By Takashi Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSixty-five years after first hitting theaters, Godzilla is still going strong and boasts a global following. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” Hollywood’s latest film starring Japan’s iconic kaiju monster, was released domestically at the end of May.
The film is a monster extravaganza, featuring Godzilla’s three-headed nemesis Ghidorah (known as King Ghidorah in Japan) as well as other major characters such as Rodan (known as Radon in Japan) and Mothra.
The story takes place five years after Godzilla saved Earth. A group of militants attack Monarch, a special organization that monitors kaiju, and seize a machine under development. In the process, they awaken Ghidorah. The incident prompts other monsters to go on a rampage and destroy cities across the world. Godzilla then emerges, crashing against his nemesis.
The cast includes Kyle Chandler, Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi.
The popularity of the iconic monster shows no signs of slowing down. “Shin Godzilla” (2016) earned more than ¥8 billion in box office revenue, while “Godzilla,” a 2014 Hollywood film, also became a global blockbuster.
Michael Dougherty, the director of “King of the Monsters,” is himself an enthusiast. The design for Godzilla in the latest film is apparently based on the original 1954 version. The audience can probably identify all of the monsters by their silhouettes alone as they have all been intricately designed.
Yuji Sakai, a leading expert in kaiju modeling, served on the production teams for “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” and “Godzilla 2000: Millennium.”
“If you look only at the silhouette from the back [of Godzilla in the latest film] to the end of the tail, it looks just like the Japanese Godzilla that’s familiar to us,” he said. “The head is considerably smaller than that of the 2014 version, with the sharper foot claws and larger back fins. All of these factors make the character look more combative, dignified and cool.”
Sakai likewise describes Ghidorah, Godzilla’s mightiest adversary, as “the most beautiful kaiju, with many elements to display formative beauty.” He said the Japanese and American versions of the dragonlike kaiju slightly differ in appearance.
“The large wings [of Hollywood’s Ghidorah] have joints like a pterosaur, which the Japan version doesn’t have,” he said. “While the Japan version boasts a godlike presence, [the Hollywood version] appears evil, more like a realistic living creature. It looks even scarier.”
In the latest film, Mothra’s presence can almost be described as elegant, while Rodan, a kaiju that first appeared by jumping out of a volcano, has a rugged body.
“Both look like their versions drawn in the storyboards for the films they first appeared in,” Sakai said. “They definitely have inherited the DNA [of the originals]. [The Hollywood version] shows respect for Japan’s Godzilla movies in such aspects as the monsters’ features and how they present themselves.”
The new film pays homage to the first films of Japan’s Godzilla series from time to time, such as by using music by Akira Ifukube, who wrote music for many Godzilla films.
Sakai praised the creative team for the Hollywood film, saying, “Their approach to presentation differs [from those seen in Japanese Godzilla films] because of cultural differences, yet the Hollywood version made me feel that they share the same love and respect for the monsters.”
In the new film, Ken Watanabe reprised his role as a scientist in 2014’s “Godzilla.” The following are excerpts from an interview with the actor:
The Yomiuri Shimbun: Your character defends Godzilla throughout the film and seems to keep trusting the monster.
Watanabe: Rather than trusting, it’s more like he feels a need to rely on Godzilla. He has no choice but to get help from the monster amid the threat of a tremendous adversary.
Q: What is your take on the familiar monsters other than Godzilla that feature in the film?
A: It’s like the movie “Kaiju Daisenso” (Invasion of Astro-Monster) many years ago. King Ghidorah, who moves his long neck smoothly, is a magnificent monster. I’m sure he’ll win more fans. I like him, too, because he’s a fantastically strong character.
The scene where Rodan flies is something we’ve never seen before the latest film. A flap of Rodan’s wings blows away people and cars. Such a scene may look realistic to American viewers because many of them have witnessed footage of hurricanes and cyclones.
Q: What is the film’s theme?
A: The previous film [the 2014 “Godzilla”] was produced after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and I wondered about how to accept things that are difficult for humans to control, such as natural disasters and accidents at nuclear power plants. I also thought about how we could pass these perspectives on to future generations. This time, too, I thought about those things from the perspective of a scientist, and I think I was able to perform as such.
As we tend to believe there’s nothing that can’t be controlled with science and technology, the film expresses the vague uncertainty that people feel about things beyond our control. It eventually prompts certain questions. What is humanity? What is civilization?
Q: Tell us your view of Godzilla.
A: To me, Godzilla is like the ryujin (dragon deity). I felt that the Japanese version of Godzilla lost some of its charm after siding with humanity. I think it’s scarier when Godzilla’s thinking and purpose are unclear. You also can’t say that Godzilla’s a friend of humans or a superhero. Rather, I believe it’s a creature burdened with humans’ sins as it was born from a nuclear test.Speech