Date: Wed, 27 May 1998
I know, you’ve been dreading this post, but here are some thoughts on the new Godzilla that appeared on the Screen-L list from an anonymous “John”: This post will not give away the entire plot (as if there was much to give), however, if you don’t want to chance it, please avert your eyes. Anyway, I would like to bring up several issues with the new Godzilla film in hopes that some of you will chime in with your opinions.
- The film uses French atomic testing as its scapegoat. What are the implications of steering atomic mutations away from Americans and other countries who tested in the South Pacific? Like the extremely jingoistic film INDEPENDENCE DAY, this film turns into a patriotic diatribe.
- The original godzilla was a tool to protest atomic weapons on a universal plane„ and in a sense this film does as well. But this film clearly does not turn into the voice against American Imperialism that the later Japanese films did (not all of them, mind you). In fact, this film goes so far as to suggest (in a subliminal way) that only Americans can destroy the beast. Do a camparison with the original films and this one, the tone would seem to suggest that in the prior films the Japanese were inept while the Americans are the ones you’re gonna call when you want the job done right.
- This film is full of pop-cultural references: several members from The Simpsons cast have parts, the mayor of NYC looks like Roger Ebert and his assistant’s name is Gene (they do several thumbs-up signs through the film), just name a couple. Although this does not approach the sheer campiness that the later Godzilla films exhibited, it is clear that this film tries to be something for some people.
- What are the pros and cons of the design of the new Godzilla? I ring in with a “Hated it!” This film ends up looking nothing more than a rehash of Jurrasic Park and The Lost World. I lament the overuse of computer generation. The older films had that certain je ne sais quois to them, an element that this one does not have.
- Is Matthew Broderick forever to be playing Ferris Bueller? Just some thoughts. I do not even suppose that I have definitive answers. I hope that others will present other questions. We are at the dawning of the Summer blockbusters, and it looks like there are to be a few more effect laden films in the coming (Don’t even get me started about Deep Impact).
Date: Wed, 27 May 98
From: Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow
Subject: Fwd: Recent Godzillas
This was recently posted on H-FILM:
I recently published an article on Godzilla and related kaijyu eiga (mysterious creature films) in *The World & I* (May 1998), pp. 182-193. It does not cover the most recent, American, Godzilla which I haven’t seen because he still hasn’t stomped his way to Hiroshima. My article, however, does offer a great deal of new information and ideas about these films, which will be very useful information to anyone studying the subject. At the risk of hyping myself too much, I also have an article coming out in the June issue of *Literature and Medicine* on what I call Atomic Bomb Cinema. The June issue is devoted to film and the medical humanities. My article looks at relevant American and Japanese films. Most sincerely,
Jerome F. Shapiro, Ph.D.
Hiroshima University, Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences ********************************************************************
Date: Thu, 28 May 98
From: Aaron Gerow
Subject: Re: Godzilla
Markus introduced, through a cross-post, a lot of good questions about the new “American” _Godzilla_. Since I haven’t seen it, I can’t say much about it myself, but I am also intrigued about how the film is sparking the creation of discourses about national identity. After all, Godzilla is a “Japanese” star who has “made good” in Hollywood, and has thus fulfilled the dream narrative constructed for a lot of Japanese cultural items: full recognition by the Other. Even today, there are still lots of stories about Komuro, Seiko (who just got remarried, if you didn’t know), Ishibashi Takaaki, etc. making it “over there.” The Nomo, Ishii, and Irabu phenom fits into this narrative as well. Much of the discourse in Japan about the American Godzilla is thus tinged with this sense of national pride.
But at the same time, it is a case of appropriation–of the Other/Hollywood making Godzilla by itself. It is no longer a Japanese product, but an American one. And thus I think you do see a bit of hesitation about recognizing it. When the film opened in the U.S., the wide shows and papers here covered it heavily, with full page spreads and live TV reports, but you also had a lot of critical comments mostly focusing on the difference between the American and Japanese Godzilla. Interestingly, most of these criticisms rather directly translate into attempts to construct national identity–not for monsters, but for humans. It is as if Godzilla is the trope for defining the national self.
Thus one saw many comments like this: the Japanese Godzilla destroys, but would never do something so cruel as eat someone. It is a monster with a heart, not a beast; a being with a mission, not a random destroyer, who can be on the side of humanity. The American Godzilla, however, is simply an alien beast, a creature of pure violence who has no purpose other than to wreck havoc.
