The Legacy of Godzilla
"The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control,
and not the other way around."
In 1954, Japan's Toho Co., Ltd., released Ishiro Honda's groundbreaking
monster movie "Godzilla" in a country still reeling from the devastation of
World War II. The film became a massive hit in Japan, and, 60 years later,
continues to resonate around the world for distilling the fears and horrors of
the atomic age into an awe-inspiring force of nature...Godzilla.
"'Godzilla' is the benchmark of monster movies," says Gareth Edwards, the
British director at the helm of the epic new vision for Toho's iconic creation.
Edwards grew up on Japanese monster movies before discovering Honda's 1954
masterpiece on DVD and was fascinated by its stark allegorical subtext and
continuing relevance in contemporary times. "If you went around the world with
the silhouette of a giant dinosaur looming over a city, everyone would know
exactly who it is-whether they've seen a Godzilla movie or not. But what many
people don't realize is that the original Japanese 'Godzilla' is actually a very
serious film. I think that's the reason it was so
embraced by Japanese culture-because not only is it a great monster movie, it
was also very cathartic for people to see those images brought to life on screen
in such a visceral and real way."
Partially reshot, softening some of its metaphorical bite, and dubbed into
multiple languages, the film was released abroad two years later and a legend
was born. For the past six decades, the towering "King of the Monsters" has cut
a swath through pop culture, spawning numerous sequels, an army of toys, and
incarnations in everything from comic books to video games. A whole new genre of
movies emerged-kaiju eiga-and Godzilla became one of the most beloved and
recognizable movie heroes of the 20th and, now, 21st centuries.
Bryan Cranston, one of the stars of the new film, has vivid memories of being
enthralled as he watched the monster rampage across his childhood TV screen.
"Godzilla with his fiery breath...he just destroyed everything in his wake,"
Cranston remembers. "It was actually a man in a suit stomping through a
miniature Tokyo, but it was marvelous to a young kid. There's a part of me that
will always be that boy, but the whole sensibility of how to make a movie like
this has matured; the audience has evolved. It's not just about Godzilla
smashing things up. People are still going to root for him, but you also want to
be connected to what's happening and root for the characters to make it
Like Cranston, Legendary Pictures' Thomas Tull grew up devouring monster
movies, but the crown jewel of Toho's legion always reigned supreme in his mind.
"From his signature roar to the outline of those dorsal fins to the radioactive
fire that he breathes, Godzilla is an absolute global icon," he says. "Over the
years, Toho has examined the character in different ways and pitted him against
a whole menagerie of giant creatures, but my favorite will always be the
Japanese original, which was at once a terrifying monster movie and a profound
Tull, who produced Edwards' "Godzilla" along with Jon Jashni, President of
Legendary Pictures, veteran producer Mary Parent and British filmmaker Brian
Rogers, long harbored a passion to bring the titanic leviathan to the big screen
in a summer spectacle with all the heart and human stakes of the original. "Our
intention has always been to do justice to those essential elements that have
allowed this character to remain relevant for as long as it has," Tull explains.
"Our plan was to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see-a
movie that didn't feel like a thrill ride
for its own sake, but to take it back to its roots and create a human story
within the context of today's world. I've been waiting for this film my whole
Inherent in the challenge of reinventing such an iconic property was putting
at its helm a director who could offer a fresh perspective and keen cinematic
aesthetic while remaining true to Godzilla's integrity and legacy. They found
all those qualities in Gareth Edwards, an emerging filmmaker who took the
independent film world by storm with his award-winning "Monsters." Edwards not
only wrote and directed the film, but designed and shot it as well as
singlehandedly creating all the visual effects on his laptop.
"From our very first conversation with Gareth, you got that sense that he was
a passionate Godzilla fan," Tull notes. "And after seeing 'Monsters,' which he
made on an absolute shoestring budget, we came away with the feeling that if he
had more resources and a bigger canvas, he could do something extraordinary."
