Godzilla’s Rampage of Change
Citizens hear the siren of an attack, and fear strikes them instantly. They take cover as they feel the ground shake once, then again, getting louder each time. Buildings erupt into flames from a gigantic monster breathing pure radiation onto the populace. The style of Godzilla movies did not stay as serious as the first one becoming goofy or action oriented. Godzilla himself hasn’t exactly fit into the most consistent of character archetypes because of this. Starting as “a clear homage to the suffering brought about by the atomic bombing of Japan,” Godzilla then became “a hero saving the world from other monsters and evil alien invaders…”(Shannon 3; Rolfe). The evolution of Godzilla has taken the character from a destructive force of nature to a protector of the Earth and back again over 3 series, 60 years and 30 movies to date.
When Godzilla was originally created, he was an allegory for the horrors of war and the destruction wrought by the advent of nuclear weapons. In Gojira, the somber mood and depressing imagery mirror the after math of the atomic bomb attacks. The film was a response to “Japanese society [being] so restricted by censorship after [WWII] that it was not until after the Allied occupation ended that any windows opened for anti-nuclear expression…”(Shannon 2). The more serious approach taken with the movie made it popular among fans of the giant monster genre. The film’s success called for sequels. Instantly, the down to earth and serious tone of the monster was gone. Like going from Olympic wrestling in ancient Greece to a WWE King of the Ring match, the next few movies in the first series turned into an all-out monster brawl full of fun, but they were devoid of any deeper meaning or symbolism seen in the first film. The next six movies were hit and miss but stayed popular and kept bringing in money. With the formula of giant monsters slugging it out on screen, Godzilla started to appeal to the younger crowds of Japan, so the King of the Monsters again evolved into a protector of the Earth. The movies did try to send a message usually boiling the themes down to teaching children right from wrong. Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a strange movie about pollution and keeping the Earth clean while including LSD inspired moments; furthermore, Godzilla fights a giant poo monster spawned from the pollution. Instead of the “folly of man” as a message, Godzilla was pointing his finger, telling children to “don’t pollute, give a hoot” or “stand up against bullies.” Godzilla even becomes a father, the most consistent trait of all three series. After five movies of the “kid friendly” Godzilla, the series did eventually gear away from just for children, becoming more violent and adult oriented but never removing the heroics of Godzilla. In 1975, Toho, the production company responsible for Godzilla, decided it was time for a rest for their flagship monster and stopped making Godzilla movies for a while.
Nine years passed, and the second series of Godzilla started. Toho chose to revamp Godzilla’s image, moving away from the goofy hero and return him to a force to be reckoned with. Ignoring all previous movies except the original, the second series starts with Godzilla running amok destroying cities again. As the series progresses, more and more monsters are added to the fight, continuing the monster brawl formula. The other monsters were either good or more of a threat to the planet; consequently, Godzilla comes off as more of an anti-hero. He still decimates cities, but when he fights another monster, (a majority of the time) it ends up being for the good of the planet or with Godzilla as the lesser of two evils. Take for example Godzilla vs. King Gidorah in which travelers from the future comeback to the present, promising to help defeat Godzilla for unknown reasons. These travelers have an ulterior motive of replacing Godzilla with a monster they control, King Gidorah, to take over the world in the past to control the future. The Japanese government uses a nuclear submarine to create a new Godzilla to fight back. Once King Gidorah is defeated, Godzilla goes on an unstoppable rampage. Ironically, to fight Godzilla, the humans turn King Gidorah into Mecha-King Gidorah, a cyborg version of the monster. In the span of one movie, Godzilla was the villain then the savior and back to the villain. The trend for the seven movies in the 80s and 90s is Godzilla will save the day, but he will also destroy everything in the process.
In the third series of movies, Toho took the King of the Monsters back to his roots of unbridled destruction. Godzilla was re-imagined a few times in this series, ignoring all previous movie continuities, even within the series itself. Each revamp kept one thing in common though, that Godzilla stayed the villain of the movie and needed to be stopped at all costs. So much is used to stop Godzilla, from a satellite that shoots black holes to other monsters teaming up to a giant mechanized monster built around the bones of the original Godzilla to fight the new incarnation. Anything and everything is used to fight the menace of the newer, bigger and badder Godzilla who “[is] almost like the killer in a slasher flick walking around nice and slow, butchering everyone in his path”(Rolfe). Godzilla in the third series is not only the most powerful but also undoubtedly a villain. He has come very far from the hero of Earth archetype he was in the first series and losing most of his anti-hero traits from the second series. The best proof of this change is Godzilla, Mothra and King Gidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. In this movie, Godzilla is an un-natural monster who can only bring destruction because his creation is from the atomic bombs and death. The three guardian monsters, Mothra, King Gidorah (previously a villain), and Baragon, along with the military throw all they have at Godzilla to stop his rampant destruction. Godzilla’s only objective in this movie, along with most of the series, is only to kill and annihilate. He became a massive threat to humanity in the third series, up until the last movie.
Godzilla has definitely changed over the decades. He started as an allegory for nuclear war and then ironically became a hero to the planet. After that, Godzilla was an anti-hero causing destruction for the greater good and finally fell back into devastation personified. Most of the time a character will not drastically change personality; however, Godzilla does not only change over a few years but can develop over the course of a movie. People wouldn’t expect much development from a giant lizard who destroys cities. With the release of a fourth series, there is a new chance for Godzilla to add more development to his character’s repertoire seeming to almost become a hero again protecting us from whatever may come; we’ll need to watch and find out.
“Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness: Godzilla-thon: Promo.” cinemassacre.com. James Rolfe. 1 October 2008. Web. 29 September 2014.
“Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness: Godzilla-thon: Godzilla: Final Wars.” cinemassacre.com. James Rolfe. 31 October 2008. Web. 29 September 2014.
Stevens, Shannon Victoria. “The Rhetorical Signifigance of Godjira.” Diss. University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 1993. Print.