Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gojira and the cuddly monster factor

From time to time I wonder about the process that converted Godzilla into a series of movies that appeal mostly to children.

The 1954 Japanese film Gojira is a remarkable drama. Nine years after the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a creature emerges from the depths of the seas, shaken loose by the vibrations of nuclear bomb testing and mutated to unnatural proportions by the bombs' radiation.

A scientist has created a weapon even more terrible than an atomic bomb, one so horrible that he refuses to share the process he used to discover the technology and resists efforts to use the weapon against the giant creature, even as Japan's largest city comes under siege.

It's a movie about war, peace, violence and nonviolence, technology and the simple ongoing question: Just because something can be done, is it right and just to do it? A very thoughtful and important movie with fantasy and science fiction elements.

Gojira was repackaged as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, for distribution in America, and each and every one of its more than 20 sequels has been mindless child's play. One almost has to wonder: What was so dangerous about the ideas in Gojira that it had to be so trivialized?

But then — scary monsters are often transformed into cuddly children's toys. Look at the stark and poignant story of the man built from parts of other men by Dr. Frankenstein. The iconic image of Boris Karloff in his monster makeup eventually became Herman Munster.

Perhaps it's simply a natural reaction to looking into the depths of the soul and finding darkness. We step away, we dress up the darkness with childlike innocence, and we look the other way. A person can only spend so much in the dark before needing a little sunshine.

Conspiracy to suppress dangerous ideas didn't turn Gojira into Godzilla. We just need to be reassured that things that go bump in the night are just bumps.

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