Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla's Nuclear Origins

The majority of people who are going to see Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014), have a very general idea of Godzilla; all they see is a giant monster that goes around destroying buildings, stomping on screaming Japanese people, while shooting laser beams from its mouth. In reality, Godzilla is so much more than that, Godzilla is a creature with some depth to it! So here my friends I offer you a small explanation of where Godzilla comes from, and what he really means, metaphorically speaking of course.

It’s important to mention that Godzilla is one of the longest running franchises in cinema. Like James Bond or Dracula, Godzilla is an iconic behemoth that will live on forever! So far, there’s 28 Japanese Godzilla films produced by Toho Co. Ltd! There are two American Godzilla films and countless videogames and comic books. Godzilla coming back film after film makes sense when we take in consideration that in the films, practically nothing can kill Godzilla! Just ask the Japanese and American armies, they have tried everything against The King of All Monsters, but practically nothing gets through the creatures indestructible skin. Only a device called The Oxygen Destroyer could. But for some reason they only use it in the first film!  

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah! 

Godzilla is sometimes portrayed as a God, walking the earth, punishing humanity for abusing the planet. Seeing Godzilla as a god isn’t so farfetched when we consider just how big he is. He gets bigger with every passing film! Actually, in Gareth Edwards film he is as big as he’s ever been! His name even has the word ‘God’ in it. In other films, Godzilla appears as earth’s protector, like in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) where Godzilla protects humanity from Destoroyah, one of the most powerful monsters to ever walk the face of the earth. Be it punisher or protector, Godzilla is an unstoppable force of nature. But where did the idea of Godzilla come from?

Godzilla’s birth as a character can be traced all the way back to the many nuclear weapons tests that the United States conducted during the 40’s and 50’s. These tests did not pass unnoticed; they affected many people in the world, but most of all, the Japanese. Let’s not forget the nuclear attacks upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima, events that for obvious reasons left a profound scar on the psyche of the Japanese nation. You see, once upon a time, the United States was all about nuclear weapons. For a while there, all they wanted to do was test their nuclear capabilities, to see just how much destruction they could inflict on any given enemy. Their ultimate goal with these tests was to know the effectiveness and explosive capabilities of these bombs before using them against Japan during World War II. But even after World War II (and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) the tests continued and so the U.S. tested their atomic bombs on their own turf, igniting atomic bombs in places like New Mexico and Nevada. Other times, they would test these bombs out in the Pacific Ocean, near the Marshall Islands, where they actually managed to tests 67 nuclear weapons! It doesn’t surprise me then that in every Godzilla movie, Godzilla comes out of the Ocean, as if a nuclear weapon had just been detonated.

Rio Bravo Nuclear Test 

All this testing yielded valuable knowledge and information to scientists and the American military, but it caused irreparable damage on many islands and territories; with health effects lingering on the affected population. In other words, if you lived anywhere near the places where these tests were conducted, chances are you’d start suffering from exposure to radioactive fallout. This happened to the residents of Bikini Atoll in The Marshall Islands. The residents of these islands suffered horrible health effects because of exposure to radioactive fallout, the U.S. simply hurled money their way as a way to repay them for their troubles. But what’s a couple of million worth when two weeks later your dick falls off? Know what I’m saying? Sadly, nuclear weapons testing continued! For example, on March 1, 1954, United Sates conducted a nuclear test called ‘Castle Bravo’ which just so happens to be the biggest nuclear explosion ever detonated by the United States! This test yielded an explosion far greater than they expected, and so the aftermath was worse than they had imagined. Radioactive fallout spread throughout the world, it affected residents of nearby islands and killed one crew member belonging to the Japanese fishing boat named Lucky Dragon #5. 

My point being that nuclear testing has been something of a concern for Japanese people for a very long time. When we look at it, the Japanese people are an entire nation of people psychologically affected by nuclear weapons and why wouldn’t they be. I mean, these detonations yielded thousands of deaths in one swoop. The fear of nuclear weapons reflected itself in Japanese popular culture in many ways, but especially in Japanese films. One example is Akira (1988), a film that takes place within a society affected by a nuclear attack that took place during ‘World War III’. Another film to directly reflect a society traumatized by nuclear weapons would be Grave of the Fireflies (1988), one of the best films on the subject, I highly recommend checking that film out, it’s a very emotional experience. Hell, even films from other countries addressed these horrifying events, like the French film Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) a film about an actress that’s making a film about the after math after Hiroshima. While making this film, she falls in love with a Japanese man; together they muse about love, life and war. In that film the city of Hiroshima is a character on itself, a survivor of the horror. But, one of the best examples is without a doubt Ishiro Honda’s Gojira (1954), the first Godzilla film ever made. This film was a direct response to all these nuclear worries.

