On March 1st 1954, a Japanese fishing boat called Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon 5) was searching for tuna near the shores of a small ring of coral reef called Bikini Atoll near the Marshall Islands. After their haul, they returned to the port in Yaizu, Japan all suffering from headaches, nausea and bleeding from their gums and eyes. It was immediately clear what had happened to them – they all had radiation poisoning from the fallout of American atomic bomb testing.
The memories of these two tragic events led to the creation of one of the most iconic monsters of the 21st century – Godzilla.
Different cultures at different moments in history have found resonance with a particular monster. In the 16th and 17th century Europe, the good folk feared witchcraft and stories of Werewolves began to emerge. In early 19th century England, the growing conflict between science and religion led to the birth of Frankenstein. Sixty years later, the role of women in Victorian society and the fear of immigrants led to Dracula.
In 1950s Japan they feared nuclear war, so a monster was created that symbolized that fear. Godzilla was a sea monster awoken / strengthened by underwater nuclear testing and emerged to wreak havoc on Tokyo. At the end of the 1954 film there is an explicit warning from a scientist character that further testing of atomic weapons could lead to Godzilla returning – an overtly pacifist message for the Cold War generation.
Over time Godzilla starred in multiple remakes and sequels, sometimes fighting alongside the Japanese army against other foreign enemies (like Mecha-Godzilla, King Kong or Mothra). This led to Japanese audiences coming to love him as a national icon, or as a kind of spiritual protector.
Meanwhile, recent Western culture has been busy concocting it’s own symbolic monsters. In the 1980s, horror franchises ruled the box office, with Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and their numerous sequels and parodies all reflecting a fear of urban crime and immorality infiltrating the American suburbs.
Yet, since the devastating events of September 11th 2001 (and Oklahoma 1996), America and Europe has had a new symbolic fear – Urban Terrorism.
Just like in the 16th century where people told stories of men being possessed by the moon and transforming into wolves as a reaction to their fear of nature and the dark forests around them, modern audiences living in a ‘war on terror’ were bombarded with apocalyptic stories about the destruction of cities – our modern ‘monsters’ being massive plumes of smoke, falling buildings and chaotic hordes of panicked people shown in glorious HD/3D. Films such as The Day After Tomorrow, Pacific Rim, The War Of The Worlds, World War Z, The Road, Knowing, I Am Legend, Cloverfield, 2012 and even Wall E have all delighted in showing urban destruction – unsurprisingly, mostly it is New York where the horrors begin. Not to mention all of the super hero films that depicts a lone American hero attempting to stop a foreign adversary from destroying a city…
In 1998, Roland Emmerich (self-styled king of the end-of-the-world) attempted to remake Godzilla for an American audience, and even though it made huge returns at the box office, it was critically panned. Even thought the film actually holds up in reflection, audiences clearly weren’t excited by an Oriental sea monster destroying a city. But maybe it was simply three years too early…
This summer sees the Warner Brothers Godzilla reboot receiving market ‘saturation’ with a simultaneous worldwide release after months of teasing marketing. There is much to be excited about due to the talent involved who have all had experience in destroying cities onscreen: The Oscar-nominated Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey who worked his destructive magic on The Avengers and World Trade Center; The BAFTA-nominated Production Designer Owen Paterson who gave us The Matrix series and V for Vendetta; the action sequence Editor Bob Ducsay who worked on Looper, The Mummy and Van Helsing; and finally the Director of the slightly underrated 2010 sci-fi Monsters, Gareth Edwards. Plus the exciting acting talent of Juliette Binoche, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen.
The trailer depicts a giant monster, army warfare, panic on the streets and government conspiracies – all of which I hope adds up to a classic summer blockbuster.