The other night, adrift in the Sargasso Sea of digital cable (a pox upon my checking account) I encountered – for the second time in a week – a fairly recent Godzilla movie. I had for years assumed that Godzilla, like the Beatles, Twiggy and Barry Goldwater had remained locked in the 1960’s, never growing old, always the young, brash monster of his youth. Unbeknownst to me, everyone’s favorite radioactive dinosaur (?) had, like Bob Dylan before him, continued on into old age, weakening the impact of his early “important” work with a string of ill-conceived returns….
The “film” that I encountered was 1995s ‘Godzilla vs. Destoroyah’ (released in Japan as Gojira vs. Desutoroia…the strange Anglicization no doubt the work of some Hong Kong video box auteur).
My wife had already fallen asleep, so I left it on.
First off, the basic plot structure has not changed. Godzilla’s earthly reign is interrupted by some upstart from space/beneath the sea/inside the earth, who is eventually defeated by Godzilla after a long fight in which Godzilla seems to be on the verge of losing several times – exactly like any professional wrestling match. We get to root for Godzilla as he(she?) battles back from the brink of almost certain disaster , saving the world (or at least Japan) once again ( or do we????).
Unfortunately, after about five minutes I realized that something HAD changed….Godzilla movies – always known for being incredibly cheap and cheesy – have gotten CHEAPER and CHEESIER! In the fifty years since Toho started making Godzilla and Godzilla-esque monster fare, Godzilla who started out as a man inside a rubber suit trampling cardboard cities, is still a man inside a rubber suit – and it’s not even a good one.
It doesn’t help that his opponents – never terribly realistic in the first place – have gotten less believable. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know, “What’s believable about a giant turtle that flies by shooting jets of flame out of his leg holes?”. Well, nothing really. But at least you could look at it and say, “Hey…that’s some big turtle - or pterodactyl (Rodan) – or three-headed space dragon (Ghidora) or moth (Mothra*).”
Destoroyah looks like a dinosaur that fell into an atomic junkyard – all superfluous glowing horns, bat wings and an extra jaw “borrowed” from the monster in ‘Alien’. It’s like the kind of thing a 5th grader with an active imagination draws in his notebook while not paying attention to his teacher. “Hmmmmm…” he thinks to himself. “Maybe if his tusks shoot atom rays….”. Someone once described Arnold Schwarzenegger as looking like a condom stuffed with walnuts. Destoroyah looks like that same condom stuffed with walnuts, barbed wire, car parts, tacks and bug-eyed Vegas has-been (never-was?) Charlie Callas.
Adding insult to injury, Godzilla loses to this insane crap-heap, and DIES (though his place is taken immediately by Godzilla Jr. – a path of succession set by the Japanese Constitution ) but manages to rise from the dead a few years later for “Godzilla Millenium 2000”
This same technical awfulness was on display in “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth” and I’m sure in every one of the 7 other Godzilla movies made since 1992.
My gut reaction was to assume that this was kitsch; The Japanese meant for the monsters to look like crap…but I don’t think that’s the case. The Japanese have a knack for digesting American pop culture and spitting it back up in strange new meta-configurations, but Godzilla was theirs to start with.
It may be that Toho have figured out that the bulk of Godzilla-abilia sold in the US is purchased by grown men that still live in their Mom’s basements (who are probably the main audience for the US releases of these films), but I doubt that there are enough of those guys to generate enough commerce to keep the franchise alive).
Basement dwelling Godzilla lover
Is it that these movies are aimed exclusively at kids? In a culture where kids are enamored of faster, fancier special effects – and have their own HUGE share of the Japanese entertainment market with your Pokemons and the Yugi-Ohs and whatnot - probably not.
Is it some kind of nostalgia that only the Japanese can understand, doomed to be puzzled about and misinterpreted by people like me? Could be, rabbit…
Somebody help…I’m losing a lot of sleep over this.
*RE:Mothra…can someone explain to me if Japanese moths are somehow more threatening than the kind we have, and if not, how did they become monsters??