How Hollywood deleted the political message of Godzilla

An excellent guest post today from Jared Hill, a blogger living in Chicago who reads science fiction avidly, and who is also keen on sports and film.  Godzilla is among the most iconic film characters of the last century. But the big lizard’s meaning was radically altered by his move from Tokyo to Hollywood. In this post Jared explains how Hollywood deleted that political message. Follow Jared on Twitter @JaredHill341

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In 1954, audiences were floored with the phenomenon of Godzilla, a radioactive lizard who destroyed civilian communities in the midst of its enormous feet and ferocious roar. Since the initial introduction, Godzilla has appeared in numerous films, all in the same vein.

When the original Gojira film was produced in 1954 by Toho, Godzilla carried the symbolic weight of the Japanese political climate. As a radioactive lizard “awakened” by a bomb,  Godzilla served as an allegory for nuclear warfare and the destruction of civilian communities. The images of full hospitals, communities in flames, and utter destruction forced Japanese moviegoers to relive the trauma from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

godzilla_kotm_cm_frontThe film has been remade or received sequels an astounding thirty times, offering alternative projections of Godzilla and even alternative plot lines. Some of these include the edited, English version of Gojira, known as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, 1956, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (alternatively known as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, 1966) and Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974). Each remake brought audiences a new twist on the original city-devastating lizard that we have welcomed so warmly into our hearts, offering a scaley science fiction revolution.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters included some significant cuts to the original, removing aspects of the movie that were less familiar to Western moviegoers such as the anti-nuclear themes as they related to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Allusions to American testing  and the dangers of radioactivity were amongst the cuts. Other alterations of the movie to make it more palatable include integrating an American newscaster into the otherwise Japanese cast, Raymond Burr, who focused on the destruction from the kaiju (monster). These changes erased the intended political purpose from Gojira, instead turning the movie into one solely about a destructive lizard. From there, Godzilla became a character for all ages to enjoy and began making appearances in various programs, including The Simpsons (on at least three different occasions) and Hellsing, where it is incorporated into the soundtrack as well as appears in several scenes. Undeterred by the Western re-culturalization of Godzilla, the original two films still have a sizable international following. Even after sixty years, regular matinees and marathons hosted on niche TV networks carried by cable providers, such as El Rey (which is available via DirecTV or  Comcast and is showing the films through January), have helped to keep the fanbase not only alive, but thriving.

A interest and resurgence of monster movies has once again sparked over the past several years. Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, when triple reactor core meltdowns and exploding containment buildings in Japan forced 15,000 to flee, Google reported a surge of interest in Godzilla and the nuclear allegories attached to it. In response, Pacific Rim, a film about monsters emerging from the sea and fighting man-made robots, was released in 2013. Although Pacific Rim featured characteristics that Western civilizations enjoyed about Godzilla – invasion by monsters from the sea, battles, and human triumph – it lacked the nuclear political echo that made Godzilla desirable. 2014 then brought Godzilla by Warner Brothers, which also lacked the nuclear warfare allegory, caving instead to cookie-cutter characters and an over dependence on visual effects.

Now, due to popular demand, Toho announced last month that they have decided to make one final Godzilla movie, Godzilla: Final Wars, expected to be released in 2016. “The time has come for Japan to make a film that will not lose to Hollywood,” Veteran producer Taichi Ueda for Toho told reporters – and I think most audiences would agree.

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6 thoughts on “How Hollywood deleted the political message of Godzilla”

  1. Nope, try again. This logic doesn’t really work here as they ignore the 28 movies between 1954 and 2014 that aren’t about a nuclear allegory. Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Son of Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla are some of the many that aren’t explicitly about nuclear themes. Expecting the 2014 Godzilla film to follow this up when it’s own series doesn’t is setting it up to fail.
    Also, don’t give the 2014 film shit because it has “over-dependance on special effects”. The Godzilla films exist wholly because of special effects. See Eiji Tsuburaya’s work on the genre that continues to this day, you can’t draw a line in the sand and suggest that some forms of special effects are greater than others. Regardless if it’s a man in a suit or a man behind a computer, spectacle is spectacle.
    If you want to talk about how the 2014 film diminishes the original themes, talk about how the U.S. military is exonerated from the responsibility of the nuclear attacks (Monarch using atom bomb to kill Godzilla, ignoring the Lucky Dragon incident in 1954 which inspired Godzilla). I would suggest reading up on anytime William M. Tsutsui’s written about the Godzilla film series, then perhaps you’d get a taste of someone who’s actually seen more than two Godzilla films give an educated opinion of the series.

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  2. I am sorry fleshling, but your analysis is flawed. First, Godzilla was always about more than nuclear weapons. Watch the ’54 original again, and I think you’ll notice that the movie has strong anti-government message. While not promoting an anarchist message, the politicians in the movie are shown to be cowardly, valuing secrecy over safety.

    The hero of the movie, Dr. Serizawa, is shown to be torn between needing to kill Godzilla and letting his weapon fall into the hands of politicians.

    I can’t believe how many people miss the horror of the Oxygen Destroyer. It kills EVERYTHING in the water. Can you imagine a weapon more horrible to a nation composed entirely of islands? It would turn Tokyo Bay into mass graveyard.

    These anti-government themes are prevalent in the series, particularly in the Showa era. Over time, Godzilla transforms into a defender of Earth, fighting off other monsters to protect humanity from thous who would destroy you. Which is really to bad, because you tiny pink sacks of meat are annoying.

    The 2014 Godzilla is representative of the later Showa era. Like those films, Godzilla is presented as a monster who protects humans from other monsters. He is the last line of defense for a desperate people incapable of making weapons to defend themselves from the eldritch horrors of an ancient world.

    The 2014 film is imperfect to be sure. But don’t you dare say it misrepresents Godzilla.

    Lastly, the Godzilla: Final Wars was the name of last Japanese produced Godzilla movie in 2004. It doubled as a 50th Anniversary film. While Toho isn’t above reusing movie titles, it’s unlikely the reuse that one, and twice in a row to boot.

    This post is so riddled with inaccuracies, I can only assume it was written by an Autobot.

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