Reader Feedback and Other Random Thoughts

On behalf of herself and her boyfriend [drat!], Tracy wrote to find out "what the story behind, or rather history of, Godzilla was?" She also wondered whether Godzilla could possibly be "a metaphor for Hiroshima?" Well, that's a fair enough question, I suppose, and I guess I'm just as qualified as anyone else to answer it. Well, maybe. Anyway, here goes:

It's actually a very complicated question, with an equally complicated answer. Part of the problem is that Godzilla has been re-invented numerous times over the course of his 22 movie [soon to be 23!] career. His origin has changed, as well as what he represents. Another part of the problem is that he has come to mean something very different to American audiences than to the original Japanese audience for whom the movies were made. Most of the earlier movies were severely altered for American release, with some scenes being cut out entirely, and new scenes with American actors inserted in their place.

In his very first movie, it wasn't entirely clear what Godzilla's origin was. It seemed that he was a creature that was simply awakened by atomic bomb tests. Later movies established, however, that he was actually a dinosaur which had somehow managed to survive into the 20th century, and which was mutated by atomic testing into his present form.

Originally, Godzilla [or "Gojira" as he's called in Japanese] was probably meant as a metaphor of nuclear war in general, and perhaps Hiroshima and Nagasake in particular. This was severely diluted in the American versions, however [which is not surprising, considering who dropped the bombs in the first place]. A subtext which has appeared and disappeared over the years is that Godzilla represents the results of man's tampering with nature. In many of the later films, however, Godzilla is regarded as a "force of nature" which must be dealt with, but can never be completely overcome. You don't "defeat" a hurricane or a tornado, you merely learn how to survive it....

Of course, in a number of the movies, especially those in the late 60's-mid 70's, Godzilla was considered to be just one of a number of monsters running around the world, and he was often called upon to save humanity from those other nasty monsters.

When they "reinvented" Godzilla in 1985, however, they reintroduced him as a basically unstoppable force of nature, neither good nor evil. Sometimes he wreaked havoc on humanity, and sometimes he ended up inadvertently defending humanity while looking after his own interests. Perhaps Raymond Burr's character put it best at the end of Godzilla 1985 when he said:

"Nature has a way sometimes of reminding Man of just how small he is. She occasionally throws up terrible offsprings of our pride and carelesness, to remind us of how puny we really are in the face of a tornado, an earthquake, or a Godzilla. The reckless ambitions of Man are often dwarfed by their dangerous consequences. For now, Godzilla -- that strangely innocent and tragic monster -- has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not, or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us remain."

Clarence Simmons asked the mind-boggling question, "if Godzilla was killed in the first movie [remember his body decayed at the bottom of the ocean from a lack of oxygen] how on earth did he come back to life?" Good question! Is there a good answer? Try one of these:

  • "Godzilla really didn't die in the first film. In Godzilla 1985, Raymond Burr's character says "Remember, no corpse was ever found." This is kind of lame, though, since the audience certainly saw the corpse [or what was left of it...]!"
  • "Godzilla regenerated. In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Godzilla's "second brain" was completely blown up, but managed to regenerate when he was exposed to radiation. Also, he actually died in Godzilla 1985, but came back to life when exposed to, you guessed it, massive amounts of radiation [NOTE: Godzilla Jr. dies in the latest film, but is also revived after absorbing all the radiation given off when Godzilla "melts down".] Obviously, godzillae have tremendous recuperative powers. Whether this could bring him back from being wholly disintergrated is doubtful, but not altogether impossible, I suppose."
  • "Godzilla did die in the first film, and the subsequent films starred a different Godzilla. 'That's stupid,' you say? Just remember -- no one knows for sure where Godzilla Jr. came from, and who knows if there isn't a whole colony of godzillae out there somewhere?" [NOTE -- In "Gigantis vs. The Fire Monster", they do refer to Gigantis as another member of the same species as the original Godzilla. However, the movie considers both monsters to be members of a species of ancient "fire creatures" who have lain dormant for millions of years, so the information is a little suspect.]
  • "Godzilla KOTM was meant as a one-shot movie with a moral. Nobody, especially not Toho, expected it to be the incredible success it turned out to be. Realizing they had a golden opportunity on their hands, Toho started cranking out sequel after sequel, not worrying about continuity. Maybe each film is supposed to stand on its own, like all the various James Bond films out there. [This is the theory I tend to agree with most.]"
  • I received an e-mail asking me to resolve a crucially important issue, which was apparently the occasion of some heated arguments, namely "Is Godzilla a boy monster or a girl monster?" [or words to that effect] Being the non-expert that I am, I answered as follows:

    "To be honest, I don't think anyone really knows Godzilla's gender. Most people have just assumed he is male, presumably because of his seemingly high testosterone level (you know -- destroying building, eating trains, etc.) Of course, it could be argued that these symptoms could equally be the result of a really severe case of PMS...

