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‘Godzilla’ was a metaphor for Hiroshima, and Hollywood whitewashes it

When the monster Godzilla, or “Gojira” appeared in front of the Japanese film audience in 1954, many left theaters in tears.

The fictional creature, a giant dinosaur once undisturbed in the ocean, was depicted in the original film as being aggravated by a hydrogen bomb. Its heavily bare skin or scales were imagined to resemble the keloid scars of survivors of two atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. on Japan nine years ago to end World War II.

However, the American audience had the opposite reaction, finding comic value in what many interpreted as a devilish monster movie.

“Most Americans think if you left the movie in tears, it would be just because you laughed so much,”

; said William Tsutsui, author of “Godzilla in My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters,” NBC Asia America said.

The stark contrast reflects how Hollywood took the Japanese concept and disseminated it in its political message before presenting it to the American audience to deviate from the US decision to drop bombs, critics say.

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the U.S. outbreaks in Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki three days later, and while many Americans today think of the film as a near-camp relic of its time, it was thought in Japan to be a metaphor for diseases. atomic testing and the use of nuclear weapons, given what Japan endured after the bombing. The film served as a strong political statement, representative of the traumas and anxieties of the Japanese people in an era when censorship was widespread in Japan due to the US occupation of the country after the end of the war, Tsutsui said. The screen described what many could not say clearly.

“Japanese creative artists, filmmakers, novelists, etc. really could not talk about atomic bombing. It was a topic that could not be discussed. And the Japanese, too, were very determined to discuss this tragedy because it was so terrible, and because they felt a sense of guilt and shame about those events, “Tsutsui said. “But when the Japanese regained their independence and while the filmmakers were thinking about giant monsters, people started thinking about that connection between monstrosity and atomic bombs.”

In the original Japanese film, the creature was portrayed as a surviving dinosaur from the Jurassic Period, swimming around the South Pacific. Tsutsui describes the monster as “innocent as children on their playgrounds in Hiroshima.” After an American H-bomb test in the South Pacific, the creature was irradiated, hurt and angry.

“The reality is just this kind of resentment coming from someone, essentially innocent, who is so victimized and upset by this experience,” the researcher said.

For many Japanese viewers, watching the film was a cathartic experience, it proves, the researcher said. People were able to witness that Tokyo was being destroyed once again while without radiation given the physical shape of a monster. The end, though bitter, is a hope in which humanity triumphs over evil.

However, the American audience saw a different movie when it was brought as a state “Godzilla, King of Monsters!” approximately two years later, Tsutsui said. The film was heavily edited, placing white actor Raymond Burr at the center of the adaptation. The researcher noted that about 20 minutes of the original Japanese film, mostly politically charged parts, were cut from the American version.

“Godzilla, the king of monsters” starring Raymond Burr, in this 1956 horror.Universal History Archive / through Getty Images

Among the scenes of the axis was the one where passengers on a train make the connection between the bombing of Hiroshima and the attack of Godzilla, as well as the last weak line in the original where biology professor Dr. Yamane warns that if nuclear testing does not stop, another Godzilla may appear. Tsutsui stressed that the American version ended up on a sunny note, that the world was safe again and could return to normal.

Few of the original film’s intended message have been reverted to later adaptations. In the 1998 film Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick, for example, the creature was created from an atomic H-bomb test by the French, rather than the Americans, in Polynesia. In the Godzilla films released by production company Legendary, the monster is portrayed as a prehistoric dinosaur that has emerged from Earth and must be destroyed by a nuclear bomb, making it an “almost humanitarian gesture to save the world from monsters,” Tsutsui said.

The U.S. dynamic that wants to deny its traumatic history in Japan, he said, continues.

“It is still the case that they can not take to mind the nuclear issue and America’s guilt in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Tsutsui noted of the latest US adaptations.

When branches like the New York Times reviewed the film in 1956, it was described as “in the category of horror cinematic horror items, and it is very bad that a reputable theater should entice entertaining children and adults with such a fee.” ” The deliberate aesthetic choices the original filmmakers made on keloid-like creative impressions were even interpreted as low-budget Japanese filming with critics at the time comparing the monster to a “miniature chewing gum dinosaur” worth about 20 dollars toy buildings and electric trains. “

Hollywood eventually tried to sanitize the film and remove the blame from the bombs in the US, Tsutsui said.

“Certainly all the parts that were in any way, could be interpreted in any way as critical to the United States or atomic testing, were really damaged by the film,” Tsutsui said. “So the deep political meaning and much of the heart of the original ‘Godzilla’ was cut for the American audience.”

Kazu Watanabe, the film’s director at the Japanese Society, shared similar views, saying the U.S. adaptation contributed to the distorted, shocked views Americans had about Japan at the time.

“These ‘Godzilla’ films were not generally accepted in the same way – in Japan the early films were big-budget, big studio films featuring some famous stars, while in the US they were more like film “low-value Japanese monster B-movie at all with funny dubbing that nurtured in an orientalist sense of Japanese culture in general,” he said.

The way the film went through another layer of censorship before being presented to American audiences, Tsutsui explained, shows how sensitive people were to the inhuman dehumanization of atomic bombs.

“They worked hard to protect the American public from the truth that really the Americans who watched the film never had a chance to respond to it in a meaningful way.”

Gojira, aka: Godzilla, Japan, circa 1954, Photo by FilmPublicityArchive /)United Archives / through Getty Images

The original film was essentially a product of well-known monster films of the era and heavily influenced by events in Japan at the time, Tsutsui said. A manufacturer at Tomo Studios, Tanaka Tomoyuki, was inspired by the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in addition to what was known as the “Lucky Dragon No. 5 Incident” of March 1954, in which a Japanese fishing boat was thrown into the US H-Range testing the Bikini Atoll bombs. The crew on board was then irradiated, with one who died of radiation poisoning.

The manufacturer tore up the concept of a radiant monster rising from the ocean to attack men. The idea resonated with his superiors and they linked him to a highly respected Japanese director, Ishiro Honda, who was a pacifist and had a keen interest in making the film. Honda himself had fought in the war in China and after returning to his homeland passed through Hiroshima, leaving with a cold memory of the area.

“As the Americans did with many Japanese soldiers returning home, they had land in Hiroshima so the Japanese soldiers will see how completely Japan was defeated,” Tsutsui said. “It had a lasting impact on the horrors of what he saw, and he decided he had an opportunity with this film to deliver an important political message.”

Godzilla (aka ‘gojira’, poster, aka ‘GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS’), left left: Akihiko Hirata; man in the center: Fuyuki Murakami; as ‘Godzilla’: Harou Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka; lower left, lr: Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada, 1954.LMPC through Getty Images

Watanabe said that although Godzilla as a character has not retained the symbolism of nuclear war in the collective mind of the American public, the monster has evolved to represent Japanese pop culture as a whole, “not much different from Hello Kitty or Pikachu,” he said. . He added that he still sees a significant casual show up at the screening and screening of old “Godzilla” movies.

But this does not mean that the original, intended message of the creature is irrelevant. Watanabe said it is still a powerful sight, three-quarters of a century after two Japanese cities were destroyed by bombing.

“As long as nuclear weapons or nuclear energy exist, Godzilla will never be important,” Watanabe said. “Godzilla reminds us that we have the awesome power to create our own monsters and contribute to our destruction.”

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