Godzilla sits proudly in the pantheon of enduring cinematic creatures — like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, and King Kong. Over the course of his sixty years, he remains a compelling pop culture icon, updated and redefined for modern audiences. Bookshelf presents five fascinating facts about Godzilla.
1. Godzilla was introduced to Japanese audiences in 1954 in the film, Godzilla, directed by Ishiro Honda. Godzilla was introduced to American audiences two years later as Godzilla, King of the Monsters in the American adaptation of the original film, directed by Honda and Terry Morse.
2. The transcription of the creature’s original Japanese name into the English, using the Hepburn romanization system (named after James Curtis Hepburn, not Katherine Hepburn) is spelled “Gojira.” Gojira is known as a portmanteau word, combining two Japanese words: gorira (“gorilla”) and kujira (“whale”); thus godzilla, literally translated is, um, a gorilla-whale. Not exactly the type of creature that Darwin would have expected to find on the grand tree of evolution.
3. The inspiration for the original Godzilla came from an earlier science-fiction film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) , based on a short story of the same name by Ray Bradbury, featuring the dreaded Rhedosarus that — surprise — terrorizes New York City. The creature was designed and animated by Ray Harryhausen, who perfected stop-animation techniques (Harrybausen called it “Dynamation,” combining an animated and live action sequence using an optical printer) in the late 1950s. Akira Watanabe, the art director on Honda’s film that designed Godzilla, created a truly fantastic dinosaur cocktail — blending a T-rex, a Stegosaurus, an Iguanodon, with a splash of alligator, shaken not stirred so as to really piss off the creature.
4. Godzilla was originally conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons, evoking the horror and destruction of two atomic bombs that were dropped by U.S. B-29 bombers on Japan at the end of World War II. The first bomb, known as “Little Boy”, was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroying 90% of the city and killing more than 80,000 people in the blink of an eye. The bomb was carried by the Enola Gay, flanked by two observation planes, the Great Artiste and the Necessary Evil. The second bomb, known as “Fat Man”, was dropped by the bomber Bockscar on Nagasaki on August 9, killing more than 40,000 people. A few days later, at noon on August 15, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender, describing the atomic bomb as “a new and most cruel bomb.” Almost a decade later, another tragedy known as “the Lucky Dragon incident,” weighed heavily on the minds of the Japanese. On March 1, 1954 the U.S. detonated an atomic bomb (codenamed “Bravo”) on the tiny island of Bikini that had 1,300 times the power of Little Boy. When the bomb detonated, the fallout blew 100 miles east, exposing the 23 members of the crew of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (“No. 5 Lucky Dragon”), a Japanese fishing boat. All crews members suffered from radiation sickness. Although most recovered, the radio operator died.
5. The first film was immensely popular with the Japanese audiences. Honda, and the company that owns the rights to the character, Toho Co., Inc, knew they had a hit on their hands — long before the world of lucrative franchises became the mainstay of the film industry — and went on to cash in on 27 sequels in Japan, and 2 in America (1998 and 2014) — for a total of 30 Godzilla films. Now that’s a lot of gorilla-whale tearing up the planet! Today, websites abound that rate all of these remakes. Although there are fans and critics behind each remake, most would agree that some, like Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) for example, should never have been made.
For further reading: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godzilla