Sunday, May 02, 2004

Godzilla's metaphor problem

The New York Times takes a look at the first Godzilla movie -- that is, the Japanese version, sans bad dubbing and Raymond Burr -- on its 50th anniversary. The article looks at Godzilla as a metaphor for the A-bomb and what that really means:

The most peculiar thing about Godzilla as a metaphor for the bomb is the creature's simultaneous status as a legendary beast of Japanese islanders' mythology: surely a more precise representation of the disaster that befell the country at the end of the Second World War would be an agent of destruction from far away, unheard of even in legend, not this native, almost familiar monster. Is Godzilla, then, also on some subterranean level a metaphor for Japan's former imperial ambitions, which finally unleashed the retaliatory fury that leveled its cities?
Maybe. But the the runaway metaphor of [director Ishiro] Honda's Godzilla isn't nearly so easy to pin down. It's more ambiguous, more generalized and perhaps more potent than that. And its significance can be glimpsed only in the Japanese version of the movie, because what Honda's "Godzilla" is most fundamentally about, I think, is a society's desire to claim its deepest tragedies for itself, to assimilate them as elements of its historical identity.

The article says the later films seem to subvert the message by turning Godzilla into a hero. Actually, I think the metaphor was simply dropped. None of Godzilla's sequels have been as serious as that first movie. And "King Kong vs. Godzilla," the film that revived Godzilla's career and was the template for the next 20-odd movies, was intended as a humorous monster bash.
The only Godzilla movie that attempts to be as serious is Shusuke Kaneko's "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack." But "GMK" seems to be confused as to what it wants to say and its rushed filming schedule shows.
(Thanks to Professor Hex for the link.)

No comments: