Gojira / Godzilla
d. Ishirō Honda / Japan / 1954 / 135 mins
Viewed at: A3.03 @ UEA (Norwich, UK)
The course of film history is constantly being altered by all manner of cycles, trends, movements and ‘new waves’. But every once in a while, a single film will come along and change everything. At first they’re just popular, but before we know it they’ve reached saturation point, forcing their way into the global visual discourse. At this point, a film’s reputation starts threatening to outweigh its intrinsic worth.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be remiss of me to claim that I didn’t enjoy Ishirō Honda’s opening salvo of the ever widening Gojira/Godzilla franchise. In fact I enjoyed it greatly. I merely wish to suggest that Gojira‘s particular notoriety, and that of the sequels it has spawned and the myriad of films it has influenced, has painted a rather distorted picture of this most quintessential emblem of Japanese genre cinema.
Despite what you might think, Gojira isn’t all stomping on buildings and chewing on trains. In the original film, we don’t even see the monster itself until it trundles over a hill about a third of the way into the film. And not even the insertion of Raymond Burr in the Hollywood re-edit, titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters, could hasten the action towards the kind of pace you might expect from a modern day monster movie.
Then again, perhaps this is entirely the point. After all, this isn’t just a monster movie. Gojira (the Japanese original, at least) is surely a film about the continuing threat of a post-nuclear world, a deeply felt allegory about the disparity between scientific advancement and military imperatives. Isn’t it?
Of course, it’s also worth remembering how Honda’s first Gojira film came into being. Created in haste and inspired by a real-life incident in which a fishing boat crew were exposed to radiation after a nuclear weapons test, the Toho Studios kaiju was heavily influenced by the success of Warner Bros.’ The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), a Eugène Lourié / Ray Harryhausen film in which a nuclear test wakes a hibernating dinosaur, who takes his morning grumps out on New York City. Sound familiar?.
Anyway, I don’t want to talk about what Gojira was, or what he was intended to be, I want to take a look at what he became in spite of all his ‘man in a suit’ crudity: an icon, a celebrity, a bankable box office star, an endorsable commodity.
Not content with the twenty-odd films devoted to him, Gojira has appeared pretty much everywhere. He’s fought with and against all manner of monsters (and mecha-monsters) and he’s been parodied to death, but he’s also found time to kill Bambi, star in his own Hanna-Barbera cartoon alongside his ‘nephew’ Godzooky, and feature in his own wiki.
That’s right, you read correctly, Gojira has a nephew. And just in case you’re not convinced by his relationship with Godzooky, perhaps you need reminding that Gojira also represents good old fashioned family values like being a good dad:
…or working hard, and being good to your mother:
But where Gojira really excels is in his flair for advertising and product endorsement. One of my all-time favourites is this outstandingly bad Dr. Pepper commercial from 1985:
Or its sequel, in which Gojira soothes the temper of his lady-friend with a nice refreshing Diet Dr. Pepper:
Then again, you’d be hard pressed, and I mean very very hard pressed, to beat Nike’s Godzilla vs Barkley campaign in 1992:
In fact, despite his existence as a rampaging monster, it seems rather interesting that he can be so easily subdued by flimsy American products like cherry soda or basketball players named Charles. I wonder what he’d make of Cheerios:
Defeated! How about Doritos?
Ha! Defeated again! Of course, where the Yanks succeeded, those whacky Mexicans* were always destined to fail:
At least Gojira gets treated with respect in Japan. They even get Peter Falk to serve him whiskey:
And in return, he changes their lightbulbs:
Gojira, a monster of many talents.