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What is Godzilla?

by Tim Seltzer,

Born in a time when competing movie monsters were just magnified insects, what is it about Godzilla that has given him a cult following? What has made Godzilla, first called Gojira, grow to become known in both America and Japan as the King of Monsters?

The original Gojira was a radioactive lizard trying to destroy humanity. He was then dissolved in a weird foam in his first movie by humanity, destroyed like all the other monsters we've come to know from that time period of cinema. Yet, he came back for more movies. Movie after movie, the huge demon's size and manner seemed to change. His strengths, intelligence, weaknesses, and some of his abilities were subject to change as well. Sometimes being as smart as a human, communicating with other monsters, other times being animalistically smart. From hero to villian to hero in movies that seemed to barely keep anything straight. In one movie he breathed his signature bad breath to destroy what remained of Tokyo after appearing to fight a monster even more bent in tearing the city apart as a joke to consistant fans about his inconsistancies. Sometimes the reason he can fight armies is because of a hard carpace, other times because of some hyper-healing ability. Not even his blood can stay the same, sometimes green when he bleeds. Other times, red like everything else.

Now, Superman became sort of legendary because of his weakness, kryptonite, yet Godzilla's weaknesses seem to bounce all over the place. The globally known icon has been shown in some movies as weak to elecricity, othertimes immune, and even others he absorbs it. A second brain in his spine was yet another weakness, and after it was destroyed, he still kept going. One movie even goes as far as saying he has soft spots under each armpit! Now, if American characters and creatures can't get big audiences without being weak to something, what makes Godzilla an exception to the rule?

Now, I've seen the American attempt to remake the Godzilla phenom in an ever changing world. Has him go into New York and cause general chaos. But something just didn't fly, didn't make me think that this 'was' in any way related to the large demon that I've seen in cheaper looking movies, with terrible dub jobs. It somehow didn't feel 'right', even though I thought that the movie did have some excellent things going for it. Was it the fact that he moved like a raptor, or the fact that he ran from a human army? Was it how he managed to destroy a submarine with his rear scales, yet could still gain injuries from conventional weapons like auto-guns? Or was it the way he died at the end, tangled in suspention wire and killed with a grand total of six missiles? In fact, the take that my dad said he had was that this was a 'similar' monster that looked like Godzilla, and was aptly named. Kind of like if the world saw a large ape we'd probably call it King Kong, and know it wasn't the original.

Either way, no matter how the American version made me feel, I still was surprised by the reaction around the world. What? Critics on both sides of the Pacific are screaming about how bad it was? Toho, the man that appears to have created Gojira, was claiming that every bit of advice he gave was soundly ignored? The movie is called a failure despite having a multi-million dollar profit? All deals of sequels to it were promptly sent to the paper-shredder? As much as that version may not have been a 'pure' godzilla, I just couldn't see it disapearing, never to be seen again. And guess what, it wasn't left to rot despite its unpopularity. New York's own Godzilla 'did' appear in another movie, called "Godzilla: Final Wars". Toho placed it in a scene where it went one-on-one with yet ANOTHER version of the King, and it lasted at most ten seconds before dying to the ever famous blue stream of death we all know as Godzilla's. The New York version was renamed 'Gino' officially, others call it 'Zilla' because "it took the 'God' out of Godzilla". In the hearts of the world, that particular face of the non-constistant demon is to be forever known as what Toho called it, "A good for nothing, tuna eating T-Rex on steriods, unworthy of taking that great name." 'That great name': Godzilla.

It's totally insane, really. Toho had named it Gojira in the first place, why complain about taking the 'God out of Godzilla' when HIS name for it changed. In kanji, it meant something different. A combination of the kanji gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale), making a compound word that means 'whale sized gorilla'. Some bad translaters and dub people in America called it Godzilla in a misreading of kanji in the original's transfer to the U.S.A. Now, can you blame the people who did the translation of the name at the time? The kanji was so complicated, they put it in three separate symbols, two of which looked like they had over seventeen lines of varying sizes. One small line could change a word's meaning and pronounciation all together. So, they probably tried to get the basic parts of the sound, and we still have the _o_i_a. Give them credit, no internet back then, all they had were reference books that might have held even worse mistakes. Well, word got back to Japan about the name's alteration. Most people would have screamed at the change of name. From something that meant whale sized gorilla, implying strength beyond our comprehention, to Godzilla? Something that was just putting putting the word god before a generic lizard sounding name? Toho LOVED it, and exclaimed the combined characters meant 'give you net' somehow. He only called it Gojira because he thought it sounded cool, and thanked the bungling Americans for misreading the kanji! So, unlike Rocky, Sephiroth, and Frankenstein, this legend's name was one big mistake that the creator loved the sound of.

Godzilla's track record is enough to make your jaw drop. Over twenty-eight movies, spaning from the original in 1954, to Toho trying to reinvent yet keep it true to older versions in 2004. Now, the evolution of Godzilla was an interesting thing to see. Yet, despite all the knowlege I have of the King, I don't know what 'defines' him.

A sort of kiddy version of him, in what is called the Showa series, began the concept of him fighting other monsters. The creatures he fought and beat all were unique, and unlike so many other movies, they never became total repeats of eachother or entirely predictable. Angurous, King Kong, the Thing, and Mothra all fell to the champion before the kiddy directors gave him human intellect, and made him a good guy fighting all the demons that came his way. Some of his enemies became allies, and you saw humanity's fate decided by non-human giants. Ebirah, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Hedorah, Gigan, and Megalon made appearances, each falling to the now heroic atomic beast of Tokyo. Some were somewhat mundane and weak, others were bizzare and left you wondering if Godzilla would survive. To continue with the insanity of pleasing kids world-wide, they gave Godzilla a son named Minya, and had him fight Mechagodzilla, a mechanical copy of the phenom. It didn't matter if he was fighting King Ghidorah a few movies after killing him, this group of movies was meant to please the kiddies. And pleased they were. Yet after beating his machine self, Godzilla went into the sunset, becoming dormant in the sea for ten years.

But he does come back, in a series of movies called Heisei. This series ignores the events in all but the original, and claims this Godzilla is sent from the future by terrorists. Fighting monster after monster, and dealing with humanity trying to slay him, the King leaves a path of destruction and fire in his path. Then, he fights a monster made of the foam that killed the first Godzilla. After a harsh, long battle, Godzilla destroys this monster. Yet the movie doesn't end there, the creature had done something to make Godzilla's radioactive inners become too much for him to hold inside. Dying of a nuclear meltdown, the King of Monsters was left to rest in peace...but there was a legacy. A similar creature that the big guy took as a son absorbed the residue radiation, and it began to grow, almost like it was maturing. The series ends with a new Godzilla roaring at the sky, and leaving things open to question. There are, of course, more series, but they just seem a little too difficult to describe.

Which brings me back to my origional question: what is it that makes Godzilla what he is? Not the personality, that's one of the most commonly changed things about him. It's not the roar, either. New York's Godzilla had the exact same roar as all the others, and look what happened to him! Is it implication that he's a part of nature, not always beleiving that humanity is more than a pest? Or his sheer power, and reluctance to retreat even under the most dangerious cercomstances?

What is Godzilla? What makes him the immortal icon? What has made him the King of Monsters to some, and King of Kings to others? I've exhausted my own ideas on what gave this lizard his world wide fame, and leave the rest to whoever reads this.

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