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My Secret Shame: Godzilla Ignorance

The news that Godzilla Unleashed has now been officially announced for a May 2014 release date no doubt comes as good news for the ‘Zilla Faithful, the fans who can’t get enough of the irradiated lizard-turned-modern-day-dinosaur of destruction who terrorizes cities and leaves only tears in his wake. As for me? I’m still standing on the sidelines, shamefully admitting that I just don’t get Godzilla.

I mean, I get the whole “He’s a monster born of radiation and therefore man’s creation, and so he’s a cautionary tale of science gone wrong coming out of the use of the atomic bomb after World War II” thing, and I understand that he’s a giant monster who has fire breath and likes to stand on things and cause destruction. All of that makes perfect sense to me. What I really mean is, I don’t understand why that’s enough to get a fandom surrounding it. I guess. I mean, isn’t he just like any other generic monster from the 1950s? Why Godzilla? He doesn’t even look that special.

Perhaps it’s that I wasn’t exposed to the character in the right way at the right age. I’m pretty sure that the first actual Godzilla movie I saw was the ill-fated American remake from 1998, and even then, I saw it dubbed into German and so had little idea what was actually going on (Don’t ask). The reason I’d never really searched out any Godzilla before that was because my first exposure to the character was this:

Godzookie, everyone. Godzookie.

(Watching that video again now, for the first time in years, I had this moment of “Oh, that’s right, the theme music completely reveals that Godzookie is going to ruin everything, doesn’t it?” The drama and over-the-top importance of “Godzilla! Godzilla! Godzilla!” gets you all pumped up, and then “Godzookie” comes along, all harmonies and woozyness and you’re left thinking, what is this, even as a kid.)

The purists can – and maybe should? – argue that that’s the worst way to get introduced to Godzilla, even ignoring Godzookie, because it puts the giant monster in service to humanity, at the beck and call of a bearded hero with a big red button and therefore nowhere near the primal scary fury and force of the character’s original incarnation. It’s like discovering Superman when he’s getting popsicles for the Wonder Twins or something. And yet, this is the Godzilla that plugged itself into my brain as a child, and the one that comes up in my head whenever I hear the character’s name. Let’s face it, he never really had a chance after that.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that he didn’t really deserve much more of a chance. I’ve tried to get into Godzilla since then; I’ve watched some of the older movies, read the comics and the whole thing, and I can’t find anything beyond destruction and melodrama for its own sake, a kind of generic B-movie done over and over again. Sometimes it’s done well, other times less so, but what I’m constantly left with is that I enjoy (or not) the various Zillas dependent on who made them and their own individual charms, and not because there is some core Godzilla nugget of greatness that automatically elevates the material.

I’m sure that I’m missing some core piece of the character’s appeal, but I have no idea what it is. Is there a metaphor I’m not getting? Should I be looking deeper for details and stories under the surface, or is it just the opposite? Am I over thinking things? What makes Godzilla tick, dear readers – and what would be the one thing you’d recommend to convince those of us who just don’t understand, to make things a lot clearer?

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Comments

  • Bill Reed

    I prefer Gamera.

    That said, I loved the 70s Godzilla cartoon when I was a kid and I won’t stand to hear it besmirched! And– holy crap, Hulu has it available.

  • Seanmcdonough19

    You poor man, you never had a chance. The hook of Godzilla, at least for me growing up, is that better than any other big B-movie monster, Godzilla was pure, destructive, unbeatable baddasery personified. It’s almost like rap: All Godzilla does is win (yes, I know sometimes he loses. Shut up.) and it’s just such a total rush when you’re a seven year old who can’t stomp anything.

  • Lyle

    I look at it the same way when people tell me they do not know what is so cool about Dracula, when there are way cooler vampires out there. The answer is that he was the first vampire to catch the public’s imagination, and so he will always be the best, no matter if other vampires are more vicious, more sexy, or sparkle in the sunlight.
    In the same way, Godzilla was the first giant atomic powered dinosaur. When he started out, he was a scary monster, but, as with all monsters, after a while, they start becoming cuddly and start having cartoons and such made of them. There’s going to be a CGI movie coming out with all the Universal monsters with Adam Sandler doing the voice of Dracula, and I actually know women who think that Hannibal Lecter is sexy and they could reform him.
    As a kid, I just liked seeing large monsters destroying cities and really that was enough. I have nephews that love Power Rangers and I don’t get it, but do understand because of my love of Godzilla that the things us adults like (good acting, good special effects, good story) are not important to kids.
    Still, I have to admit, I was a bigger fan of Ghidorah, because he had THREE HEADS. How can you beat that? Basically, Godzilla does because he was the first and, no matter what, Ghidorah was directly influenced by him

  • Jhoban98

    Can I right an article about something that I have limited knowledge of and don’t like???? Oh wait, why would I do that to begin with???