Implied in these comments–and sometimes directly stated–is that this reflects the fact Japanese themselves have more of a heart, have a better relation with nature, etc. Americans, however, can only see monsters as alien beasts, in part because they themselves are so violent. I haven’t read everything written on the subject, so I suppose there is a large variety of discourses operating here, but I do have some questions for people:
- Has anyone also paid attention to these discourses in Japan? What impressions have you had?
- Are similar discourses operating in the U.S.: i.e., is there an attempt to distinguish the American and Japanese Godzillas in terms of discourses of national identity? How are the differences being articulated? This includes what the film is doing, but it is as much a question of how it is being discussed.
- Finally, just how has the original Godzilla operated in terms of constructing Japanese national identity? The thesis that Godzilla represents resentment and fear about the nuclear age is not off the mark, but I think the series gets more complicated as it moved on. Any thoughts?
Date: Mon, 25 May 1998
Subject: RE: Godzilla
I see the Making-off of new Godzilla (?) movie. The FX will be good but the new look of Godzilla is so bad. The worst of this making-off was a interview with the Director and his stupid words “This Godzilla is best that any Japanese Godzilla”. There are a spanish sentence that say “For the mouth dead the fish”, and this director is so haughty. I not need remakes of Jurassic Park and luckily in Spain, Filmax HomeVideo is released a Kaiju-Eiga collection in remastered version. Actually the tittles availables are: Gojira,1954 (Japan version) Mosura tai Gojira,1964 San Daikaiju Chikyu Saidai No Kessen,1964 Gojira tai Mekagojira,1974 Daikaiju Gamera,1965 Daikaiju ketto Gamera tai Barugon,1966 Not so bad! I buy all.
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998
From: “Peter B. High”
Subject: Re: Godzilla
[As for Aaron’s questions…] Not having seen the American GODZILLA I can make no comment other than–assuming Markus’ report to be right, that it is another tub-thumper for Military America a la INDEPENDENCE DAY–it sounds pretty grim. In reference to the Japanese Godzillas, I must say I largely agree with Aaron’s suggestion that they tend to serve as “trope[s] for defining the national self.” In agreeing, however, I must add the qualification that in dealing with such works as the stream of GODZILLAs (or RAMBO, etc.) we must not try to get a direct “reading” of a national “psyche.” They are by nature corrupt and almost infinitely corruptable texts, which provide commentators with free-floating, protean metaphors for social “insights” they probably developed elsewhere.
Such seems to have been the case of GODZILLA (especially the initial Honda Inoshiro, 1954 version) in Japan. There is a tendency here for some prominent critic to render the “established interpretation” (teisetsu) or meaning of a work, which is then loosely followed by subsequent critics and commentators. In a “taidan” for the 3/’56 issue of Eiga Geijutsu, Izawa Jun and Tsurumi Shunsuke establish the enduring “teisetsu” for Godzilla. Under the sub-heading of “The Philosophy (shisousei) of Godzilla,” Tsurumi compares Godzilla favorably with Kurosawa’s RECORD OF A LIVING BEING, as the ultimate cinematic lesson about the horrors of of The Bomb. Godzilla provides, he says, a “graspable metaphor” unattainable through “intellectualization (kannen)”–“The very young and those out in the rural areas unaffected by the war have no real sense of what really happened; and so they can’t grasp the significance of the anti-war and anti-Bomb movements…Therefore, rather than hearing arguments about imperialism or pacifism, they see a monster born of the Bomb and visibly pock-marked through the effects of radiation– a graspable image of the effects of ash which a few years ago rained down on us from the Bikini A-Bomb tests.”
One wonders how many ordinary contemporary Japanese viewers, untutored by Izawa and Tsurumi’s analysis, saw the film in this light. In many ways, Tsurumi’s comments tell us more about his own political views and aspirations at the time than it does about the film. Still, we do see this “teisetsu”–that Godzilla is an important anti-Bomb film–at work in much subsequent commentary (that of Communist Yamada Kazuo, not the least). As late as 1982, Arai Katsuro pays back-handed homage to the power of the interpretation by attempting to debunk it in his coverage of the film in the Kinema Jumpo 200 Best Japanese Films (1982).
A different sort of stab at Godzilla interpretation was taken in in a book called BOKUTACHI NO GOJIRA (the young author’s name escapes me for the moment), published about six years ago, which I reviewed in my old YOHAKU ORAI column for Asahi Shimbun Yukan. I don’t have the column ready-to-hand and can’t quite recall the books line of argument off the top of my head–the author held, somewhat feebly I seem to remember, that there was a connection between Japan’s postwar “minshushugi shisou” (democratic thought) and the beleaguered image of Godzilla.
