Monday, May 12, 2014

Monster Island Musings From the Film Connoisseur


By Francisco Gonzalez

To the majority of people who are going to see Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014), the idea they have of Godzilla is a very general one. All they see is a monster movie. To them Godzilla is just this giant monster that goes around stepping on people and destroying buildings while shooting laser beams from its mouth. But in reality, Godzilla is so much more than that! So here my friends I offer you a small explanation of where Godzilla comes from, and what he really means, metaphorically speaking of course. First off, it’s important to mention that Godzilla is one of the longest running franchises in cinema. I mean, Godzilla is like James Bond or Dracula, characters that are so iconic that they will never die. Godzilla is an iconic behemoth that will live on forever! So far Godzilla has been in 28 Japanese films produced by Toho Co. Ltd! There are two American Godzilla films and countless videogames and comic books. Godzilla coming back film after film makes sense when we take in consideration that practically nothing can kill Godzilla! Just ask the Japanese army, they’ve tried everything and nothing gets through Godzilla’s indestructible skin.

Shooting Godzilla's destruction in GODZILLA (1984)
Godzilla always comes out of the ocean and by the end of the movie he will most likely go back into it. He is sometimes portrayed as a God punishing humanity for abusing the planet. In other films, Godzilla appears as earth’s protector, like in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) where Godzilla protects humanity from Destoroyah, one of the most powerful monsters to ever walk the face of the earth. Be it punisher or protector, Godzilla is an unstoppable force of nature. But where did the idea of Godzilla come from? Well, Godzilla’s birth as a character can be traced all the way back to the many nuclear weapons tests that the United States conducted during the 40’s and 50’s, but primarily to the nuclear attack upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima, an event that for obvious reasons left a profound scar on the psyche of the Japanese nation.

Once upon a time, the United States was all about nuclear weapons. For a while there, all they wanted to do was test their nuclear capabilities, to see just how much destruction they could inflict on any given enemy. Their ultimate goal with these tests was to know the effectiveness and explosive capabilities of these bombs before using them against Japan during World War II. But even after World War II (and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) the tests continued and so the U.S. tested their atomic bombs on their own turf, igniting atomic bombs in places like New Mexico and Nevada. Other times, they would test these bombs out in the Pacific Ocean, near the Marshall Islands, where they actually managed to tests 67 nuclear weapons! 

All this testing yielded valuable knowledge and information to scientists and the American military, but it caused irreparable damage on many islands and territories; with health effects lingering on the affected population. In other words, if you lived anywhere near the places where these tests were conducted, chances are you’d start suffering from exposure to radioactive fallout. This happened to the residents of Bikini Atoll in The Marshall Islands. The residents of these islands suffered horrible health effects because of exposure to radioactive fallout, the U.S. simply hurled money their way as a way to repay them for their troubles. But what’s a couple of million worth when two weeks later your dick falls off? Right? Sadly, nuclear weapons testing continued! For example, on March 1, 1954, United Sates conducted a nuclear test called ‘Castle Bravo’ which just so happens is the biggest nuclear explosion ever detonated by the United States! This test yielded an explosion far greater than they expected, and so the aftermath was worse than they had imagined. Radioactive fallout spread throughout the world, it affected residents of nearby islands and killed one crew member belonging to the Japanese fishing boat named Lucky Dragon #5. 

My point being that nuclear testing has been something of a concern for Japanese people, especially when we take in consideration the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. When we look at it, the Japanese people are a nation psychologically affected by nuclear weapons and why wouldn’t they be. I mean, these detonations yielded thousands of deaths in one swoop. The fear of nuclear weapons reflected itself in Japanese popular culture especially in Japanese films, and still does to this day. One example is Akira (1988), a film that takes place within a society affected by a nuclear attack that took place during ‘World War III’. Another film to directly reflect a society traumatized by nuclear weapons would be the animated film Grave of the Fireflies (1988), one of the best films on the subject, I highly recommend checking that film out, it’s a very emotional experience. Hell, even films from other countries addressed these horrifying events, like the French film Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) a film about an actress making a film about the whole Hiroshima incident, while there she falls in love with a Japanese man; together they muse about love, life and war. In that film the city of Hiroshima is a character on itself, a survivor of the horror. But, one of the best examples is without a doubt Ishiro Honda’s Gojira (1954), the first Godzilla film ever made. This film was a direct response to all these nuclear worries. 

There are various interpretations for Godzilla, but without a shred of a doubt, he is a metaphor for nuclear weapons; other interpretations say that it represents the United States themselves. Whatever the case, Godzilla is something to be feared and be horrified by. Actually, that first black and white Godzilla film functions as a horror film, something that clashes with the more childish sequels that followed. If we look at Godzilla closely, we can see just how much of a metaphor for nuclear weapons he is. For example, Godzilla’s scaly skin was designed to mimic the keloid scars seen on survivors of Hiroshima. Godzilla’s origins have varied depending on the film, but in general, he is an ancient prehistoric sea monster that is awakened by nuclear radiation, so Godzilla is actually a mutation. I would say that the biggest allusion to Godzilla’s nuclear origins would be his ‘atomic breath’, a nuclear blast that comes out of Godzilla’s mouth that is sometimes blue, sometimes red, depending on the movie. Many of the films allude to this nuclear connection, but the biggest one for me is in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) a film in which Godzilla becomes a threat to humanity because it’s about to have a nuclear sized heart attack that could wipe out most of Japan. As you can see, if we connect the dots, we know exactly what Godzilla represents. There was an attempt to get all countries to sign the ‘Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’ of 1996, but alas, eight countries have not signed it, so it is not in effect yet and so nuclear testing still continues to happen throughout the world, the most recent tests conducted by North Korea. So now Godzilla is not just a symbol of the Japanese’s fear of Nuclear weapons, it represents a fear we all share, the fear of madmen, ready to press that button and wiping us all from the face of the planet.


Francisco Gonzalez has been running The Film Connoisseur for more than six years. The Film Connoisseur is a film blog filled with articles, lists and reviews on everything from the classiest art house films, to the cheesiest B-movies. It's an all-encompassing film blog. Francisco is also the writer and illustrator of Killer Comics' Macabro, an anthology comic book dedicated to science fiction and horror stories. He's also a self-taught filmmaker, having written, produced and directed a series of zombie comedies: CANNABIS CANNIBALS (2008) and its sequel, CANNABIS CANNIBAL EXODUS (2009). Francisco plans to shoot the third film in the series, CANNABIS CANNIBAL FOREVER, in the summer of 2014.

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