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American Version of Japan's Monster Hits Movie Screens

August 11, 1998

On July 11, 1998, Godzilla stormed into more movie theaters than any movie ever in Japanese history. Nearly half of these theaters showed the new U.S. film dubbed in Japanese in an all-out effort to capture the children's audience. Godzilla got off to a great start, drawing 500,000 people on its first day, which far exceeded the previous record of 350,000 held by The Lost World. Many Japanese are shocked, however, at how different this Godzilla is from his previous image: "The fact is, he looks like an iguana," says one person. "The worst part is that he isn't lovable anymore," says another. The distributor of the movie in Japan, Toho Co. Ltd., breathed a sigh of relief at the expected 5 billion yen (34.5 million U.S. dollars at 145 yen to the dollar) in distribution revenues. Without a doubt, Godzilla will be the most talked-about movie of the summer.

Godzilla's Trip to America
The Japanese Godzilla starred in 22 movies between 1954 and 1995. For 20 years various companies overseas have been requesting permission from Toho to use the character in a movie. Isao Matsuoka, chairman of Toho, which owns the character rights to Godzilla, had long made it clear: "We wouldn't sell unless we were sure the film would be shown at first-class theaters across America." Negotiations continued with various parties until a contract was signed in 1992 with TriStar Pictures. The character rights to Godzilla were leased for about 1 million dollars under the condition that "there would be no change in the basic premise that nuclear testing causes an ancient dinosaur to be transformed into a monster," explains Matsuoka, "and that Toho would definitely be able to check the movie before it was distributed."

Just how do the American and Japanese Godzillas differ? For starters, the American production cost 150 million dollars (not including advertising expenses). That is more than 20 times the average 1 billion yen (6.9 million dollars) spent on each movie in the Japanese Godzilla series. But the biggest difference is the main character itself. The Godzilla known and loved in Japan moves around exactly like a person in an unwieldy costume. Something seems amiss in the manner in which the American Godzilla tears about at tremendous speed, leaning its huge head forward. Godzilla's new form and the film's special effects and plot development were seriously examined in one popular Japanese magazine for young people, which came out with a special feature entitled, "Can We Accept This American Godzilla?!"

Mixed Reactions in Japan
Some critics in Japan say the anti-nuclear message in the story line is weak. An article focusing on the inconsistency in anti-nuclear attitude between the old films and the new Godzilla appeared as the feature story in one major newspaper. The original Godzilla reached his enormous proportions after being exposed to radiation from nuclear testing conducted at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. An anti-nuclear message was clearly inserted into the movie. Although the story line of the American movie does indicate that the oversized beast was created by French nuclear tests, critics say that this is only touched on at the beginning of the movie and cannot be considered an attempt to convey any kind of message.

On the other hand, many people enjoy Godzilla simply as entertainment, because it is "fun" and "the special effects are great." Haruo Nakajima, the man who wore the suit in the first Godzilla movie, says, "The American Godzilla's face looks like an iguana, and his legs are so thin they look like a frog's. But even so, it's a fun movie. The director of the original Godzilla, Eiji Tsuburaya, loved new things. If he were alive today, he'd probably have combined computer graphics with the good old monster suit."

Now that the Godzilla loved by Japanese for decades has been transformed by Hollywood, Japanese producers will be hard-pressed to follow suit with the next sequel. Issues to be decided regarding the first Godzilla production of the twenty-first century include whether to design it for children, whether to return to the original Godzilla model, and whether to incorporate some kind of message into the movie. When the U.S. Godzilla earned some poor reviews in America, some Japanese saw it as a sign that the original Godzilla is the way to go. But many Japanese are sad whenever their beloved monster gets any poor reviews at all. In this rather complicated state of mixed emotions, people in Japan have heard that a sequel to the U.S. version of Godzilla is already underway--and expectations are once again running high.

Click here to visit the official Godzilla Web site.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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