Home
Feature
The Small Print
Faces & Places
The Goods
Travel
Tech Know
Sports
Cars & Bikes
Arts & Entertainment
Music
Japan Beat
Clubbing
Art
Stage
Books
The Agenda
Listings
TV
Movies
Dining Out
Sake
Wine
Tastemaker
Table Talk
Local Flavors
International Dining
Restaurant Review
Bar Review
Classifieds
Jobfinder
Horoscope
Mailbox
The Last Word
Photo of the Week
Archive
About Us
Subscribe
Search
Distribution Points






 PAST ISSUES
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By Steve Trautlein

The Meaning of Godzilla

For a generation of American kids, the monster from Japan opened up a whole new world

Steve Trautlein is the editor of Metropolis

When I was a boy growing up on Long Island in the 1970s, life was pretty good. The local elementary school was so close that I could walk there, and I had lots of friends. In summers, I rode my bike on streets that were safe and clean, yet New York City, where my dad worked, was only an hour away by train. I didn’t learn until later that Long Island was the butt of a lot of New Yorkers’ jokes, or that the name of a nearby village, Levittown, was synonymous with mindless suburban conformity. And to tell you the truth, when I found those things out, I didn’t really care.

Like most kids my age, watching TV was a big, and satisfying, part of my routine. Yet it’s hard now to imagine what television was like back then. One of our sets was black and white, and the other was a big console unit that must have weighed a hundred pounds. We had no remote control, no DVDs, not even cable—when there was a thunderstorm, reception from our rooftop antenna could get really bad. But because we lived so close to the big city, we had a choice of seven channels. We thought that was pretty lucky.

I enjoyed all kinds of TV shows, but horror and science fiction were my favorites. The Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker, Alfred Hitchcock Presents—these series would give me chills, much like Long Island’s harsh winters! And then there were the Saturday afternoon movies, especially low-budget ones from the ’50s whose very titles promised a goofy thrill: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Them!

But nothing captured my imagination, or the imagination of my friends, quite like Godzilla. Vicious and indestructible, this prehistoric lizard stomped people and leveled buildings—cool! Whenever I read in TV Guide that a Godzilla movie would be on, I knew where I’d be, and when. One local station had an afternoon show called The 4:30 Movie, and they’d occasionally devote five straight days to the big green monster from Japan. Hanging out with friends and watching “Godzilla Week” with the smell of dinner cooking in the kitchen—I think thousands of American men my age would agree that if life ever got better than that, it never really got much better.

Thirty years later, I sometimes wonder why this is so. What was the attraction with a cheesy monster in a fake rubber suit? Certainly the men who battled Godzilla in tanks and fighter jets seemed brave and heroic. And unlike homegrown American monsters such as King Kong, which were miniature models brought to herky-jerky life by stop-motion animation, Godzilla was a man in a costume whose movements were fluid and realistic. Maybe, too, as some critics argue, the movies tapped into our fears about the threat of nuclear war.

All of these explanations are no doubt true in their way. But what I found in Godzilla was something a lot less obvious, and, I think, a lot more hopeful.

This may sound strange, but monster movies gave me and my friends our first real glimpse of Japan. What we knew of the country before then was pretty stereotypical: delicate geishas and fearsome samurai, cheap transistor radios, and the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Godzilla films revealed something new and different. They showed us an unfamiliar land whose people didn’t look like anyone in our neighborhood or, judging by the bad dubbing, talk like us either. The movies’ depictions of day-to-day life, from furniture to food to clothing, struck us as unusual as well.

And yet in most other ways, the Japanese seemed pretty ordinary. In one scene in the original film, weary Tokyo commuters are riding on a train when Godzilla lurches across the tracks and destroys it. I remember thinking that no matter how remote Japan seemed, if there was a guy like my dad reading a paper on a train and looking forward to getting home to see his family, maybe this land of compact cars and strange-looking pagodas was, in a way, not so alien. I think Godzilla movies first drove home the idea that the similarities between people are a lot more important than their differences. And once that realization came alive within me, it led to a lifetime of curiosity, open-mindedness and travel.

The makers of the original Godzilla, it is said, had modest goals. Their idea of success would have been for the movie to turn a profit, or maybe lead to a sequel or two. Certainly they didn’t anticipate that their rubber monster would be such a hit. Or that it would inspire a thousand imitators. Or that it would awaken within one Long Island boy an appreciation of the mystery and possibilities of life.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

top