  • Chad Vieth

    I loved the Godzilla run, less the “Son of.. ” movie, heck the 1998 movie as well for one thing, things go “BOOM!”, the destruction is what sells me in movies.  The earlier movies was the models, and the explosions. It is like asking a Zombie movie fan the same thing. I personally hate Zombies, stumble , stumble.. Eh!

  • cotygeek

    Godzilla was created as an analogy for Hiroshima with the idea being that he was an atomic bomb in slow motion.

  • http://profiles.google.com/bmiddleton2 Brian Middleton Jr

    I don’t think you spelled Godzuki right ;).  

    That was my first exposure as well, and I have to say, I love Godzilla.  He’s a modern-day, giant, fire-breathing dragon, the effs shit up.  What’s not to like?

  • http://profiles.google.com/200328sept David Fullam

    Wow, no wonder everyone hates Graeme so much. Even I turned on him way back when, well before he revealed what a total and utter (to use the old tongue) “square” he is. Probably has no Elvis in him either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Zopilote.Z Paco De León S

    He´s the frikkin  nuclear-breathing city-stomping kaiju-trashing king of the monsters!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Casey/623640256 Richard Casey

    I’m not the biggest Godzilla fan: but the reason i think he works is the story surrounding him, the things people do in reaction to Godzilla wreaking havoc. 

  • Shaun

    I think that the appeal of Godzilla is very simple and basic: he is power personified. It’s kind of like the Hulk has so many fans. Yes, there is more to the Hulk than just strength, but for a lot of his fans, that is all it boils down to. 

    I think that the same kind of thing is at work with Godzilla. If you get into the movies, you find out that he is virtually invincible. He can regenerate from virtually nothing. He is superstrong (even for a giant monster) almost invulnerable (once he swam through a sea of lava for thousands of kms, with no ill effects), and even a powerful psychic force. I think that one of the reasons that the American Godzilla failed so badly is because it did not get this. Instead, it had Godzilla running from the US military. I don’t know if this is because the US military could not look weak in a US movie, but it ended up making Godzilla a giant Iguana who had to run from the people chasing it. The real Godzilla, of course, literally eats any military for breakfast. The only thing that can handle him are other, superpowerful monsters. 

  • Capaware

    Actually, Godzilla was NOT “the first giant atomic powered dinosaur.”  That would be Ray Harryhausen’s BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, which was a major influence on Godzilla.  Godzilla was not “the first,” he was just THE BEST.

  • Krakaboom

    People have different tastes and like different things for many reasons. What’s the mystery here? 
    If you don’t “get” or like something, fine. Why do people need to convince you to like something you clearly don’t?

  • Andrew Taylor

    Personally?  I think Godzilla’s more than just “the bomb.”  You look back over the movies–even the ones I think are crappy–and they all represent not just that, but Japan’s relationship with the United States and its own culture (which was upended by the bombings).  The first one has Japan in an antagonistic relationship with both in the form of Godzilla (an old “god” made angry by the bombs who takes his rage out on the defeated citizens of Japan), but the series gradually shifts to a more friendly one in the 60s and 70s before becoming something far more complicated by the time the last series of movies rolls around.  There’s definitely a lot more going on with the character than any number of generic monster movies (hell, Toho’s stable of monsters is so colorful and crackling with personality, “generic” never crossed my mind ever:  Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” is generic, Godzilla has soul behind it).

  • the Dagman

    History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.

    Godzilla!

  • John Boy

    Godzilla is a byproduct of the fear created by the beginnings of the nuclear age. His appeal is similar in my mind to the cult following of “Night of the living dead”, insomuch as mankind brought this threat upon itself, and they are both downright campfests.
    If you are ever drunk and bored, put on one of these films and make fun of the dubbing and the fact that the Japanese are wiggin the flark out over an action figure razing a bunch of cigar boxes and plastic trees. It’s almost as fun as slurring “DON’T GO UPSTAIRS, YOU DUMMIES, YOU’RE GONNA GET TRAPPED!” at your t.v. Personally, I’m pretty apathetic to a new ‘Zilla flick. I’m so sick of remakes. There are too many thinkers thinking in this world to warrant money grubbing moviemakers trying to sink cash into old ideas because they don’t want to risk investing in something unproven.

  • Dekko

    If Godzilla’s first appearance as metaphor (or punishment) for man’s hubris is the Alpha and that cartoon is the Omega in terms of his development, I think it’s important to look somewhere in the middle to find what set him apart.  

    — Godzilla isn’t a dumb animal.  He has a personality and is clearly a thinking creature.  As such, he also has drive and strength of will.  Some of the best moments of him throwing down with other monsters is his refusal to give in.
    — As someone else mentioned, he’s like the Hulk.  He ultimately just wants to be left alone on monster island.  It’s his fortress of solitude – except that he actually has buddies to hang out with.
    — He’s nobody’s tool. My favorite Godzilla movies, like “Destroy All Monsters” and “Godzillas v. Mecha-godzilla” usually involve these alien dudes who think they can control or use Godzilla.  I think Godzilla’s strength – that he can’t be controlled – is an appealing and sympathetic characteristic. 
    — He breathes ATOMIC FIRE!  That wimpy lizard in the american movie didn’t. Case closed!

  • asdfjkl

    anyone who hasn’t heard “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult isn’t a true fan of Godzilla
     

  • Hunter Peterson

    People like Gozilla because he’s a nasty@$$ mother#}^%+{ and he don’t care! He takes what he wants!

  • Jimmy

    Graeme`s other secret shame – compulsive masturbating while watching My Littlest Pony cartoons. Stay tuned to this upcoming blog.

  • beane2099

    There are two reasons Godzilla has lasted and other monsters haven’t.  1) Ties with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Footage of the victims of the atomic bomb being cared for was used for  the triage scenes after Godzilla’s attack (in the first movie anyways). 2) His trademark roar.  There’s nothing like it.  The reason you don’t “get it” is that you weren’t exposed to Godzilla flicks as a kid on Saturday afternoons the way the rest of us were. Once cartoons were over you switched over to the unincorporated channels (which at the time meant not NBC, CBS or ABC; no FOX yet) for Saturday afternoon movies, which were usually Kung Fu and monster movies. For a kid there’s nothing better than giant monsters destroying cities.  Now if you were a kid at that time and don’t “get it” I got nothin’ for you.

  • Mark Gilson

    To understand Godzilla, you need to understand him in context. Have you ever seen the original 1954 film? You say you get the idea of Godzilla being a cautionary tale, but do you really? The original came out ten years after the double atomic bombing of Japan. This is a creature borne of a nation that lived through that, and as such it immediately gives Godzilla a certain gravitas that no other movie monster has. Throughout history Japan has believed in animism, and also been victim to major earthquakes and tsunamis, so the idea of forces beyond your control also resonates extremely strongly with Japan. Godzilla is unstoppable, to me that’s what it is about him that resonates with me. Godzilla is a force of nature. But if Godzilla is not your thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are necessarily missing out on something or don’t get it. The way you describe Godzilla is a lot like how I feel about Superman. I like what individual artists and writers do with Superman more than I like the core character of Superman. 

  • Orensteinad

    Read William TsuTsui’s “Godzilla On My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of the Monsters”–it’s a book that examines just why Godzilla is so danged popular.

  • Dan C.

    The Japanese cut of the original film is a revelation after so many years of seeing Raymond Burr deliver the exposition, but the lasting appeal of the character seems far removed from his beginnings as a nuclear allegory. Godzilla’s gradual transition from an absolute menace to the defender of humankind (and then back) shows the conflicted identification the character inspires.In one moment, Godzilla is the rage-driven child who smashes lego cities and imagines broccoli as tiny trees. In the next moment (or the next film), Godzilla is the good guy, with a nastier monster as a target for his destructive power. In the early films, Godzilla is the ego that demolishes the world. In the later films, everyone thanks him for it. Fantasy at its best.

  • Dekko

    Oh yeah, and there’s no way he wouldn’t kick King Kong’s ass…!

  • Threeheadedcyborg

    Godzilla: Unleashed? That’s a game.

    The movie is just called Godzilla.

  • Outside_85

    He just hit a tone with especially the Japanese audience he was created for and was naturally one of the things they ended up exporting with success.

    Personally however if I want radiation created monsters…I prefer the Hulk.

