When you hear the name Godzilla, you probably think about that crazy huge lizard thing destroying cities and thinking it was such a cool monster. However, when you dive in deeper to see exactly why Godzilla was created, you would find that his origin story is based on tragic events in history. If you know anything about history, there is a very high chance that you know about the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. It was these bombs being dropped and its effect on Japan that caused director Ishirô Honda to create the movie Godzilla, which was the first time the creature made an appearance to the public. Not only did the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki serve as a cause of the creation of Godzilla, the (not so well known) incident involving The Lucky Dragon contributed as well (and will be explained in detail later in the reading). There is a deeper meaning to Godzilla, he is not just an awesome, destructive monster we see in movies and think is a bad-ass. Godzilla meant something much more to the Japanese. He was a symbol for their past misfortunes. How exactly? I’m glad you asked.
The Lucky Dragon incident is in fact alluded to in the opening scenes of Honda’s 1954 Godzilla film. The opening scene features a boat filled with men, enjoying their time when a light flashes in the water and the ocean seems to “explode”. When the men on the ship first noticed this bright white light in the ocean, they jumped up and peered out towards it and jumped back blinded by the light and their boat goes up in flames. This, according to Steve Ryfle in his article “Godzilla’s Footprint”, “was an unmistakable reference to The Lucky Dragon.” The Lucky Dragon incident, in summary, was when a Japanese fishing boat sailed too close to an area where the United States was testing H-bombs. Which then led to much controversy because many of the crew got sick from radiation and died when they returned home from the voyage. The story behind what happened to The Lucky Dragon is actually infected with many bad omens when analyzing it in hindsight. Its voyage began on January 22, 1954, from the port of Yaizu. The first bad sign of the voyage appeared even before the boat departed when the owner of the boat changed the original fishing area of choice, which angered the crew and made the voyage longer and tougher. Then, another bad turn of events happened when they had to make an emergency stop, but then they ran aground and could not depart until high tide. The parallels of the real events and the events of the movie begin to be seen when one of The Lucky Dragon’s radiomen warned the captain to stay away from a place called Bikini Atoll because he knew the United States conducted atomic bomb tests there after the war. However, the last tests done in that area took place eight years prior. So, the captain kept going on his route. Then, on March 1, 1954, America detonated a 15-megaton H-bomb at Bikini Atoll. This is when, about 85 miles away, a crew member on The Lucky Dragon saw the bright light from the blast and many of the crew members eventually died after returning home. With this movie and the creation of Godzilla coming out in 1954, this event was still fresh in the minds of the Japanese who saw this movie. It was clearly deliberate to include that opening scene to add another layer to the message in the movie that bad things spawn from nuclear testing.
The most known cause of the creation of Godzilla was the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. In fact, Chon Noriega quotes Harvard professor Edwin Reischauer in his article “Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When “Them!” Is U.S.” as saying, “Unlike the Americans … the Japanese have a strong consciousness of history.” He claims this consciousness played a part in creating Godzilla and basing it off of the sad, true events that happened in Japan. The atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were at the latter end of World War II, but nonetheless, was part of World War II. This was alluded to in the movie as well. One of the main characters, Dr. Serizawa, is depicted as a eye-patch wearing scientist who is suffering physically and mentally from being in the war. Not only that, but in one of the scenes, this scientist is shown as having made a new weapon of mass destruction, but unlike how the “super countries” of the real world use their inventions knowing the destruction it will bring, he fears using it because of that. However, to end the movie and save Japan from Godzilla, he uses the invention to kill it. Therefore, Godzilla was created because of H-bomb testing (a weapon of mass destruction) but was killed by another weapon of mass destruction. The atomic bombings and World War II happening not too long before Godzilla was created clearly influenced the writers to try to make Godzilla a monster with a purpose as well.
