Japanese fans speak on the evolution of 'Godzilla'
Japanese fans speak on the evolution of 'Godzilla'
Jul. 25, 2014
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese fans want it known: The radiation-breathing, skyscraper-stomping monster they call "Gojira" was born right here in Japan, 60 years ago.
No matter its evolution in Hollywood over the decades, the Godzilla creature began as an icon for the suffering brought by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
The new remake, directed by hard-core Godzilla aficionado Gareth Edwards, has become one of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters this year and finally opens in Japan on Friday.
The Associated Press spoke with some Japanese about their views on how their favorite mutated reptile has changed, including whether they welcome the latest rendition in full computer-graphic glory — so different from their Godzilla, that actor in a rubber suit, who waded into pools and smashed miniature models.
THE ORIGINAL 1954
Directed by Ishiro Honda.
Special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya.
Starring Akira Takarada.
Godzilla was Haruo Nakajima, a stunt actor for samurai films, who was not even credited in the original, so determined was Toho Co. studios to keep the monster shrouded in mystery.
The horrifying mutation arises after nuclear testing in the Pacific. It marches out of Tokyo Bay into the capital, destroying everything in its path, such as the Wako clock-tower building in downtown Ginza and the somber-looking Parliament building, both of which still stand today.
A scientist reluctantly uses a weapon of mass destruction against Godzilla, knowing it's a last resort. A tragic victim of its own creation, possessing no apparent conscience throughout the black-and-white masterpiece, Godzilla sinks quietly back into the ocean, allowing Mankind to triumph, but not until the monster has smashed half of Tokyo and set off a legacy that continued into 27 Toho sequels.
Classical musician Akira Ifukube did the unforgettable score, and helped create the altered contrabass roar of Godzilla. The first series of Godzilla movies is considered to have continued through 1975.
"Godzilla is neither friend nor foe, but something beyond our control," says Shizue Horie, 54, whose love affair with Godzilla started when her father took her to see one of the early movies.
The original she has seen many times. "Where it all began," she said.
She feels her life has been defined by Godzilla. She met her husband after a painful divorce through their mutual interest in Godzilla. And she has taken her children and their friends to Godzilla movies. She gets teary-eyed, remembering when the Japanese Godzilla series ended a decade ago.
"It's as though my job was over," she said.
THE VS SERIES 1989-1995
Directed by Takao Okawara, Kazuki Omori and others.
Special effects by Koichi Kawakita.
Starring Tetsuya Bessho, Masahiro Takashima and others.
Godzilla was played by Kenpachiro Satsuma, a new actor in a rubber suit, who is credited with adding a combative flair to the depiction, taking advantage of his martial art skills.
"VS" stands for "versus," as the films featured Godzilla fighting another creature, such as King Ghidora with the multiple dragon heads, and Mothra, a giant moth. The almost comical battle scenes, which take place underwater and in the sky as well as in urban landscapes, are the highlights.
The series that followed, called the Millenium, saw Godzilla's following gradually dwindle. Toho discontinued Godzilla films after "Final Wars" released in 2004. Some Godzilla fans include the 1984 film in the VS series. Others say technically it falls outside the category.
"Godzilla appeals to that destructive instinct that's in all kids," says Takeshi Maruyama, a 28-year-old "salaryman," who grew up on the VS series and has an extensive Godzilla figure collection.
A lot of buildings were constructed while Maruyama was growing up, a period for Japan's "bubble era" modernization. And it was a delight to see Godzilla destroy them almost as soon as they went up, Maruyama recalled.
One of his favorites is "Godzilla Vs. Mothra," released in 1992, which showed his hometown of Yokohama destroyed, including Land Mark Tower, one of this nation's tallest buildings, which was being built as the movie was shot.
"It is so fun to see a giant thing break and get totally destroyed," he said. "You can't explain it in words. You just feel it in your heart, and it's so immediate."
GOING HOLLYWOOD 1998
Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Special effects by Patrick Tatopoulos.
Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno and others.
Hollywood-style models, robots, including a moving mechanical lizard head and torso, plus computer imagery for the adult Godzilla, and stunt men in latex suits as Godzilla babies.
If anything clinched Japanese fans' distrust for Hollywood, this reboot was it.
The film, whose tagline was "Size does matter," portrayed Godzilla as an enlarged tyrannosaurus rex running amok in New York, stomping on yellow cabs and chewing up delivery trucks.
The story starts with a Japanese fishing boat getting attacked, and a lone survivor gasping, "Gojira."
Thrown in the plot are ambitious American news reporters, a French spy, a scientist studying Chernobyl and a bunch of Godzilla eggs in Madison Square Garden.
A big no-no to Godzilla fans was the monster's fate at the end of the movie.
Yoshihiko Horie, 54, hated the 1998 film so much he started a website, cheering on the Japanese Godzilla.
Horie, a driver and husband of Godzilla fan Shizue Horie, believes Godzilla must be an extraordinary entity but also one with which people can emotionally identify. There are other must-have trademarks: bumpy skin and that roar.
Godzilla always shoots hot radioactive rays from its mouth. It must be powerful. And it must be cool. Emmerich's Godzilla failed on all counts, he said.
"I still do not want to call that Godzilla," said Horie, adding that he refers to it as Zilla, something lacking the "God" factor in a Godzilla. "No wonder even American fans called it GINO, for Godzilla in name only."
GODZILLA TODAY 2014
Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Visual effects supervised by Jim Rygiel of the "Lord of the Rings" films.
Starring Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Ken Watanabe and others.
Godzilla created by computer graphics and special effects, with 3-D technology-added version as an option.
This work pays homage to the past. It has the monster battles of the VS series. It has the military, well-meaning but often clueless. It has scientists. It has a poster of an old Godzilla movie. It has the precariousness of atomic energy and radiation. Watanabe pronounces the creature's name as the Japanese say it, combing "gorilla" with "kujira," which means "whale." It even has a touching reference to Hiroshima.
Battling in near-death, Godzilla saves San Francisco from grotesque monsters that feed off nuclear material, including bombs and reactor fuel waste. And the creature's fate evokes the original film's ending — including setting up a possible sequel.
"Gareth Edwards brought back our Godzilla, the Godzilla we hold in our hearts. He respects Godzilla," said Yoshinori Nishizawa, 28, who lives in Tokyo and works in nursing.
"I grew up with Godzilla. I like everything about this movie. It shows the power of Hollywood. I feel only gratitude."
Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama