Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Strange Beast from the South Pacific (Guest Blogger)

Godzilla: A Strange Beast from the South Pacific (Guest Blogger)
 Preface: I grew up watch a whole bunch of Godzilla movies. Heck, I even cried when Godzilla died in Godzilla: 1985. I loved the monsters fighting the military and fighting each other.
Beth K asked to be a guest blogger and she wrote a story on the deeper meanings of Godzilla. Like many Japanese stories, there are deeper meaning to their fictional icons. Godzilla is no different. She goes into that with her post.
She's a very good writer and I hope to read more from her in the future.
Anyway, here's her guest post.
A Strange Beast from the South Pacific

Toho Studios, which produced the original version of Godzilla (known there as Gojira) in 1954, is currently in the midst of planning sessions to release a modern version of the film. Their hope is that it will forever change the sentiment of people toward the true meaning of the original motion picture.

The plan is to begin filming this year, coincidentally (or perhaps not) the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan, followed by release in 2016. With prominent 2015 commemorations taking place, an awareness of the original horrors may linger long enough for the message to finally get through to Western audiences.

Godzilla as a Symbol

The character of Godzilla has been derided by Western critics as the “star” of a badly dubbed monster film, but that fails to take into account the original context. Coming less than a decade after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the film is a metaphor for the destruction of war and the lengths to which leaders are willing to go to end it.

More than any other group that watched the film, Japan was able to grasp what the intent of the filmmaker was, since scarred survivors of the bombings were still around, serving as lasting reminders.

Godzilla stood for war and the weapons used to kill him were meant to symbolize the atomic bomb. However, the toll that the reality of nuclear destruction took on future generations makes this tale still relevant.

Entertainment as Education

That metaphorical approach allows for entertainment of its audience, while still showing the lethal effect of such weapons or the insanity caused by such continuing scourges as war and terrorism. By framing the tale through the prism of science fiction allows the filmmaker’s imagination to take on these topics without resorting to falling back on a heavy-handed polemic regarding the dangers.

The monster in question (whatever form it may take) comes to symbolize any societal danger that lingers, or the beast within society. While war and nuclear weapons bring fear into everyone’s heart, using such creatures to take on such political hot potatoes as climate change or alien treatment also exists. In that way, the filmmaker makes a statement in entertaining fashion, which limits the contentiousness that is a tiresome byproduct of all such attempts at social relevancy.

Watered Down Remakes

Six decades ago, that reality was too much for international audiences, which saw an edited version that completely emasculates the nuclear war metaphor and replaces it with a Western reporter (played by Raymond Burr) who documents the destruction of a savage beast.

Unfortunately, the latter film is the one that’s had the most impact, with even Japan filmmakers succumbing to the benign monster approach with 27 different sequels that paled in comparison to the original. In spite of that the Godzilla franchise, bad seeds and all, has a cult following and the remakes are often aired for their camp quality like the recent Godzilla marathon on the El Rey network (click here for info). Recently though, Gareth Edwards was able to breathe some life back into the franchise with his 2014 remake that garnered positive reviews and a solid take at the box office.

Another Western Version Coming

There is a something of a clock on the discussions to offer a modern Japanese update since a Western version of Godzilla 2 is expected in theaters in 2018 that will again be an updated monster film. This film will likely be geared more toward exploiting technological advances in special effects than addressing the ills of society in a subtle, but effective manner.

Much like the original, the 2016 Toho effort will have an audience that has felt massive tragedy and nuclear danger in its recent past. Next year will mark five years since an earthquake and tsunami struck with such force, the Fukushima nuclear plant released substantial amounts of radiation.

The main question that remains to be answered is whether a more open-minded approach to what Godzilla truly means will translate into stronger awareness for all audiences.

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