All of those causes culminated into becoming the monster known as Godzilla. Godzilla wreaked havoc in his first appearance to the masses. In the movie, he destroyed cities and killed people. To further show how Godzilla is a monster, when comparing him to Jeffrey Cohen’s Thesis VII from his book Monster Culture, which was “The Monster Stands at the Threshold . . . of Becoming”. Godzilla fits this thesis because throughout the movie, and explicitly at the end of the movie, it is clear that Godzilla was the spawn of nuclear testing and during that time in history, nuclear testing was a huge issue. The creators of Godzilla, monster and movie, clearly wanted to showcase the dangers of such testing, and what could possibly happen, maybe not literally spawning a monster, but bad consequences could come out of the testing. This also goes hand in hand with Thesis V, being that “The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible”, because Godzilla is that warning of sorts that if humans cross the line regarding nuclear testing, they will make such destructive creations that it could very well destroy mankind.
With the combination of the atomic bombings, World War II, and The Lucky Dragon incident, the creation of Godzilla was clearly a way for the writers to show the destruction nuclear weapons/testing could create. This is made clearer when at the end of the movie one of the characters, Professor Yammi, says, “If nuclear testing continues… then someday, somewhere in the world… another Godzilla may appear.” It would be a fair conclusion to come to that they made Godzilla to talk about the danger of nuclear weapons/testing. Godzilla was a product of the circumstances Japan was in at the time. Japan had just gotten nuked and had another incident where many of their people died from nuclear testing just nine years later. Godzilla was in turn spawned by the anxieties of the time, with the writers trying to keep the same things from happening again.
Now, Godzilla is a mainstream name and a monster recognized all over the world. It spawned more than 30 movies since Godzilla was first introduced to the Japanese. The United States, being the country who dropped the bombs and caused the incident to The Lucky Dragon, even created many versions of Godzilla. He is a city-wrecking, ugly, terrifying monster. However, if you did not know why he was created, now you know that Godzilla spawned from the terrible events that happened in Japan’s past. Godzilla is now an icon of a monster, becoming arguably a household name. He may just be another scary, yet magnificent monster to Americans and others, but to the Japanese, he originated as a symbol of what was done to them in the times around World War II. Godzilla was not just another out of this world monster, he was very much a lesson for society as well. He served as a warning to mankind to stop messing around with dangerous entities, otherwise we may end up sabotaging ourselves.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997. This book contains a series of monster theses inside of it that explains what makes a monster, a monster. Those seven thesis lay a blueprint of sorts to abide by when making or analyzing a monster. I’m using this in my essay to show how Godzilla is a monster and what makes it a monster. This is a credible source because it is a published book and cites the sources used.
Honda, Ishirō, director. Godzilla. Toho, 1954. This is the first movie made about Godzilla. In the movie, ships go across the same area in the ocean and explode and sink. Eventually, after investigating that area, on day a typhoon hit and emerges a monster they name Gojira (or Godzilla). The movie ends with a character (Professor Yammi) suggests that even though they killed this Godzilla, if man keeps experimenting with atomic weapons, more Godzillas are sure to come. I’m using this movie as my primary source for my monster, Godzilla. This is a reliable source because it is a published movie.
Noriega, Chon. “Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When ‘Them!” Is U.S.” Cinema Journal, vol. 27, no. 1, 1987, pp. 63–77. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1225324. This article talks about the monster movies of the 1950s among other things. It also talks about the Godzilla movie I chose, along with other year’s versions of Godzilla. I’m using this source in my essay to give more background about the monster movies in the fifties and as more help to analyze the movie. This is a reliable source because it was in an academic journal.
Ryfle, Steve. “Godzilla’s Footprint.” Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 81, no. 1, Winter2005, pp. 44-63. EBSCOhost, libproxy.lib.csusb.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=15501530&site=ehost-live. This article talks about the movie I chose, the 1954 version of Godzilla, in detail. He talks about the reason behind making Godzilla, how Japanese people felt about the movie, etc. I’m using this source in my essay to give the causes of Godzilla and to help analyze the movie better. This is a reliable source because it was in an academic journal.