  • Zor-El of Argo

    The best way to watch an old Godzilla movie? On Mystery Science Theater 3000. Brilliant!

  • Ultra_Brabbnus

    Godzilla is just a fantastic fun filled bit of mayhem. True, some of the films are utter tripe, such as vs the Smog Monster and vs Megalon) but others are fantastic. The Heisei Films are especially worth checking out!

  • mick

    Dude, you’re not the only one who doesn’t understand this enduring appeal of Godzilla. To me, it’s a one-and-done story: giant monster destroys everything in its path, terrorizes everyone, gets killed, the end. But the fact that it has endured and gained so much in popularity and gets reboot after reboot is incredible to me.

  • mick

    Dude, you’re not the only one who doesn’t understand this enduring appeal of Godzilla. To me, it’s a one-and-done story: giant monster destroys everything in its path, terrorizes everyone, gets killed, the end. But the fact that it has endured and gained so much in popularity and gets reboot after reboot is incredible to me.

  • Nick

    There’s a certain charm about men in rubber costumes stomping around in intricately detailed miniature cities.  I find it pretty easy, despite the limits of the era’s SFX (which for it’s time, is beautiful yet obvious) to get immersed into this world where giant monsters routinely throw down in battle royal wrestling matches.  I’m not sure which films you have seen, but the original Japanese 1954 film is a fantastic film in any regard.  It was up for best picture (deservedly so) and only lost to the movie “Seven Samurai”, which is considered the best Japanese film of all-time, so go-figure.  There are many great Godzilla films where the monster action is just the icing on the cake–“Mothra vs. Godzilla, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Ebirah: Horror of the Deep, Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster, Son of Godzilla, and Godzilla vs, MechaGodzilla all stand strong in the face of critical analysis.  But, these films clearly aren’t for everyone and hence that fandom continues to get smaller until Legendary Pictures reboot comes out.  Much like Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and Transformers, the Godzilla series is not going to be loved by everyone.  

  • Mason

    Don’t be ashamed, Graeme, It’s not worth the time.

    Think about being 5 years old. Imagine you’re the king of the monsters. You live on your own island with other monsters where you routinely beat them up — when you’re not completely ignoring them and getting some alone time. Occasionally, stupid human adults need your help and ask very nicely with the aid of cute Japanese girls. You swim 1,000 miles in like, a day, to get to Japan. You show up and stomp on things. Everybody’s happy to see you. You meet some other monster who kind of creeps you out. You breathe fire on his face. He retaliates. You try out some fresh karate moves and whip his ass. You jump up and down, scream and wave your arms. Then you’re like, “I’m out, stupid humans,” and swim back home, and everybody’s sad to see you go. 

    Now that’s awesome. 

  • guest

     See your assuming that just cause most of them have a simple story it’s the same story and ending all the time. These films may not (usually) be complicated like The Matrix or Inception but simple plot doesn’t mean it’s the same story or ending over and over again. A lot of them have a different reason for why the monsters are there, why they are fighting and how it ends. Monsters that were the “villain” in the last film may end up becoming the only means of repelling a worst monster in the next.

    And just for the record gentalmen, out of the 28 films the JSDF has only killed Godzilla three times. Every other time he pretty much survives and leaves humans to rebuild their cities.

  • Guest

    Oh, so you’ve never even seen a Godzilla movie. Because if you had seen even one, you’d know that was bullshit.

    This is good to know, so I can disregard your opinion forever. 

  • Educatexan

    Godzilla movies return me to my childhood, before the advent of the animated adventures.  As a child, I didn’t know that “just a man in a rubber costume” was supposed to make me scoff.  (Who made that rule, anyway?)

    Even at the age of six, I knew that some movies were meant to be fantasy, that they were meant to be enjoyed as visions of what couldn’t exist in real life.  And what kid doesn’t get a thrill from building towers with Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, or whatever, and then another thrill from rampaging through them?  Well, maybe that’s the problem.  As much as I enjoy technology, I wonder if the increasing complexity of electronic toys has removed something of the imagination of our youth.

    At age 50, I still enjoy seeing the mass destruction.  And hey, Godzilla became a hero for Earth in later movies.  I support the big guy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/samkerby99 Sam Kerby

    Yeah, guess you had to be there, is the main point of my post here.  Growing up in the late 60s early 70s, movies were cheap, and you went a lot.  When ever a Godzilla trailer came on the screen, the whole theater would cheer.  It was awesome.  Great cheezy destruction flicks and they didn’t need to be 2 or 3 damn hours long.  Great movie going times back then.  Enjoy what you like, and don’t worry why others enjoy something you don’t understand.

