Godzilla: A Metaphor for the Atomic Bomb

By: Jacob Hales

Godzilla is an iconic trademark of Japanese cinema and is one of the most beloved movie monsters of all time. Standing at over 350 feet tall and weighing over 164,000 tons, Godzilla was introduced in the film, Gojira, which loosely translates to Godzilla in 1954. The movie was directed by Ishiro Honda and cost $175,000 USD to produce. This would be the first of 29 films produced by TOHO Studios. However, the original 1954 film wasn’t meant to be a low-budget commercial film.

After the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fear of nuclear holocaust was extremely potent in the minds of the Japanese people. The fear of a nuclear attack is still very irrational for the Japanese. Tomoyuki Tanaka, the producer for the movie, wanted to create an anti-nuclear film including a monster. Tanaka then applied the characteristics of an atom bomb to a creature, named Gojira. The name Gojira was a combination of the Japanese words gorira (meaning gorilla) and kujira (meaning whale). Godzilla would take on several transformations before becoming the giant monster we all know and love. The final design was made in 1953, showcasing the dorsal spines on the creatures back. Production on the film began in the early months of 1954.

The film’s narrative delved into the effects of nuclear fallout caused by the creature and even portrayed the fear conceived in the minds of the Japanese people. In the film, Godzilla leaks radioactive gunk and spews atomic fire from his mouth similar to the radiation and fire that comes from a nuclear bomb explosion. According to the producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka,”If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.” This mentality became a standard for future Godzilla films to come.

There were many complications whilst filming this cinematic masterpiece; the suit actor, Haruo Nakajima, often fainted due to heat exhaustion in the large 150 pound rubber suit. The temperatures in the suit would reach close to 120 degrees. Funds were also extremely low due to the American occupation of Japan. Finally after 51 days of filming in the TOHO Studios back lot, Godzilla was finished. It was released on November 21st, 1954 and received massive critical acclaim. Despite this, western audiences didn’t quite understand the film’s hidden meaning. In 1956, the film was dubbed and clipped for American audiences. Jewell Enterprises added scenes with actor Raymond Burr as a reporter in Tokyo documenting the disaster and the film was renamed to: Godzilla— King of the Monsters.

Over the next 60 years, more than 29 Godzilla films were released not including the other Kaiju film’s, or Japanese monster flicks, released in response to the 1954 hit. During the first few months of production it was apparent that “the theme of the film was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.” So Godzilla isn’t just a fire-breathing monster, it’s a metaphor for the extreme pain and suffering in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. The Japanese were obviously mentally scarred by this travesty in order to have to feel the need to tell western audiences what it was like. So is there something to learn about this Japanese science fiction drama? Is it possible that Godzilla was a cry for help? After all, the film was mainly released to Western audiences, so not many understood it’s hidden meaning of nuclear travesty.

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