The star of dozens of movies, cartoons, and comics, Godzilla is a pop culture phenomenon beloved the world over. He was even a favorite of demented North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, who kidnapped a film director to make his own version. But that’s not the only interesting fact about the King of All Monsters.
It is impossible to overstate how profound an impact the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the people of Japan. Within instants, whole cities were practically vaporized, with thousands succumbing to burns and radiation poisoning in the days and weeks to follow. This tragedy, along with the fate of the Lucky Dragon 5, a Japanese fishing vessel that unwittingly sailed into American nuclear testing grounds in the South Pacific, helped to inspire the creation of Godzilla.
Gojira (a Japanese portmanteau of “gorilla” and “whale”) was released in 1954. The irradiated dinosaur was based on a blend of several species, including aTyrannosaurus rex and an alligator. Its rough, pebbled skin was inspired by the hideous keloid scars suffered by survivors of the atomic blasts. While later Godzilla films were all in campy good fun, the original was a stark metaphor for the horrors of technology. It became a massive blockbuster, with the most profitable opening day in Japanese cinematic history.
In the early years of the franchise, Godzilla was meant to symbolize America and its bombing of mainland Japan. But tensions soon cooled between the two nations. Instead, Godzilla’s enduring popularity among the Japanese meant that the character became a symbol of the Land of the Rising Sun itself.
Other monsters had their own meanings, too. When China began exploding nuclear ordnance, they were assigned King Ghidorah. The giant pterosaur Rodan was meant to symbolize the USSR. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) was often interpreted as an allegory for the US occupation of Okinawa, with Godzilla representing Japan and his mechanical nemesis standing in for the US. Even today, tensions remain high on Okinawa, with American military personnel routinely accused of victimizing locals. There have also been allegations that the US military used Okinawa to store all manner of deadly chemicals and weapons, including Agent Orange.
8 The Men Behind The Mask
The latest installment in the franchise, 2014′s Godzilla, features a CGI monstrosity, with a design partially based on komodo dragons and bears. But there were no computers to bring the original Godzilla to life. Elji Tsuburaya, the head of the Visual Effects Deparment for Toho, was tasked with creating the first version of the famous monster. Tsuburaya had sharpened his skills directing wartime propaganda films—his style was allegedly so realistic that Americans believed it was actual battle footage.
Tsuburaya had originally intended to use stop-motion techniques similar to those used to create King Kong, but he was forced to resort to a rubber suit when it became clear the stop-motion would be too expensive. The man chosen to wear the first Godzilla suit was Haruo Nakajima. A martial artist, he was able to bring a marked intensity to the role. It wasn’t an easy task—the suit, made from melted tires, weighed 100 kilograms (220lbs). It was difficult for Nakajima to move or see, and torturously hot beneath the studio lights. After filming a scene, a cup of sweat would have to be poured out of the suit.