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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Classic Godzilla revisited

Monster icon: Kaida standing in front of a drawing of Godzilla at his exhibition in Tokyo. - AFP

Monster icon: Kaida standing in front of a drawing of Godzilla at his exhibition in Tokyo. - AFP

TOKYO: While a digitalised Holly­wood reboot stomps its way to box office success around the world, the original Godzilla – a man in a rubber suit – has hit screens in Japan again, as relevant as ever.

The 1954 classic, which spawned more than two dozen follow-ups, has been cleaned up for a two-week run in Tokyo to mark its 60th anniversary.

Despite the shaky sets and the all-too-obvious latex costumes, a new generation of movie-goers declared themselves impressed.

“I was really surprised to see a Tokyo that isn’t the current, neat Tokyo, but was just some 10 years after war, trampled again,” said Kenichi Takagi, 44, who took along his 10-year-old son.

Visuals and audio have been given a scrub to remove some of the speckles and pops that cinema-goers are now unused to experiencing, although there is no hiding the fact that the creature is really a heavily-sweating actor in a suit.

But the movie’s enduring popularity six decades on is testament to the continuing resonance of its themes of human helplessness in the face of forces that cannot be controlled.

Film studio Toho released Gojira –a Japanese portmanteau of “gorilla” and “kujira” (whale) – directed by Ishiro Honda, in November 1954, a few months after Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai.

The movie was a mega-hit, drawing 9.6 million viewers in the days before television sets were commonplace in Japanese households.

In the fictional world, the creature was awakened by a hydrogen bomb test, rising out of a roiling sea and swimming to Japan where it crushes Tokyo, a walking, radiation-breathing analogy for nuclear disaster.

The reference was clear: that same year the United States had carried out its hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, exposing a Japanese fishing boat to nuclear fallout, sickening the 23 crew and eventually killing the captain.

It was also less than a decade after Japan surrendered in World War II following the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

But while the creature stands emblematic of the way that humans have courted death by their tinkering, it is also the product of a country prone to natural disasters.

“We grew up thinking since our childhood that there are typhoons, earthquakes and other things that humans cannot control. It’s the same with Gojira,” said artist Yuji Kaida on the sidelines of a Tokyo exhibition of his paintings on Godzilla.

The point of the monster – and perhaps the reason why there are so many sequels – is that it can never really be defeated. Like other destructive forces of nature, people just have to watch it come and go, hoping to survive.

Sadamitsu Noji, 34, said he had been a fan of the creation for two decades, and sees it as a blank canvas onto which cinema-goers can project.

“Besides its underlying anger, Godzilla embraces various feelings ... Each viewer can see his own emotions in Godzilla,” he said. — AFP

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