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I Love You, Godzilla

November 11th, 2004

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Godzilla, king of the movie monsters. Through 27 feature films–with the 28th, Godzilla Final Wars due later this year–the reptilian titan stomped his way across Japan and straight into my heart.

My love affair with Godzilla began as an outgrowth of my early interest in prehistoric animals. By the time I’d reached kindergarten, I’d memorized many dinosaur names and already had plans of becoming a paleontologist. So, what could be better to a young fan than the biggest dinosaur of them all?

In addition, there was certainly an appeal to the notion of putting on a rubber reptile suit and stamping through a model of Tokyo. Even back then, I was aware that there was a sweaty Japanese man inside Godzilla, but that didn’t diminish my infatuation.

It was difficult being a young Godzilla fan back in the ’70s. In the days before VCRs, I had to depend upon the vagaries of Chicago UHF TV station schedules to catch Japanese monster movies, sometimes well after bedtime. Other times, I had to convince my dad to take me to a drive-in or a kiddie matinee. (I have to admit a certain grown-up guilt over forcing him to watch so many lousy movies.)

Furthermore, information about Godzilla wasn’t readily available. Sci-fi film books tended to be dismissive of the Japanese efforts, and even the groundbreaking fan magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland offered maddeningly incomplete or inaccurate articles.

Things have largely improved as I’ve grown up. Numerous books, magazines and websites have fully detailed the history of Godzilla’s friends and foes. Vinyl toys of virtually the entire Toho Studios bestiary have been imported to U.S. specialty stores, finally satisfying the frustrated eight-year-old within me.

On the other hand, the movies themselves rarely show up on TV anymore, and usually only on obscure cable channels I don’t receive. DVD releases have been spotty; many Japanese monster films are still MIA and others have been produced as low-quality discs.

Thankfully, there’s been some improvement on that latter front. Sony recently released three of the ’70s Godzilla flicks on DVD, and more are coming soon.

Watching Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster) again last month took me back 30 years. As an adult Godzilla fan, I’ve tended to look down on the period in which the Big G–who began as a clear metaphor for the destructive power of the atom bomb–served as a kid-friendly defender of humanity. However, I have to admit that there’s something very compelling about this kinder, gentler monster who rises from the ocean depths to combat the menace of pollution.

Last week brought the release of Godzilla: Save the Earth for the Playstation 2, allowing me at last to stage my own fantasy match-ups between (for example) Megalon and Megaguirus, Jet Jaguar and MechaGodzilla 3.

My inner eight-year-old approves.

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