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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why do people (Like Me) love Godzilla

 Every die-hard Godzilla fan(or G-fan) has asked themselves this question at some point or another. What is it that makes grown adults spend so much time, effort and money obsessing over a string of Japanese B-movies with an actor in a rubber dinosaur suit? And moreover, why has this character won over millions of fans all over the world and endured for more than fifty years? Godzilla is undoubtedly the most recognizable Japanese celebrity and icon all over the world. For me, it’s one of those words that I can pick out clear as a bell from across the room.“Godzilla” or just “-zilla” has entered the vernacular. We now have Mozilla, Thumbzilla, Go!zilla, and Wikizilla, to name a few.

I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw a Godzila movie. I was probably around four or five years old. I was hooked early. In my hometown when I was a kid, the local channel TV5 would have special theme movie weeks with a different movie everyday in the afternoon. They had War Week, Elvis Week, John Wayne Week, and every so often, Monster Week when they would show Japanese giant monster movies. That was in the late 70’s, early 80’s and my parents had one of the first home VHS , video recorders back in the days when one blank tape was about $25. I remember racing home after school to watch them and my mom was already taping. Afterward, I would watch them again and again, usually fast forwarding through the boring talking parts and go right to the monster fights. Even then I guess I knew my passion was stronger than most kids. I had a small cassette recorder and even taped the sound of the movies from in front of the TV. I got into an argument with some of my friends one day after school because they had watched Son of Godzilla the day before and said Godzilla must be the mother. I got angry and said the mother wasn’t around anymore, Godzilla was the father. No way Godzilla was a girl! I continued to like Godzilla long after my friends lost interest. It kind of went into remission in high school. It’s not really cool to be into Godzilla as a teenager, but I rediscovered my passion in college and stayed strong since then.

But to get back to the main question, why? I’m sure there are many reasons. One is nostalgia. Godzilla was a big, happy part of my childhood. Watching the movies is like visiting an old friend and takes me back to when I was a kid. Godzilla was also a hero. He always saved the world from some evil monster. I had a lot of daydreams and fantasies of being Godzilla’s friend and saving people, usually some pretty little girl. I even made a cassette tape of my adventures. Godzilla is also attractive because he’s strong and independent. He’s the ultimate iconoclast and marches to the beat of his own drum. He cares nothing about the opinions of others and no one can stop him. Who isn’t attracted to that? It’s funny that as I grew up, so did Godzilla. From the 90’s on, he became darker and a menace to mankind again, more like is origins. He became less the hero and more the anti-hero. Now he cared nothing for mankind. He would save the world from a marauding monster, only to turn around and destroy it himself. This was no more apparent then at the end of Godzilla 2000. As I grew up, my preference for Godzilla changed too. For example, when I was a kid, I never really liked Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). I thought it was kind of boring, but now it’s on of my favorites. This also goes for the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954). As a kid, I first saw Godzilla on TV and I didn’t see the movies in order. After seeing spectaculars like Destroy all Monsters (1968) or Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), who wants to watch an old black and white movie where Godzilla doesn’t fight any monsters? Now I feel differently. People who don’t know much about Godzilla often ask me, “Is Godzilla good or bad?”. I think this is shows a typical American way of looking at the world. We have to categorize everything as black or white, yes or no, good or bad. Well, the fact is, he’s both. He is Yin and Yang, at once savior and destroyer. I think it is this very paradoxical and dichotomous nature that has made Godzilla so popular and why he’s endured.

I got another possible answer to my question from a very unlikely source. I was reading one of my favorite books the Iliad by Homer, the classic tale of Helen and the Trojan war. Now, one might think that classical Greek literature is about as far from Godzilla as one could get. I was reading the introduction and there was a quote about the story. A French woman Simone Weil once wrote before WWII:

“The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad, is force. Force as man’s instrument, force as man’s master, force before which human flesh shrink back. The human soul in this poem is shown always in its relation to force: swept away, blinded by the force it thinks it can direct, bent under the pressure of the force to which it is subjected. Those who had dreamed that force, thanks to progress, now belonged in the past, have seen the poem as a historic document; those that can see that force, today as in the past, is the center of all human history, find in the Iliad its most beautiful, its purest mirror…..force is what makes the person subjected to it into a thing.”

When I read these words, I immediately thought of Godzilla. That’s it! That’s what I’ve always felt. I’ve always liked that feeling of an awe of nature. That’s what Godzilla represents; an utterly unstoppable force. If Godzilla were real and you were near him, you would be frozen, speechless, in the presence of such raw power. It’s the same feeling if you were in the presence of an earthquake or tornado. You feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up and goose pimples break out all over your skin. There’s a great scene in my favorite Godzilla movie, Godzilla GMK (2001) which illustrates this. Godzilla appears over a mountain and woman looks on speechless, without moving, in awe, before the mountain comes down. This is also perhaps why it’s my favorite. It, more than any other film, always shows Godzilla from a human vantage point, small, helpless, being swept away by his god-like, destructive force.

I’ve been a fan all my life. I’ve seen all the movies dozens of times and know them by heart. I used to subscribe to G-fan, a Godzilla fanzine and even wrote some Godzilla short stories which never got published. But I’m not half as crazy as some people out there. There is a convention every year or so; G-fest. I’ve always wanted to attend, but never had the chance. I never gotten into collecting action figures and toys, but I do have a complete collection of Godzilla comics by Dark Horse. Some more artistic fans create original sculpture dioramas in their garages and enter them in contests. Some people make their own costumes or fan movies. But the real fanatics are the organizers of the events like J.D. Lees, editor and creator of G-fan magazine and Marc Cerasini who has published several books about Godzilla. Now with the Godzilla 2014 film from Legendary Pictures on the horizon, it will kick start renewed interest in the King of the Monsters and start a new era of films for a whole new generation.

Here's a long, but good documentary on Godzilla by a professor from my alma mater, The University of Kansas!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog entry! I feel the same way... I've seen them all, some more than several times, and am happily waiting for 2014!


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