The Healing Powers of Godzilla

Sunde White writes and illustrates the traumatic history of the creation of Godzilla

I’m not angry, I’m just sad and scared.

On the morning of August 6th 1945, the city of Hiroshima, Japan was virtually obliterated by an atomic bomb.  Over a hundred thousand civilians and more than 20,000 military personal were killed within seconds of the American military plane, The Enola Gay, dropping the first atomic bomb ever used in a war.  A few days later, on August 9th, Nagasaki  was the target of the final atomic bomb to ever be dropped during a war, killing 80,000 people (mostly civilians) instantly.  Japan surrendered a week later,  World War II was over.

The history books I read in school growing up all stated that the use of atomic bombs were the only thing that would make the Japanese surrender.  But thinking about it now, Japan’s European allies had already surrendered.  How long would Japan have lasted fighting alone against the Allies as one small island nation? Australia, New Zealand and any other ally that had ships would have turned away from Europe and headed straight for Japan and the Pacific Islands they occupied, right?  Was the US just flexing?   Letting all nations know our God-like might at the expense of hundreds of thousands of Japanese men, women and children?  Yes, probably, but I’m not a historical war expert.

After Japan surrendered on September 2nd, 1945 The United States ended up occupying Japan until 1952.  During that time journalists and media were censored and there were strict rules banning any press coverage regarding the atomic aftermath.  Thousands of Japanese died from radiation sickness within a few months of the bombings and many more died of Leukemia caused by the radiation in the years that followed but the Japanese could not report about it, write about it or create art about it.

So a movie producer named Tomoguki Tanaka and his two partners, Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsubaraya, created a character to express the trauma and shock that the Japanese were unable to talk about publicly.  He wanted a metaphor  for the atomic bombs and human’s abuse of nuclear power so he created Godzilla, an underwater dinosaur that was awakened and developed destructive powers when the US tested a nuclear bomb of the coast of Japan.   His two movie making partners, Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsubaraya said about Tanaka’s radioactive sea monster, “Tanaka created Godzilla to illustrate the terror Japanese felt after the atomic bombs.”

Many people think that the Bikini Atoll incident was the final influence that gave Tanaka the idea for Godzilla.  In 1954 the US tested a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific among the Marshall Islands without knowing that there was a Japanese fishing boat called The Fortunate Dragon, in the area.  From 150 km away the fishermen witnessed a great flash of the bomb and one crew member died.  The US initially tried to cover up this incident but were unsuccessful.  The incident further traumatized the Japanese people and is depicted in the opening scene of the first Godzilla movie.

When “Godzilla” was released in Japan in 1954, it was a huge hit.  The Japanese didn’t look at the monster comically as American audiences did.  They could see that it was a reference to their experience of the atomic bombs.  They could see that Godzilla’s skin resembled the keloid scars that survivors of the bombings were left with and the destructive powers of Godzilla had the same effect as atomic bombs.  The movie was expressing all the feelings that the Japanese weren’t allowed to.  In fact, Tanaka referenced the Japanese people’s loss of innocence by describing his pre atomic Godzilla dinosaur as, “innocent as kids on their playground in Hiroshima.”

“Godzilla” was released in the United States two years later as “Godzilla, King of Monsters!” and it starred Raymond Burr.  All the politically charged portions, over twenty minutes worth, were cut out thus making the movie seem more cartoonish and silly, never addressing the original serious theme of the movie.

“Certainly all the parts that could be construed in any way as critical of the United States or atomic testing, were really stricken from the film.” Tsutsui said later.  “So a lot of the heart of the original Godzilla was cut out for the American audiences.”  But the Japanese understood the references and for once their horror was addressed publicly.

Tanaka went on to direct 32 movies inspired by Godzilla and over two hundred movies overall.  He died in 1997 at the age of 85.