    Keep On Thwipin’!!!
    Sam

  • Destroyer

    Godzilla is a huge franchise. Throughout the years it has went from dark and serious with a very deep message, to ‘defender of Japan’ to ‘walking event’ to ‘protector of his territory’ to ‘zombie’ (in a manner of speaking) and finally ‘anti-hero.’ Many of the fans grew up with the big G, nostalgia plays a major factor. When you say you don’t understand why it has a fandom, that could be said for a lot of things. I don’t find the Star Wars mythos all that engaging, but I get why it has a fandom. People who don’t watch Friendship is Magic I’ve heard question it. Godzilla has 28 movies dating all the way back from 1954. James Bond is another great example. I don’t find that engaging at all, but I understand why it has a fandom.

    Sometimes people can’t get into things. I can’t get into 007, but I get why it has a fandom. To new fans, it’s always good to watch Gojira to get an idea of what Godzilla means. Not the American dubbed King of the Monsters version, but the subbed Gojira one.

  • beefheed

    i take understanding Godzilla in the same way i take understanding the Hulk. sure, we can conjure stories galore about the deeper issues that make puny Bruce Banner turn into the Hulk, we can give him a tragic past and pathos and cram subconscious heroic intent into him, but at the end of the day if you’re reading a comic or watching him in a movie you want 1 one thing. HULK SMASH. Godzilla is similar, but just has’nt ever really had to contend with the human side of himself because there is’nt one, he’s a force of destruction, science’s biggest mistake and movies coolest kaiju, its like watching wrestling but the wrestlers are giant monsters and space beasts and robot piss-takes of said monsters, it exists to entertain and cares little about winning oscars.
    Don’t get me wrong, im not saying you cant write deeper ideas into a Godzilla movie, or emotional drives, but for me atleast that isnt what he’s about…he exists to break the world and burn whatever pisses him off (go watch Final Wars)
    though yeah, loving him as a kid probably helps, i guess you just need to be able to accept it as it is, mindless destruction for the sheer love of it. like a michael bay movie, only…y’know. endearing. enduring. charmin’. hahah

  • BD

    For me, I think the Big G’s greatness was cemented when the local tv stations kept playing Godzilla movies on weekends- I loved e’m (well, except for the smog monster; that freaked my young mind out.)  Mind, this was in the years before cable, and before the cartoon (which I loved at 8 years old or whatever, but can’t watch now) and Godzilla was already a big thing in my mind. 

    Oh, and the Marvel comic- that was a big part too- the first comic I collected (because of the movies) so Godzilla is also the reason I started reading comics at all.

  • thesnappysneezer

    I don’t say this often, actually I haven’t said it before but I think I will start saying it now. You are watching it wrong.

  • Alex

    Let me recommend “Godzilla on my Mind” by William Tsutsui. A significant portion of that book delves into just what it is that makes Godzilla so popular.

    http://www.amazon.com/Godzilla-My-Mind-Fifty-Monsters/dp/1403964742/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347926864&sr=1-2&keywords=godzilla 

  • Aj_early

     Wrong mate! The creature from “Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” isn’t a dinosaur! It’s a reptile!

  • GORIZARD

     What he meant to say was, Godzilla was ONE OF THE FIRST! Not implying directly he is the first radioactive monster.

  • georgeli94

    The ’98 movie was also my first introduction to Godzilla. I was a young kid, so I ended up liking it, but it still left the wrong impression of Godzilla on me. I ended up lucking out because Godzilla 2000 was released 2 years later in theaters, so I ended up watching that as well because I thought it was a sequel to the ’98 film, and that was my first real introduction to Godzilla. That movie basically gave me all that was cool and appealing about Godzilla: awesome power, super indestructibility, and monster battles. That was when I truly became a fan.

    And I think your thinking of Godzilla being “generic” can best be summed up here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SeinfeldIsUnfunny

    Godzilla is just such a famous creature that he basically defined a genre and codified pretty much every giant monster since then, to the point that “Godzilla” is almost a generic term for giant monsters now.

    And also, the other Godzilla movies you mention are the Showa ones. Godzilla has literally been all over the place in terms of silliness vs seriousness. If you want more serious movies, you can check out the Heisei series, or some of the Millennium series movies.