KLAATU YOU (36)

By: James Hannaham
September 2, 2020

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.

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GOJIRA | d. ISHIRO HONDA | 1954

Before Godzilla was Godzilla, the Japanese knew him as the monster Gojira from Ishiro Honda’s King Kong-inspired 1954 blockbuster. Gojira is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale,” so not until his export did the moniker take on theological connotations (or vaguer associations with Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, first performed in 1953). Gojira is difficult to see with fresh eyes given its subject’s widespread, long-lasting fame. If you were a child after 1956, chances are Godzilla stormed through your consciousness long before you had a critical mind to speak of, perhaps connecting with your id and/or your compulsion to destroy toys. Back then, Godzilla was just a kind of god. Zilla. As a kid, it’s unlikely that you would’ve seen the many profound messages this beast has for humanity, let alone the way in which he embodies the punishing spectres of history and war and their effects on the present.

Once Americanized by Terry O. Morse as Godzilla! King of the Monsters (1956) by dubbing the film into English, centering white gay man Raymond Burr, and scrubbing the script of references to USA atrocities, the monster flattened the world. This not-that-great film, featuring a clumsy guy in a lizard suit smashing some beautifully detailed miniatures, changed cinematic history, spawning a plethora of rich and varied members in the pantheon of kaiju or “strange monster” films — among them Rodan, Gamera, Mothra, King and Ghidora. Japanese insurance companies would have been overwhelmed, as the comedian Franklin Ajaye once joked. Godzilla movies comprise the longest running film “franchise” to date.

In the 1954 film, a radio report refers to our hero as “the monster of the century.” This phrase now resonates in several ways. There’s his popularity and size, of course. But by 1950, the 20th Century had seen death, mayhem, and bloodshed on a scale like never before in human history — after WWI, the Spanish Flu, WWII, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s purges, the H-bomb was merely the cherry on top, so to speak. A Jurassic behemoth inspired by actual ancient myths, Gojira gets nuked out of bed to become a rampaging environmental refugee, like a metaphor for everything that had just happened, not to mention Japan’s geographic propensity for natural disasters.

One of the elders in Gojira claims that the amphibious creature has come ashore because nuclear testing has killed his stock of fish, and predicts that he’ll eat people, but human flesh does not please Gojira’s palate; he has only an appetite for destruction. Surely this indicates that his tantrums mostly represent the fervid thoughtlessness of American military power — no animal on earth finds food that way (nor does any lizard make his signature noise). Where Japanese audiences probably saw a cautionary tale (and a renaissance for their own reinstated military), Americans, like kids everywhere, must have seen and identified with their own gleeful nihilism.

In Gojira, though, man’s desire for revenge against the beast is the worse impulse, because it subjugates the desire for knowledge and ultimately peace. Presumably Gojira is just one specimen of a rare dinosaur that could be studied for anything from its resistance to nuclear radiation to its Tokyo firebomb bad breath, but not even somewhat mad scientist Daisuke Serizawa, a more tortured Oppenheimer analogue who has created something called an “oxygen destroyer,” the only weapon capable of killing Gojira, can resist the public’s blind desire for revenge against Gojira. The tragedy — what? A sad monster movie? — finds a scientific genius and the last member of an endangered species skeletonized somewhere under the Pacific Ocean, as a temple full of schoolgirls sing them to their rest.

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KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Wayne Chambliss on THEM! and PHASE IV | J.C. Gabel on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS | Alison Fensterstock on ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL | Seth Mnookin on NUDE ON THE MOON.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Categories

Enthusiasms, Movies, Sci-Fi

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