Japanese Cinema Series
2nd Most Influential Film:
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A giant radioactive lizard-esque creature from the sea wreaks havoc on Tokyo and whips the city into a frenzied panic, until a few brave protagonists find a way to destroy the monster. Out of context, the original 1954 Godzilla could be called a campy action thriller, a blockbuster of the times. But in fact it has a direct connection to the very real nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945. The film’s director and co-writer Ishiro Honda was reportedly shocked by the devastation from the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and created the film to act as a metaphor for the incidents.
Perhaps it’s this subtext that’s made Godzilla stand out most, (with the exception of King Kong), amongst other ‘creature features,’ or ‘kaiju’ genre films which came before and after it, making it instantly recognizable even decades later, by word and image, around the globe—and inextricably linking it to modern Japanese culture in the eyes of many.
But it’s clear regardless that Godzilla’s international influence lies heavily in its iconic imagery rather than cinematic style. Even today, Googling the term ‘godzilla’ results in thousands of results; according to dictionary.com, the word has taken on the new meaning of: ‘a huge example of something; a monstrous entity.’
In the West, the film’s been referenced and spoofed in everything from the popular animated show The Simpsons to musical blockbuster Moulin Rouge. And international audiences were given another reminder of the film when the US produced a full re-make in 1998, which grossed $380 million worldwide, and spawned an animated television series called Godzilla: The Series.
In 2004, Godzilla himself was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which coincided with the release of a restored version of the original in a handful of theatres in North America.
At the time, the Japanese film was applauded by a modern panel of top critics including Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, who called Godzilla ‘pop culture’s grandest symbol of nuclear apocalypse.’ And the San Francisco Chronicle, which reminded us of its significance as a ‘collective metaphor and a collective nightmare,’ while forecasting that Godzilla, ‘a classic, is not going away,’ any time soon.
I’d say that certainly, the movie is a ‘godzilla’ in the history of Japanese Cinema, and will continue to make its mark across cultures for years to come.