Godzilla's Legacy Survives His Creator

The man is gone, but the monster endures.Tomoyuki Tanaka, the producer of 200 films -- 22 of them starring Godzilla -- died this month at the age of 86. His contribution to popular culture, in Japan and world-wide, was immense. "If it hadn't been for the guiding hand of Tomoyuki Tanaka, there would be no Japanese monster movies," says August Ragone, editor of Henshin!, a 'zine devoted to the genre.As a big Godzilla fan myself, I have been thinking about Tanaka's life, and Godzilla's legacy. Tomoyuki Tanaka conceived of Godzilla as a giant dinosaur mutated by atomic testing, and gave the beast a spectacular 1954 film debut. After international box-office success, Tanaka produced not only the further adventures of the Big G, but also the screen exploits of Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah and many others. Yet despite the competition, Godzilla remains the most popular denizen of Monster Island.By now, almost everyone is familiar with some bit of lore from the legend: Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, The Son of Godzilla, or maybe King Kong vs. Godzilla. Many have considered the monster a stand-in for the horrors of the atomic age - -the H-bomb incarnate. Recently, academics have also taken up the idea of Godzilla as a gargantuan symbol of Japan itself, stomping across the new global economy.I've always considered the Big G to represent not just a specific twentieth century anxiety, but the fundamental force of "disaster." Godzilla is the chaos and destruction that wait to manifest themselves everywhere -- in nature, technology, war, the human heart. Such chaos can be frightening, but it can also be fun and exciting -- just like a Japanese monster movie.Some simply laugh these films off. They call the miniature cities "cardboard" and say that the King of the Monsters is nothing more than a man in a rubber suit. The new digital age of special effects means that audiences find it easier to laugh at old science fiction and horror movies than to respect them.The sight of a giant lizard rampaging through urban Japan is absurd, no doubt about it, but it can be sublime as well as silly. It takes intense creativity and single-mindedness to create giant monsters that travel to other worlds and devour cities. Tomoyuki Tanaka and his crew were dedicated to articulating the impossible. They strove to make the imaginary real.Godzilla's personal history is complicated. He's been a bad guy and a good guy, and has been slain and resurrected numerous times. His most recent film, "Godzilla vs. Destroyer," has him perishing in a bodily nuclear meltdown, a la "China Syndrome." Yet Godzilla, like Frankenstein and Dracula, belongs to the ranks of monsters who have truly become part of the collective unconscious, and cannot lie dead long.The Great One is slated to make a comeback in his first-ever wholly American film, currently shooting in New York. With a budget of $100 million, and slated for a summer 1998 release, this sure-to-be-revisionist take on Godzilla will be written, produced and directed by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, makers of "Independence Day."While I can't say that I completely welcome the idea of a Hollywood Godzilla movie with Matthew Broderick and Jada Pinkett for co-stars instead of Mothra and Rodan, I will relish the sight of a "real" monster rampaging again on the silver screen. Twisters, volcanoes and anacondas "au naturel" are no match for the fury of a good old-fashioned mutant dinosaur.

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