Japan, 1954 - Born from the radiation of a nuclear blast, a strange creature emerged from the water off the coast of a rural prefecture in Japan. The people who witnessed the aquatic emergence of the beast could only describe it as a cross between a whale and a gorilla. While they did not know its origin or motive one thing was clear, the gargantuan reptile was not friendly. It terrorized cities by felling skyscrapers and destroyed squadrons of fighters with its atomic breath. There was no stopping the dark monster, Godzilla.
With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the minds of the Japanese people a special film emerged in movie theaters throughout the country. It was a tale of an unknown beast who unexpectedly appears from the ocean with one goal - to destroy all of Japan. The monster was originally conceived as a representation of the destruction caused by the use of nuclear weapons. The beast could not be destroyed by any conventional methods of warfare, the audience merely watched as the beast tore through Tokyo time after time leaving behind a trail of mayhem. It has starred in more than twenty-eight films and is due to appear on Friday in America alongside Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. 2014 marks sixty years of Godzilla.
As time wore on Godzilla’s popularity skewed toward a younger demographic and new monsters were added. Godzilla fought against the three headed dragon King Ghidorah, the hook-armed Gigan, the metallic doppelganger Mechagodzilla including several others. While his focus shifted from primarily destroying humanity to battling other strange beasts, the Japanese people portrayed in the movies were never truly safe. In one famous scene from Godzilla vs King Ghidorah a tall white building is battered and eventually destroyed by the two fighting monsters. In the initial viewing of this scene the audience cheered when the building fell because it was the main center for tax collection in Japan.
While the introduction of enemies for Godzilla to battle might appeal to a younger demographic, the monster’s representation remains true to the 1954 original. It is a symbol of destruction. When asked whether Godzilla was good or bad, producer Shogo Tomiyama compared it to a God of Destruction, “He totally destroys everything and then there is a rebirth. Something new and fresh can begin.”
Today the threat of nuclear war has dwindled. We do not live with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the backs of our minds. Yet Godzilla’s popularity continues to command strong audiences. Can the aquatic monster still be considered a representation of the horrors of nuclear war? I’m sure something less ominous pulls us toward the theater in order to watch two hours of buildings being toppled. Perhaps it’s the chance that Godzilla might visit 12th St Pennsylvania Ave, home of the IRS.