All things Godzilla

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4 a.m., March 1, 1954. Dawn comes hours early to the crew of the Lucky Dragon. It cracks the night sky in a panoramic flash of lightning, monstrously roaring like a thousand lions. It comes from the west, in more ways than one. This bizarro dawn brings a fog of darkness. A strange white snow of ash sifts down on the fishermen and their ship’s deck as they struggle to haul in their nets. They turn their vessel toward home, Japan, away from Bikini atoll.

Days later, they dock, the skin of their hands and necks reddened and blistered, faces leaden: It’s a 15-megaton tan. The crewmen have been exposed to the radioactive fallout of U.S. Operation Castle’s Bravo Test, an H-bomb blast. Months later, an unlucky celluloid dragon, a product of U.S. nuclear weapons testing, rises from the sea. It’s not the birth of Venus, but the birth of Mars. Gojira’s (1954) roar is heard from Japanese movie theaters around the world, reaching America’s shores two years later in Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956).

It doesn’t take 1-800-WHO’S-THE-DADDY to track down Godzilla’s sire. Though President “Give ’em Hell” Harry Truman ordered the A-bomb hit on Japan (fulfilled at Hiroshima and Nagasaki), he passed the radioactive baton of peacetime nuke testing to President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower. Bravo Test was on his watch, making him the absentee Ward to the monster’s bastard Beaver.

The momma? War-raped Japan. Let’s put ourselves in her irradiated army boots. Imagine that some conquering Grinch in General MacArthur’s clothing lands on our shores and steals the Christmas of our land’s militarism. He forces our emperor, the son of the Sun Goddess, to divest himself of his divinity as if it were new clothes. All our shiny bullets, bombs and guns are taken away. We can no longer play any war games. Our unborn national inner child witnesses our fatherland’s military castration and religious beheading while locked in the closet hot zone of Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s Geiger counter-rattling traumas.

Imagine being nuclearly twice bitten and twice shy, and our gargantuan neighbor has one of the biggest atomic dogs on the block. And it’s pitted in a Cold War against its match on the other side of the pond, both ready to be unleashed by cowboys in the White House and the Kremlin. We’re sick to death with an A-bomb hangover and the “hair of the dog” of the Bravo Test just makes us sicker, a seed which fertilizes the rotten egg of our radioactive fear.

Congenital rage in equal and opposite reaction to that fear erupts in glowing dorsal spines through skin charred thick, tough and indestructible by gamma rays, in the screams of a nation and exhalations of nuclear fire. It’s November 3, 1954. Our national inner child is born in black and white. Happy birthday, Godzilla.

Do we Americans love Godzilla as an unrecognized war baby? I doubt it. The connection may be closer, more immediate. Some fin-de-millennial angst seems to have stolen our Christmas. We have seen through the sheer vestments of presidential honesty, athletic ethics and clerical morality. Many of our heroes seem to stumble on feet of clay like someone’s old man on a weekend bender unable to play the role of model. Shiny bullets tear through the flesh and bones of our children — some fired from guns in the hands of other children — while Second Amendment supporters rally in fear that their rights to bear arms will be taken away.

The Russian bear totters, seriously ill. Its ICBMs rust in its mouth like radioactive rotten teeth. It’s no longer up to playing Indian to our cowboy. Our national inner child’s angst erupts in a hail of bullets at Columbine and screams through every fire-breathing, boot camp-bound brat on “Maury” or “Sally.” It could throw a tantrum that could level Tokyo. Or at least a federal building.

But the archetype of Godzilla is bigger than Japan or America. The king of the monsters finds its fictional pedigree in the damned creations of mad doctors Frankenstein and Jekyll. The roots of all man-made monsters plunge deeper still into the soil of classical myth. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. In payback, the gods sent Pandora down as a bride, her hope chest jammed full with all the miseries of humanity unleashed on her honeymoon. Godzilla’s egg was in that box.

The moral is one that aboriginal peoples have been trying to tell us for hundreds of years. We’ve reduced it to a punch line: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Enrico Fermi tried and became a real, latter-day Prometheus producing artificial radioactivity in 1934. Robert Oppenheimer followed suit, helming the Manhattan Project which built the real Pandora’s box, the atom bomb. Truman dropped it on Japan.

The detonations of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” over Hiroshima and Nagasaki echo in the gargantuan Japanese funeral drums of Godzilla’s footsteps. He is Pandora’s box, but like a 300-ft. Jesus of the Sword in dinosaur’s clothing, he always ironically manages to be our savior as well. Perhaps in our existential abandonment, our suffering and our triumph, “... there’s a little Godzilla in all of us.”

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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