It appears as though I am starting with movies I saw as a very young child, but hey, I’m not over-thinking this. In my mind, Toho studio’s 1954 classic “Gojira,” marketed in North America as “Godzilla,” is somehow inextricably connected to “King Kong.” This is probably because I saw them both at around the same age (4 or 5), and they both involved giant monsters that man was helpless against. Ok, that last part wasn’t exactly true – King Kong was shot off the Empire State Building, but not before wreaking serious havoc on NYC.
Godzilla, on the other hand, was way more frightening. Kong was a mistreated giant ape that actually liked a human (Faye Wray), while Godzilla was a true existential threat. Nothing could stop him – he seemed to have no purpose other than to destroy. And if his giant size and destructive power weren’t enough – he could exhale a concentrated beam of radioactive fire that burned everything in its path to a cinder. I couldn’t get enough of it!
Of course as a child the whole “monster as metaphor for the atomic bomb” thing went right over my head. But rewatching it as an adult makes the film much more interesting. It’s a fascinating post-WWII artifact made only nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki – a potent example of art as a response to trauma.
The fact that most of the film was shot in Japan and badly dubbed only made it weirder. Even as a little kid, it was clear that the Raymond Burr parts were added for the American markets. I didn’t know what film stocks were back then – all I knew was that the “American” parts didn’t look like they were in the same movie.
While Kong was created with stop motion animation, Godzilla was a man in a rubber suit. What made it work was two things: the graininess of the film itself, but more importantly the incredibly detailed miniature sets. Toho built models of Tokyo for Godzilla to crush and burn down, and they looked good – good enough to suspend belief and think this shit might be possible, at least if you’re a little kid.
See, my home life as a child was violent and unstable. I wanted Godzilla to come in and burn it all down. I spent many years fantasizing this would happen, knowing all the while it wouldn’t.
But it gave me some great daydreams.