Jon Jashni adds that the young director struck the perfect balance between
invention and human truth. "Just because you can throw a ton of digital
resources at the screen doesn't mean you should, as that doesn't really aid
audience immersion in the world you're trying to create," says the producer. "On
'Monsters,' Gareth had to suggest a lot more than he could afford to show. He
came from a character-based perspective, grounded in the real world, and then
layered otherworldly elements into that world. 'Monsters' was microcosmic of
what we hoped to create with our new Godzilla movie: something real and true."
Producer Mary Parent was also impressed with Edwards' indie hit, noting that
both his storytelling sensibilities and filmmaking background inspired
confidence in everyone that Godzilla would be in good hands. "We knew that
Gareth would channel all his vision as an artist and storyteller, along with his
command of visual effects technology, into making a film that's worthy of
putting this character on screen in the way that he deserves and hasn't been
seen before," Parent says. "But we also knew that he could create characters
that we can relate to and care about, and take the audience into the experience
of 'Godzilla' through the eyes of the people living through it."
Knowing he was being handed the reins to a legend, Edwards turned for
inspiration-as Ishiro Honda had before him-to the world he saw around him. "I
know it sounds impossible, but imagine for a moment the arrival of a great
creature that mankind can't even communicate with, much less control...what
would that be like to
live through?" he posits. "How would the world react? We've all seen or
experienced incomprehensible disasters, natural or otherwise, that would seem
like a scenario from a movie if they didn't actually happen. So the challenge of
making the ultimate Godzilla movie was to reflect that reality, which gets back
to the heart of what Godzilla is really about."
Tull says, "One thing we wanted to do with the film, which was a goal shared
by our partners at Toho, was to set part of the story in Japan and maintain
Godzilla's connection to nuclear energy, but to also do so with respect and
sensitivity in light of current events."
Producer Brian Rogers adds, "The parallels that existed in the 1954 film,
dealing with the balance between man and nature, and all the potential ways it
could be pushed over the edge, is still as relevant today as it was back
then-maybe even more so in this day and age."
Working out of London, Edwards embarked on marathon Skype sessions with the
film's Los Angeles-based screenwriter, Max Borenstein, to shape a story that
would both hint at Godzilla's origins and unravel the mysterious events that
herald his emergence in the context of the today's world.
Though cast-member Ken Watanabe grew up in Japan, he did not see the 1954
film until recently, and appreciated Edwards' meticulous care to honor it. "The
original 'Godzilla' weighs the provocative question that Japanese society was
grappling with at the time-nine years after the bombs-when the emotional and
physical scars were still very present," the actor reflects. "Gareth has a deep
understanding of that film, and I responded to his courage in reviving those
Borenstein wrote the screenplay, from a story by David Callaham, after
immersing himself in research, which included taking in all 28 "Godzilla" movies
produced by Toho Co., Ltd., encompassing the Showa, Heisei and Millennium
series. "Our ambition was to treat this story as if this was a terrifying, real
incident happening today, with all the gravity of a real disaster, while still
making a big, spectacular monster movie that's fun to watch," Borenstein
details. "The original film is an amazing tale of humanity's insignificance in
the face of nature, but with the human strength and resilience to rise and
survive a disaster of that magnitude."
Before a single frame of "Godzilla" had been shot, the director and producers
created a 90-second teaser to express the mood they wanted to bring to the film,
which they debuted at the annual Comic-Con International before nearly 7,000
fans. The grainy footage revealed a city reduced to rubble, with the great
creature materializing through the smoke and dust, and issuing his deafening
roar. Over the imagery, Edwards played the haunting words of Robert Oppenheimer,
"father" of the atomic bombs that reduced the Japanese cities Hiroshima and
Nagasaki to radioactive ash, quoting the Hindu scriptures to describe the
incomprehensible Pandora's Box they'd opened: "Now I am become death, the
destroyer of worlds."
Godzilla has always had a mystery and duality about him-a being of pure
instinct that moves not in concert with humanity, but towering over it as he
rises implacably from the sea. "Monsters have always been metaphors for
something else," Edwards notes. "They represent the darker aspects of our nature
and our fears of what we can't control. In a way, Godzilla almost embodies a
kind of 'wrath of God'-not in a religious sense, but rather nature coming back
to punish us for what we have done to the world. In our film, we are definitely
tapping into those ideas."
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