But the much-anticipated return of Japan's most famous and
beloved monster, 60 years and 28 movies after he first rose from
the depths following a hydrogen bomb test, has been filmed not
in the land of his birth but in the United States - and analysts
say there is a chance he may never go back to his homeland.
For in the wake of the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years,
when a tsunami tore through the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
and touched off meltdowns that spewed radiation over a wide
swathe of countryside, Godzilla and his traditional anti-nuclear
subtext may simply be too touchy a subject for any Japanese film
maker to handle.
"Godzilla gains his strength from nuclear power and he spews
radiation everywhere," said Toshio Takahashi, a literature
professor at Tokyo's Waseda University. "If Godzilla appeared
(in Japan) now, he'd ultimately force people to ask themselves
hard questions about Fukushima."
The nuclear disaster at the plant 220 km (130 miles) northeast
of Tokyo is a sensitive subject in Japan. Directors making
mass-market films about Fukushima tiptoe into the debate or set
their movies in an unspecified future. Sponsors are skittish and
overall film revenues falling, with viewers shying away from
anything too political.
Things were different when Godzilla first crashed ashore in
1954, a symbol of both atomic weapons - less than a decade after
Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and frustrations with the United
States, which had just held a hydrogen bomb test at Bikini atoll
that irradiated a boat full of Japanese fishermen.
The high-powered reboot of Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards
and out in U.S. theaters from Friday from Warner Bros Pictures
and Legendary Pictures, features stars including Juliette
Binoche and Ken Watanabe.
It gives a nod to Fukushima with a tsunami - set off by monsters
- hitting Hawaii, and a no-go zone in Japan after a nuclear
accident years before. But much of the story, and most of the
destruction, takes place in the United States, far from
"GODZILLA EQUALS RADIATION"
Japan's March 11, 2011, natural and nuclear disaster killed
nearly 20,000 people and forced some 160,000 people to evacuate,
with tens of thousands unable to return. The plant still battles
radioactive water and decommissioning is expected to take
decades and cost billions of dollars.
"You can basically think of Godzilla equal ling radiation. It's
something that can't be solved by human strength or power, and
it attacks," said film critic Yuichi Maeda.
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"The reactors currently can't be made normal by humans if there's an
accident. It's the same with Godzilla."
Sixty years ago, the black-and-white version of the towering,
dinosaur-like creature - his name combines "gorilla" and the
Japanese word for whale - packed viewers into theaters.
"That year was also when Japan was starting to debate the peaceful
use of nuclear energy," said Takahashi. "So the movie expressed
fears about nuclear power as well as weapons."
The nuclear theme was a constant through the Cold War, although
Godzilla, who remained a man in a rubber suit stomping through model
cities - a touch that humanized him to many - gradually lost his
edge and took on a more cuddly tone.
His radioactive connections were blurred in the last few films
before film company Toho ended the series, Takahashi noted, perhaps
because of a series of accidents at Japanese nuclear facilities
around then, including a 1999 criticality accident set off by
workers mixing compounds that killed two.
A U.S. version of Godzilla in 1998 was widely panned. Early reviews
of the new film are mixed, with many in Japan saying the monster
looks "fat". It opens in Japan in late July, timed to hit school
A Toho spokesman said the company abandoned the franchise in 2004 on
its 50th anniversary because the timing was right, and that no
decision has been made about future revivals in Japan.
"The current movie has a message that is a warning from nature about
things mankind has done," he said. "We have to see how people
respond, including those who experienced Fukushima."
Takahashi says that Godzilla's longevity shows there is something
far deeper at work than the usual monster movie.
"Godzilla shows us that we must return to our dark past and then
accept it," he said. "His purpose is to make us question ourselves.
So I think we need to still walk with him a little more, especially
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by William Mallard and Nick
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