Godzilla: King of the Monsters
At the Cinemark
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On Aug. 9, we bombed Nagasaki.
Estimates vary, but most agree that at least 100,000 were killed, and another 100,000 injured. Actual numbers, including long-term harms, are likely much higher.
The American occupation of Japan included attempts to censor discussion of the bomb’s far-reaching effects.
“Historians note the irony of American Occupation officials claiming to bring a new freedom of the press to Japan, but censoring what the Japanese said in print about the atomic bombs,” wrote Claremont historian Janet Farrell Brodie. “One month after the war ended, Occupation authorities restricted public criticism of the U.S. actions in Japan and denied any radiation aftereffects from exposure to the nuclear bombs.”
In response to this stifling of information, Director Ishiro Honda created “Gojiro,” a 1954 film about a monster who was awakened by a nuclear blast – and who himself had devastating power, including radiation.
Godzilla was thus created by a Japanese director as a symbol of nuclear destruction.
Godzilla was an explicit allegory about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The films explored the horrors of those deaths directly and indirectly.
Placed in that context, the Godzilla films are anti-war tracts reminding civilization of the horrors of nuclear bombing.
The films sometimes present Godzilla as a villain, sometimes as a savior – oftentimes a mixture of both.
Inevitably, much of that social critique faded into the background as Godzilla became a franchise in Japan and in the United States. He began to appear more like King Kong than an allegory about Hiroshima.
More than 35 Godzilla movies have been produced, most in Japan by Toho studios.
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Which brings us to “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” an extension of a story begun in 2014 with “Godzilla.”
“In the 2014 movie (as well as the 1954 original), Godzilla was awakened and/or empowered by the irresponsible use of technology, particularly misused nuclear weapons,” wrote Matthew Rozsa, for “Salon.”
The 2019 version loses sight of the political and moral messages. It feels more like just another monster movie that wants us to forget the tragic origins of this tale.
Maybe, however, the symbols are buried in plain sight for us to unearth. In the new film, Bravo is headquarters for surveillance of Godzilla. The name Bravo harkens back to the first American nuclear test in Bikini Atoll, Castle Bravo in 1954 - the year “Gojira” was released.
A Japanese fishing boat was caught in that blast, killing one crew member and injuring others.
The Bravo reference is an allegorical nod.
But if this edition is designed to be a political tract, it’s a pretty messy message, at best.
The story is convoluted, and I’m not going to try to untangle the spaghetti. The International Movie Database took its best shot at a summary:
“As the world recovers from the fact that monsters exist, they face a new threat: the return of the Titans. Now the crypto-zoological agency Monarch has only one chance to stop them: let Godzilla fight it out as the whole world itself will tremble as it watches Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and Godzilla fight for the title King of the Monsters.”
Frankly the plot, full of phrases like “orca device” and “Fenway Park,” never registered with me. People kill people. People kill monsters. Monsters kill monsters. That’s about it.
Along the way a few relationships are milked for love and tears. And, of course, we have a young teen girl who emerges as a token wonder woman, per most action films these days.
As for the exploration of nukes, “Godzilla” tosses out some symbols – like Bravo – but mostly just follows the King Kong scary-ape action formula.
The bombing of Hiroshima reshaped Japan and the world. The wounds from those explosions have never fully healed, and the Japanese Godzilla films allow Japanese citizens to continue to process Hiroshima through their art.
America, on the other hand, just wants to sell tickets.