out) kept coming back again and again in sequels. And turned out to be as much a force for good as harm! Once in a while, the metaphor reared its head again - check out GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER - but for the most part the series became the cinematic equivalent of Big Time Wrestling. Who knew that Tokyo was so easy to rebuild? It's like they made it outta cardboard or somethin'!

I think it is time for me to check out MOTHRA again. I bet there's some serious symbolic meat in there.

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