    "I think the main argument for Godzilla being female comes from the existence of "Baby" Godzilla [also known as Godzilla, Jr. and "Son of Godzilla"]. All we really know about Baby Godzilla's origin is that he hatched from a rather large egg. This has led many to believe that Godzilla must be female in order to have laid the egg. This, however, begs the important question -- if Godzilla laid the egg, who is the father? In fact, we don't really know whether "Baby" is literally the spawn of Godzilla, or was just adopted.

    "My personal feelings? The incredible amount of radioactivity which was required to create Godzilla in the first place has also rendered him completely sterile (which would also explain his grumpy disposition]. Of course, he could also be hermaphroditic ..."

    Bill Hemmer sent in the following tidbit of information:

    "According to Toho Studios, Baby Godzilla's Momma is called Gojilla (A combination, I assume, of Gojira and Godzilla). They are, however, unable to supply details about her current whereabouts (Perhaps a future movie?)"

    His source is "The Encyclopedia of Monsters" by Jeff Rovin (Facts on File Books, 1989). The relevant article states that the information originally came from a Toho Press Release dated 1968.

    If this information is correct, this would be more evidence pointing to Godzilla's maleness. However, even if Godzilla isn't Baby Godzilla's mother, we still don't know that Godzilla is the father, either. Who knows -- maybe the Big G is Baby Godzilla's aunt ...

    [DISCLAIMER -- The above comments deal solely with the supposed existence of the mother of "Son of Godzilla", and have nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of where Godzilla's name came from. To the myriad of people who have written to correct my "ignorance", let me just say that yes, I do know that "Godzilla" is an English corruption of the original Japanese word, which is pronounced "Gojira". I even know that the word "Gojira" is a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla ["gorira"] and whale ["kujira"], and that the character was supposedly named after a burly stagehand at Toho studios with that nickname, who supposedly resembled the character to some degree. I suspect that Bill Hemmer was simply offering a possible explanation of where the name "Gojilla" might have come from. I really do welcome reader feedback, but please stop writing me on this issue!]

    A number of people have also written in regarding the theory stated above regarding Godzilla's death in the first film (i.e. that he did, in fact, die, and all later movies starred another member of the same species), claiming that this second Godzilla was, in fact, the original Godzilla's mate. Thus, according to this theory, the original Godzilla was male, but all subsequent movies starred a female Godzilla. Well, I've got two comments about this particular wrinkle:

  • First, the people advancing the theory that the later Godzilla was the first one's mate seem to think that it is commonly accepted knowledge, at least in Japan. Can someone be a little more specific? Since I have only watched the movies it English (subtitled or dubbed), it is quite possible that in the original Japanese versions this was actually stated to be the case. If so, what movie was it in, and what, exactly, was said?
  • Second, the entire argument is mooted by the events portrayed in "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah". Since the time travellers removed the pre-mutated Godzillasaurus from Lagos Island before being exposed to the H-bomb radiation in the first place, none of the previous movies ever took place! When Godzilla appears on the scene later in the movie, he had been mutated years after the original timeline by coming into contact with a sunken nuclear submarine. Of course, this does raise other issues, such as how the events in "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" and "Godzilla vs. Destroyer" could have occurred without the prelimary events in "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" and "Godzilla vs. Biollante" [See A Brief Note Regarding Godzilla Continuity].
  • LATE BREAKING NEWS DEPARTMENT -- I finally got around to watching "Godzilla's Revenge". I'd been putting it off because it is such a bad film. Throughout the entire film, Minya refers to Godzilla as "dad" and "my father". Granted, this entire film takes place in a little boy's imagination, and who knows what the original Japanese version said, but still...

    Bernard S. Greenberg sent me the following "original observation":

    "Barney and Godzilla are both errors of the same kind in opposite directions. As little mush-mouth love-beaded bleating cryptochristians as radioactive urban vandals with a vengeance, real sauropods were just critters like you and I trying to make the best of life on a rough planet."

    For some unknown reason, this prompted the following response from me:

    "Your observation reminded me of one of my other favorite scenes from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. There is a character whose entire platoon was "saved" by Godzilla [before he became all radioactive] during WWII when the Big G scared away a bunch of invading U.S. marines. Since that time, he keeps going around telling everyone that Godzilla is our friend and that someday their "savior" will return. Well, when Godzilla comes back and starts rampaging through the city, this guy refuses to evacuate with everyone else, and instead waits for godzilla on the top floor of his office building. Of course, Godzilla eventually shows up and sees the guy through a large plate glass window. They stare at each other for a bit, during which time there are brief flashbacks to WWII as if Godzilla is remembering what happened. Then, Godzilla takes a deep breath and nukes the guy to kingdom come! The point being, at least in my mind, that Godzilla is not some intelligent creature here to save the earth (as in many of the earlier films), but is, in fact, just a big, dumb (albeit highly radioactive and cool-looking) dinosaur. I'm not sure if that really has anything to do with your observation, but it reminded me of it anyway."

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