There are various interpretations for Godzilla, but without a shred of a doubt, he is a metaphor for nuclear weapons. Other elements of Godzilla that let us know he is a metaphor for nuclear weapons are that his scaly skin was designed to mimic the keloid scars seen on survivors of Hiroshima. Godzilla’s origins have varied from film to film, but in general, he is an ancient prehistoric sea monster that is awakened by nuclear radiation, so Godzilla is actually a mutation. I would say that the biggest allusion to Godzilla’s nuclear origins would be his ‘atomic breath’, a nuclear blast that comes out of Godzilla’s mouth that is sometimes blue, sometimes red, depending on the movie. Many of the films allude to this nuclear connection, but the biggest one for me is in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) a film in which Godzilla becomes a threat to humanity because it’s about to have a nuclear sized heart attack that could wipe out most of Japan.

Godzilla's Atomic Breath in Action!

Whatever the case, Godzilla is something to be feared and be horrified by, a destructive force better left slumbering beneath the ocean depths. When awakened, only death and destruction follows. We could say the same about nuclear weapons can’t we? When we look at Godzilla through all this background, it makes sense that the first Godzilla film was more of a horror film, after all, most of the time Godzilla is something to be feared, not our friend, but a destroyer. Sure he later turned into a childish thing to say toys, but from inception Godzilla was something to be feared. But there's also that duality to the character, he could be our savior as well. As you can see, if we connect the dots, we know exactly what Godzilla represents. Speaking of the current state of nuclear testing in the world, there was an attempt to get all countries to sign the ‘Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’ of 1996, but alas, eight countries have not signed it, so it is not in effect yet and so nuclear testing still continues to happen throughout the world. The most recent of these tests have been conducted by North Korea. It’s kind of scary to know that some countries still consider nuclear weapons an option. So now Godzilla is not just a symbol of the Japanese’s fear of nuclear weapons, it represents a fear we all share. It’s the fear of madmen who are ready to press a button that can wipe us all clear from the face of the planet. Good, now you know a little bit more about Godzilla, now go see that new movie and amaze your friends with your new found Godzilla knowledge! 


Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Haha, thank you for this, I was just thinking about the Godzilla franchise today because I really want to see the new one but have never seen any of the other films before. It makes sense that Godzilla would be a metaphor for nuclear testing or a nuclear disaster - I'll be sure to keep that in mind when I watch the movie now. Thanks again!

ian!!!! said...

Great stuff and food for thought for this weekend's Godzilla release!

Kaijinu said...

Funny thing I find in the new remake is that the big guy's less of a nuclear metaphor there but as a force of nature, an indestructible fact that we humans tried to conquer but failed to recognize its power and our place. Sure it shows the 1954 bombing as a possible cover-up to destroy the big guy but he's less of a threat here and more of, as they described him in the film, an equalizer.

the MUTO, however, seems to take this metaphor away from the king of the monsters. They feed on radiation and aggressively attack anything that's rich of it from Nuclear subs to power plants. They became the real nuclear threat that needs to be stopped, something involuntarily man-made while Godzilla is nature itself fixing it.

Pretty cool contrast to what we came to know deeper of our big guy!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Michele is a sexy bird.

Elwood Jones said...

It's funny how Western audiences miss these facts, but then many seem to consider the later films of the Showa era with its monster sized smack downs to be what the series is about.

Not sure if he would be as powerful a metaphor had they gone with the original design, described as being a cross between a whale and a gorilla.

Franco Macabro said...

Michelle: No troubles Michelle, my pleasure! I highly recommend Godzilla vs. Destoroyah! It's the most fun I've had with one of the Japanes Godzilla movies, it's kind of epic.

ian!!!: True! Expect my review for the new one today!

Kaijinu: Yeah, just saw it last night and will be reviewing it, but on this one he is seen under a benevolent light. Like a force of nature that we can't control. Loved that about it.

Elwood Jones: I love those monster smack downs, and on this new one trust me you'll get them! More on my review which I'll be posting later today.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Great reminders Fransisco. It looks like Edwards understands this because he made a nuclear disaster front and center to the plot. I'm looking forward to it!

Franco Macabro said...

It was pretty cool, I only wish Edwards Godzilla had a little bit more Godzilla in it. But aside from that, the film is a solid rendition of Godzilla.


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