Monday, March 31, 2014

Godzilla is on this author's mind

By Steve D. Stones

The following is a review of William Tsutsui’s book “Godzilla On My Mind – Fifty Years of the King of Monsters:" The enormous impact of Godzilla on all aspects of popular culture cannot be overstated. William Tsutsui’s hilarious and well researched book “Godzilla On My Mind,” published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2004, makes the reader aware of just how much impact the large rubbery reptile has had on anything from breakfast cereals, fine art paintings, rock music lyrics, political speeches, TV commercials and collectible toys. 

The appeal of Godzilla for me as a child was from seeing the giant lizard destroy everything in his path without having to clean up after himself – which is a dream come true for most children. As Tsutsui notes in his book – “Godzilla is a timeless and eternal icon. . . .  Godzilla’s not just a man in a latex costume, not just a cheesy B-movie hero . . . Godzilla is a state of mind.” It’s amazing to consider that the Godzilla films are the longest running series in motion picture history – spanning over 26 films in six decades.

The original 1954 Godzilla, entitled Gojiro in Japan, depicted the reptile giant as a merciless destroyer of Japanese cities – a metaphor of the devastation Japan suffered after the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The films that followed after 1954, however, depicted Godzilla as a playful hero who battled other large beasts that threatened Japan. Godzilla even has a son named Minilla that appears in Son of Godzilla. This may be why children are drawn to Godzilla.

Tsutsui spends a considerable amount of time discussing why the 1998 Hollywood version of Godzilla was such a huge failure. How could viewers possibly take seriously a monster movie that places Ferris Buehler (Matthew Broderick) in the top role? The film fails miserably for putting too much emphasis on special effects with no substance. No one can make Godzilla films like Toho Studios in Japan, and the 1998 American version of Godzilla is strong proof of this.

Tsutsui also observes that some of the appeal of Godzilla had worn off after the events of September 11th, 2001. Viewers had a hard time stomaching the idea of a giant reptile toppling over tall buildings, when in reality this took place in Manhattan on that tragic day none of us will ever forget.

Tsutsui was once asked by a fifth grader at one of his Godzilla lectures if Americans enjoyed watching Japanese people die when they view Godzilla films. Unable to effectively answer the question, Tsutsui admits that the question has haunted him ever since the young boy asked it. The events of September 11th, 2001 and two wars in the Middle East have made us all very sensitive to death and destruction.

An interesting chapter of the book entitled Godzilla’s Spawn discusses all the rip offs and spin offs of the Godzilla films. Such films as the Gamera series, Ultraman, Yonggary, Reptilicus, the Mysterians and others are all direct descendants of Godzilla. None of these films reach the level of entertainment value of the Godzilla series. Godzilla could easily chew up these films and spit them out with no conscience.

Godzilla On My Mind is a delightful book that is mandatory reading for any serious fan of the Japanese Godzilla films. Happy reading!

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