And the Godzilla journey begins…
I will admit, I’m not a lifelong Godzilla fan. I mean, growing up, giant monsters always seemed cool, but I was just more drawn to gore and slashers and stuff. I did have a Godzilla toy as a kid that I assume a relative got me as a gift some birthday, knowing I liked the scary stuff, and I used to check out the Crestwood Godzilla book from the elementary school library because monster books were way cooler than anything else on the shelves.
As an adult, the Godzilla films were always something kicking around in my head that I knew I wanted to get to at some point. But there was a lot; it seemed daunting. What really kicked my interest into overdrive was Kong: Skull Island, which I wrote about after seeing it in theater. I’ve watched KSI a number of times now and the themes I pulled from it are often bouncing around my brain. As importantly as the film itself, it set in motion two things that I’ve been obsessed with over the past year: the Vietnam War (another day) and giant monsters, especially Godzilla.
As of this writing, I’ve watched 1954’s Gojira and its American counterpart; Godzilla Raids Again (in Japanese and dubbed) and King Kong vs. Godzilla (dubbed, as the original Japanese version does not appear to be available in the US).
Watching the 1954 original ignited similar feelings that Skull Island did, just switch WWII for the Vietnam War. And of course, in 1954, the atomic blasts that ended WWII were a lot closer to the film’s home than the 40-years-after-the-fact Vietnam War setting of Kong. But you get the idea. In the original Gojira, without the threat of nuclear war, the monster, while still cool, would just be a monster. A lot of that film is just haunting. It’s fascinating to me that humans could confront the world-altering idea of the atomic and hydrogen bombs with rubber monster suits and model tanks so effectively and have that work and those themes still be relevant and powerful 64 years later.
I don’t know yet what’s in store for me in the monster films of the late 60s/early 70s. It seems the Godzilla franchise moved past the heavy handed anti-nukes propaganda the big guy was rooted in, but part of me would’ve liked to see the Kaiju answer to the Vietnam War, since at some point a nuclear end to that conflict had to have been entertained.
Taking our kids along for the ride
The cool part of this Godzilla journey is that we are on it with our kids—more specifically, our six-year-old son, as our four-year-old is not as into the movies yet, though he does love Godzooky from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. But I assume he’ll be monster-crazy in no time. We’ve introduced our kids to tons of stuff we grew up on, age appropriately. Monster Squad, Ghostbusters, etc. But this is something different. We’re dipping our toes into something that I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of and we are discovering things together.
Aside from watching the movies and cartoons, we’ve been reading comics and drawing the monsters. My son has drawn Godzilla sooo many times at this point. And Anguirus and Kumonga and Mothra and Mechagodzilla and so on.
And of course, the toy battles and action figure carnage.
As dark in tone the original Japanese film is, it’s so fun exploring this universe through the monster-loving eyes of a kid. His eyes light up poring over every DVD or Blu Ray we get, and he immediately puts marker to paper redrawing the cover or movie poster. In between watching movies, we watch clips for later movies in the franchise, and he goes wild seeing Mechagodzilla especially. Often these clips are either in Japanese or with no dialog, but he’s unfazed. He just loves the monster battles.
And on the other side of that, the darker, grim side of the Godzilla origin, I know the films, especially the 1954 original, will be a way to provide some kind of context when he’s learning about and processing the history of this world.
There have been times in my life that I kinda wished I hadn’t seen all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies or Halloween sequels a hundred times, so I could watch them with fresh eyes. An old franchise that I did not know by heart. And that’s what we’ve got in the Godzilla series. And I’m going to relish it for as long as I can.