Remember those silly Godzilla movies that came out of post war Japan? The Godzilla monster was loveably menacing, played by some guy in a rubber suit thrashing around in a cardboard Tokyo. What was not to love?
These movies originated when the words ‘Made in Japan’ were a joke. Japanese industry was struggling to rebuild from the ravages of war. This was long before it became the industrial colossus it is today.
These movies were the source of numerous jokes about people speaking out of sync. We kids had many laughs trying to talk ‘out of sync’. It was only later that I understood how that happened.
Godzilla movies were always on Saturday morning TV. But I don’t think I ever saw one from beginning to end until I worked on Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” in 1997. It was a hoot. But it wasn’t a very good movie.
As monstrous as the traditional Japanese Godzilla monsters always were, the audience also loved them. Emmerich’s Godzilla was nasty and unsympathetic. His German sensibilities took a Japanese wood block print and ‘perfected’ it into a relentless killing machine. He took what was in a sense, the spirit of post-war Japan, and transformed it into the spirit of pre-war Germany.
Emmerich missed one of the most attractive themes of the whole franchise, that the audience identifies, for whatever reason, with Godzilla more than with the two-dimensional human characters occasionally populating the landscape.
Then in 1999, I got the chance to work on a Japanese production of “Godzilla 2000”. It was a joy to work on.
Whatever its perceived flaws, it held true to the classic Godzilla movies with cheesy optical effects, out of sync dialogue (which we tried to fix), and a deliciously suitable nemesis monster, Orga. This monster made it even easier to root for Godzilla who becomes the preferred monster, the monster ‘savior’ who saves, but who also must be destroyed.
Godzilla was never as ‘cuddly’ as King Kong but he held the same space in our collective unconscious, that untamable, demanding id, a dark side from which wells our creative energies.
Godzilla was dangerous and destructive, but Godzilla was ‘our monster,’ not some grotesque, shape shifting thing from outer space. He might wreak havoc all he wanted, but Godzilla would be damned if he would share his playground with some interloper.
An added perk to working on this was, I employed my six-year-old daughter, Natalia. For reasons I’ll never understand, she could produce an otherworldly roar out of her pint-sized body. We recorded her demonic vocalizing for use in the movie.
After the recording session, Natalia came out to the lobby where a couple of twenty-something wannabe ‘starlets’ were passing the time. They looked with amusement at my daughter and asked dismissively why she was there.
Natalia stated confidently that she had just recorded growls and roars for the monster. Barely suppressing yawns they said, “Really? Can you roar for us?” My daughter agreed. These girls had no idea what they were in for.
Natalia planted her feet and let out a sustained roar that had these two twerps crawling over the back of the couch and looking for cover. People came out of their offices to ensure everyone was safe. Natalia smiled demurely and accepted their thanks.
I always said Natalia was a force of nature. These two really felt that force. If you ever see “Godzilla 2000,” every sound from Orga, came from my daughter Natalia.
One of my co-editors, Nick has a son whose birthday fell near the date of the movie’s premier. He invited my kids and me to their Godzilla themed birthday party. His wife, Yoko, who is Japanese, made a piñata in the shape of Godzilla for the party.
I looked forward to seeing all the kids at the party tear into the piñata and give Godzilla his just desserts.
Each kid took his turn wailing on it with a broom handle, but no one could make a dent in this monster piñata. It was odd.
Refusing defeat by a candy filled toy, the men at the party each took their turns. Nothing. Nick produced a baseball bat. Nothing we did made a difference. We sat, exhausted and sweating, vanquished by this piñata from hell.
How could this be? Godzilla left us all physically spent while remaining undamaged. No one could make sense out of it. Piñatas are usually made of papier-mâché, and will disintegrate after a few well-placed blows.
But not this Godzilla piñata. This piñata, like its namesake, was indestructible.
On investigation, we found that Yoko, wanting the very best Godzilla piñata, applied generous amounts of duct tape to the inner structure of the shell. A chain saw wouldn’t have taken this piñata out.
Yoko applied an enduring truth in her design of the Godzilla piñata. Even in the movies, Godzilla might be defeated, but he never really dies. Everyone knows you can’t kill Godzilla. He will always return. And he’s not all bad.
As one of the characters notes in “Godzilla 2000”, with mixed emotions of awe and terror, “There is a piece of Godzilla in all of us.”
I hope so.