Godzilla is one of the most immediately recognizable movie characters. Godzilla is one of the quintessential movie monsters. We’ve even used his name to describe kinds of things that are just over the top such as a “bridezilla.” But is Godzilla simply a spooky scary monster that terrorizes the town or is there something more behind the amphibious nuclear reptile?
Godzilla first appeared in the titular 1954 film complete with black and white picture and clunky latex costumes in the place of modern CGI. The film is considered by some to be a cinematic achievement as it was a Japanese film that gained incredible success in North America when the re-edit marketed towards the region was rereleased in 1956 under the new title “Godzilla: King of the Monsters!” I’m sure you can guess some of the editing choices in this Americanized version: monster destruction coupled with explosions. The basic run of the film involves Godzilla’s existence being detected by wrecked fishing boats as the creature becomes more and more upset about the civilization of man encroaching more and more into its domain. Godzilla makes his presence known in typical Godzilla fashion by big time destruction.
He uses seemingly human-ending power to wreak havoc, not to mention his gargantuan size. A scientist, Serizawa, proposes a new weapon to defeat Godzilla: a so-called “Oxygen Destroyer” that removes all oxygen from an area and causes anything in the area to suffocate. Serizawa does not wish to use the weapon for fear that the governments of the world will ask him to make more. He ends up creating the bomb but sacrificing himself with the bomb to both kill Godzilla and make sure the secret of the Oxygen Destroyer never gets out.
Now, doesn’t the Oxygen Destroyer sound like another weapon of mass destruction that would have only been less than 20 years old at the time of the film’s release? If it doesn’t sound similar to the nuclear bomb to you, then you should consider picking up a history book and refresh your memory. The moral of the story of Godzilla has always been about the development of the nuclear bomb. Godzilla represents destruction by nuclear weapons, a threat Japan knows all too well. Approximately 214,000 people died when the United States used their nuclear weapons on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Godzilla is a direct representation of this. A sudden threat with almost no warning. True, various cities in Japan were carpeted with leaflets in English about “imminent threat” but not widescale destruction like the atomic bomb. Godzilla obviously doesn’t warn people before he comes to wreck the town. The film’s expeditious transfer to the American market almost feels like a slap in the face to the Japanese people because the point of this film is to criticize American imperialism and nuclear testing, not cheap thrills and giant monsters.
To this day, Godzilla should be a reminder of the power nations hold when they wield potentially state-ending power like the nuclear bomb. It’s definitely not meant to be a shallow CGI brawl between giant beasts. It’s meant to be a warning about that incredibly destructive power that we as humanity so carelessly invented.