What have we learned from old radioactive breath? I joked after the March 2011 massive earthquake followed by a towering tsunami followed by meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant that, as far as disasters in Japan went, I was just waiting for Godzilla to show up.
Well, guess what? He’s baaaccckkk! This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1954 release of the original “Godzilla” and, to honor the occasion, yet another Godzilla movie opens in theaters this weekend. There have been more than 30 of them since the original and most were simply excuses for a guy in a rubber suit to stomp miniature versions of Toyko.
And Godzilla has changed over the years. The nuclear-testing spawned, radioactive-breath mutant reptile has slimmed down, sped up and gone through more facial modifications than Joan Rivers. He’s also grown, going from a reported 164 feet tall in the 1954 original to 350 feet in the newest incarnation.
He’s become an icon over the past 60 years with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and current gigs in TV commercials. I named my cat, who is also still around although only after 15 years, Godzilla because, as a kitten, he left death and destruction wherever he went. When another cat came along, I named him Godzuki.
And while most Godzilla movies can be fun to watch and ridicule for the cheesy effects and silly story lines, the original is still considered to be one of the best movies to come out of post-war Japan. It was inspired by the Lucky Dragon 5, a Japanese fishing vessel that strayed too close to the U.S. atomic testing grounds in the Marshall Islands. Upon returning home, the crew of the vessel all succumbed to radiation poisoning and died.
Most Americans have only seen the Americanized version of the original where scenes featuring actor Raymond “Perry Mason” Burr were spliced into the Japanese version and parts of the Japanese version cut out. (Film historians say Burr shot all of his scenes for the movie in one day). The American version comes across as a Japanese response to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But the Japanese version was a more somber and thought-provoking film.
The director, Ishiro Honda, said he intended it not as a criticism of the U.S. but as a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear testing and nuclear proliferation worldwide.
That’s pretty deep stuff for a rubber-suit monster whose name in Japanese – Gojira – translates as “gorilla whale” and whose universally recognized roar was created by rubbing a resin-covered glove down the strings of a contrabass musical instrument.
I’m sure I will eventually see the new “Godzilla” movie. Heck, I must have seen them all by now.
But if you think Godzilla is just a silly excuse to keep Japanese actors employed, go find a copy of the Japanese version of the original. It still holds up and so does its message. And that’s scary.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.