[Marxism] Godzilla/Gojira

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 1 08:58:13 MDT 2005

NY Times,.May 1, 2005
Godzilla vs. the Giant Scissors: Cutting the Antiwar Heart Out of a Classic

Film directors who once stood helpless while studios recut their movies can 
now console themselves with "directors' cuts" put out on DVD. This option 
was not available to the influential Japanese director Ishiro Honda, whose 
1954 classic "Godzilla" - known in Japan as "Gojira" - made a household 
name of the towering reptile who stomped a miniature Tokyo into the ground 
while raking the landscape with his fiery thermonuclear breath.

A fire-breathing reptile is pretty much the same in any language. But the 
butchered version of the film that swept the world after release in the 
United States was stripped of the political subtext - and the 
anti-American, antinuclear messages - that had saturated the original. The 
uncut version of the film is due out on home video early next year, and 
should push serious Godzilla fans to rethink the 50-year evolution of the 
series. It should also show them that they were hoodwinked by the denatured 
Americanized version that dominated many of their childhoods in the late 
20th century. At the same time, Godzilla fans are on the edge of their 
seats about a new film that should be released in the United States soon.

The original "Gojira" was never intended as a conventional 
monster-on-the-loose movie. Nor did it resemble the farcical rubber-suit 
wrestling matches or the domesticated movies (with Godzilla cast as a 
mammoth household pet) that the series degenerated into during the 1960's 
and 70's.

As the historian William Tsutsui reminded us in last year's cult classic, 
"Godzilla on My Mind," the 1954 movie was a dark, poetic production that 
dealt openly with Japanese misgivings about the nuclear menace, 
environmental degradation and the traumatic experience associated with 
World War II.

The nuclear annihilations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in 
mind when the famous Toho Company embarked on the "Gojira" project in 1954. 
But Japanese fear of nuclear catastrophe was given fresh impetus in the 
spring of that year, when the United States detonated a huge hydrogen bomb 
at Bikini Atoll in the central Pacific. Japanese fishermen aboard a trawler 
were exposed to nuclear fallout. Japanese consumers panicked and declined 
to eat fish after irradiated tuna was found to have slipped into the 
nation's food supply.

In the film, the H-bomb blast awakens and irradiates a dinosaur that has 
somehow escaped extinction. The reptile strides ashore and begins his 
trademark devastation of the Tokyo landscape. The nuclear antecedents were 
not at all lost on Honda, a World War II veteran who passed through the 
bombed-out city of Hiroshima and witnessed the damage firsthand. Honda 
later said that he envisioned the fiery breath of Godzilla as a way of 
"making radiation visible," and of showing the world that nuclear power 
could never be tamed.

He also told an interviewer: "Believe it or not, we naïvely hoped that the 
end of Godzilla was going to coincide with the end of nuclear testing."

That was clearly a tall order for a monster movie. But Honda's message 
never had a chance because most of the world never received it. The 
American company that bought the rights to distribute the film in this 
country cut a large chunk from Honda's original film and rearranged the 
plot. The biggest change involved splicing in Raymond Burr, who played an 
American reporter chronicling the devastation for the press. Dialogue that 
dealt heavily with human suffering, the morality of all-out war - and the 
temptation to play God with weapons of mass destruction - was left on the 
American cutting room floor.

The exclusion of the antinuclear theme in the American version is hardly 
surprising. Hollywood had little stomach for anti-American rhetoric during 
the McCarthyite 1950's. But the American production of "Godzilla" that 
starred Matthew Broderick a half-century later showed that Hollywood did 
not understand the monster, either.

The sleek, animated "American" Godzilla somehow managed to be less scary 
than the Japanese actor in the latex suit. Part of the problem is that the 
American Godzilla relied on stealth and cunning instead of the brute force 
displayed by the original. Some fans felt like walking out when the 
American Godzilla, confronted by a military threat, turned and ran. The 
essence of Godzilla is that he keeps stomping relentlessly forward, no 
matter what you throw his way.

It is fitting, then, that the American Godzilla is K.O.'ed by the real 
thing in the 28th and perhaps final installment, "Godzilla Final Wars," 
which should make it into general release in America sometime soon. It's 
also fitting that the original Godzilla movie, which was dismembered a 
half-century ago in America, is finally being shown in its full and uncut form.

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