Godzilla: The History and the Legacy
Audiences have historically desired a certain amount of drama and even fear when enjoying entertainment. As a result, the history of Hollywood and cinema is bursting at the seams with entries from the genres of horror, mystery, and science fiction. Like other mediums such as literature, film has long been used to promote propaganda and to persuade the public to various viewpoints. It is Japanese propaganda that lies behind the concept of Godzilla.
World War II and Japan's Nuclear Concerns
On August 6th, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. On August 9th, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. According to one estimate, the two bombs combined caused the annihilation of somewhere between 129,000 and 226,000 lives. Many of these deaths were attributed to exposure to the radiation given off by the bomb. The Second World War came to a close on September 2nd of that year, but Japan would not forget the American bombings anytime soon.
During the 1950s, many countries were carrying out tests with their own nuclear weapons. 1951 saw the birth of the very first electricity-producing nuclear reactor. Japan strongly disliked this global development toward the early Atomic Age, but some of the nation's movie makers planned to produce a new film which would make a statement on atomic warfare.
The Terrible Godzilla
The Japanese film makers came up with the idea of a giant fire-breathing creature. It would resemble a carnivorous dinosaur, similar to the mythological dragons of old but with a new twist. Ishiro Honda, a director, producer, screenwriter, and film editor, became the head creative genius behind the film. Honda had first-hand experience on the effects of war. He had been drafted into the Japanese army and was taken captive in China. He remained a prisoner until the end of World War II. He became the director and co-screenwriter for this upcoming movie.
In 1954, less than a decade after the war, the film was released to Japanese audiences under the title Gojira. The movie was then re-edited for English-speaking viewers. The English version was called Godzilla. It starred Raymond Burr, who would later go on to star in the title role of the television series Perry Mason between 1957-1966. In the epic monster movie, Burr portrays an American reporter named Steve Martin, who is visiting the city of Tokyo when Godzilla happens to attack.
According to the original story, the prehistoric monster woke up from a hibernation that had begun millions of years earlier. The cause of this terrible awakening was the testing of hydrogen bombs. Thus, Godzilla was originally a symbol of nuclear warfare and the catastrophes that came with it.
Very early in the movie, Burr's character narrates a sequence depicting make-shift hospitals and large scale wreckage of leveled buildings; "Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown. There were once many people here who could have told of what they saw. Now there are only a few. Emergency hospitals were overflowing with the maimed and the dead. For the living, the horror of last night was over. The only thought left was the paralyzing fear that it could happen again today or tomorrow. For some of the victims, there was hope. For others, there would be no tomorrow." When speaking of those who would have no tomorrow, he was referring to the individuals who had been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. They would likely not survive the night.
Nearly all of the destructive weapons that man has created could not put an end to the massive monster. Only one weapon could do this. It was the oxygen destroyer, invented by the character Dr. Serizawa. This super-weapon was touted as being even more deadly than the hydrogen bomb. This is what kills Godzilla at the end of the film.
For its time, Godzilla was a huge and powerful production and it definitely came across on the screen that way as well. This was particularly true among the Japanese audience since the memories of the war and destruction were still fresh in their minds. The film was emotionally moving and it was a worldwide hit. It is an important milestone in film history and is an important part of pop culture.
The Continued Legacy of Godzilla
Godzilla has evolved and changed over the years, from serious to goofy to serious again. The 1954 Godzilla was such a big success that the next film came out within two years. It was titled Godzilla Raids Again. In 1962, it was succeeded by King Kong vs. Godzilla, in which the two best-known movie giants of all time battled it out. That was followed up by 28 more films over the next 60 years. The most recent two were Gareth Edwards' Godzilla in 2014 and Godzilla Resurgence in 2016. The latter was directed by Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno. Godzilla: Monster Planet is expected to be released this November and the production of at least four other films are currently being discussed. The legacy of Godzilla will surely live on, and as long as it does, Godzilla fans should remember the fact that the fictional character was truly an indirect result of nuclear warfare.
© 2017 John Tuttle