Godzilla is America

Japan’s most famous monster is flattening American movie theaters with a vengeance. reports, on the new “Godzilla” Thursday night opening and estimates from Friday, “The debut guarantees at least $70 million for Godzilla.” American movie receipts could climb as high as $110 million for the movie’s well-publicized weekend launch.

By the end of its run, Legendary Pictures should at least double the reported $160 production budget. That’s before we factor in foreign box office receipts and secondary distribution rights. All in all, a solid hit.

Geeks in San Francisco, one of the cities the giant lizard rampages through in this film, celebrated by hacking into the city’s electric traffic signs and changing the messages. The hacked displays read “TURN BACK” and “GODZILLA ATTACK.”

This isn’t the first time Godzilla has been made for an American audience, but it is the first time an American director (relative newcomer Gareth Edwards) has taken the source material at all seriously.

For instance, according to geek site Topless Robot, in American depictions of Godzilla, the lizard is colored green and spits orange flame out of its mouth, like a dragon. The Japanese original is charcoal gray and emits not fire out of its mouth but a blue beam or stream of radiation.

The story this time involves the rediscovery of large, ancient monsters that feed off radiation. Once awakened by mankind’s splitting of the atom, these creatures don’t care what humans they have to step on to get to our nuclear plants and stockpiles. The American military mounts a valiant effort to stop them, yet the soldiers are hopelessly outmatched.

Their dilemma brings to mind a line from that Blue Oyster Cult song about a certain oversized lizard: “History shows again and again / How nature points up the folly of men.” Enter Godzilla. The movie’s sage Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) dubs him “the hunter.” And it’s not humans that he’s hunting.

After firing a few shots, U.S. forces ally themselves with Godzilla. This only makes sense because, metaphorically and historically speaking, he is them. Thus endeth the spoilers and thus beginneth the potted history lesson.

This American rendition takes the evolution Godzilla underwent in Japanese pop culture in dozens of low budget monster movies, from destroyer of cities in his debut 60 years ago to protector of the people from far worse things. It compresses them into one film, which may whet people’s appetite for more backstory.

Novelist Jeff Danelak is one of many critics to make the point that it would be hard to understand the giant lizard’s popularity as anything other than a very blatant metaphor for America’s role as vanquisher and then protector of Japan. Danelak makes the case at length, in a piece worth reading in full (seriously, go read it). Here are a few of his bullet points:

  • Godzilla came from the sea; so did the Americans, first by plane and then by ship. The land invasion of the home islands scheduled to begin in the fall of 1945 would have been entirely sea-borne, just as all the island hopping campaigns of the war had been up to that point. Like Godzilla, the enemy came from the sea, just as he always had.

  • Godzilla was unstoppable and impervious to the best efforts of the Japanese armed forces; so were LeMay’s bombers. Despite Japan’s best efforts, they were unable to knock down more than a few dozen of the thousands of bombers that LeMay sent at them. No amount of firepower, determination, or even sacrificial bravery seemed to make any difference; the bombers just kept coming in ever greater numbers.

  • Godzilla destroyed Japan’s cities with fire, and especially relished laying waste to Tokyo. Japanese cities in WWII were burned to the ground by incendiary bombs, which found Japan’s flimsy wooden and paper homes a perfect and volatile fuel source. Further, Tokyo was a favorite and oft-repeated target, with most of the city eventually being reduced to ash by the end of the war.

  • Godzilla was radioactive. So were the bombs dropped on Japan in August, 1945. What’s especially telling is that in reality radiation would kill a reptile—even a 400-foot tall one—just as easily as it would kill a 3-inch long mouse. As such, making the monster radioactive made no sense from a scientific standpoint—unless, of course, it’s really a symbol for something else.

  • Finally, the monster was never killed in any of the Godzilla movies, but usually it simply returned to the ocean after finishing its destructive habits to rejuvenate and ready itself for its next adventure. Yes, I know there were movies in which its destruction was implied, but the subsequent torrid of sequels demonstrate that the animal was essentially immortal. The Americans likewise returned to their homes across the ocean after the end of the war. Could a more perfect metaphor be found?

Now it’s possible a more perfect metaphor could be proffered but, none spring to mind.

Jeremy Lott About the author:
Jeremy Lott helped found and manage four publications for the Real Clear Politics family of websites. He is the author of three books and an e-book, as well as the recognized ghostwriter of former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel’s memoirs. Follow him on Twitter @jeremylottdiary
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