The problem with many of these interpretations is the tendency to find essentialist messages, whereas in the film itself these messages are actually terribly garbled, at best. Part of it comes from the limitations of the old critical language still used by many commentators in Japan, which encourage the search for meanings encased within “metaphors.” In his list of queries above, this is something Aaron avoids by employing the verbiage of “trope” and “discourse.” Positioning myself within the discourse of “discourses,” I’d like to hazard a few small theses of my own about Godzilla.
First, I would suggest that the Godzilla phenomenon should be placed within the context of those elegiac portrayals of Japanese sufferings during the war which were pouring out of the studios just then, in the early fifties–Sekikawa’s LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF THE WAVES(1950), Shindo’s CHILDREN OF THE A-BOMB (1952), Imai’s HIMEYURI NO TO (1953), Kihnoshita’s TWENTY FOUR EYES (1954–the same year as Honda’s GODZILLA), etc. Arriving half a decade or so after the trauma of the War Crimes tribunals, these films represent a general turning away from the theme of national self-disgrace (as seen in Kamei’s documentary JAPANESE TRAGEDY, 1946, and continuing in a way up through Yamamoto’s BARREN ZONE, 1952). The elegiac films, to put it baldly for the purposes of this line of argument, wash away the issue of national guilt in a flood of self-pitying tears. All the suffering portrayed is Japanese suffering. All the “sins” imputed by the films are committed against Japanese people. In some cases (24 EYES, etc) the “perpetrators” are also Japanese–the largely undepicted Military/Government Establishment or the Militarist Mindset–but in most cases those who have inflicted the suffering are the Faceless Enemy, American bombers, etc. The general message is that the Japanese (people, at least) were at least as much victims of the war as anyone else. This theme of the victimization of innocents by a faceless Other verges on–indeed I was assert it actually enters–the realm of the persecution complex: forces outside us are waging a relentless campaign of punishment against us.
Enter now Godzilla, born of the sins of others, American atomic testing. He attacks Japan and Tokyo is (again) destroyed. The film is also elegiac and features an actual funeral hymn to the the devastated metropolis. In other words, the more-than-semi-persecution complex dramatically evolved in the elegiac “anti-war” films is inherited by the Godzilla films. In the early versions of both the elegiac films and in Honda’s original GODZILLA, there is no overt display of antipathy against the pain-inflicting Other, but the potential for such is there already. Proof of this assertion comes in the recent, rather vile remakes of HIMEYURI and LISTEN TO THE SOUND OF THE WAVES. We find it too in many of the subsequent GODZILLAs–in one, made in the early-mid eighties, the American military wants to drop an atomic bomb on Tokyo to destroy the big…because they are afraid it will go after their Japan-side bases! In another version–I forget which or when–Godzilla goees to Okinawa. He is finally beaten by Japanese intervention, but only after Olkinawan local culture is displayed as ridiculously impotent. Lest I fall into the very metaphor-hunting I dismiss above, I would have to deny that Godzilla represents some definable essence of the Japanese national identity. Indeed, Godzilla is the perfect floating, empty metaphor. He is at once a product of the Other and a projection of the national self, the destroyer (tragically) fore-doomed to be grandly (or pathetically) destroyed, the tainted one and the one who purifies, perpetrator and–somehow–victim. I could go on, but the night deepens and I have other things to do.
One other motif in Godzilla which I will only introduce without developing , is the evolving manner in which the (Japanese) military is depicted. In the original two Godzillas, the Army trundles out a host of cannons and tanks to do battle with the monster. But these are wilted like frail plastic under the fiery breath of G. The police too are helpless and in hysterical disarray. The ones who destroy the monster are the only part of the Japanese Establishment unimpugned by direct war responsibility–civilian scientists. In later Godzillas, we see a return of the heroic and ultimately effective Japanese military. In other monster films–I’m thinking here of anime–we see the emergence of the Monster Destroying Specialist–quasi-military elite units, openly motivated by the same Spirit-ist ethos we find in Pacific War films. In other words, seen as a series, the Godzilla films transform away from anti-military/authority motifs and slowly revalorize Authority and the elite military unit. Well, its time for someone else to have a say, so good night.
Peter B. High Nagoya University -
Date: Sat, 30 May 1998
Subject: Re: Godzilla
Certainly one significance between Japan and US reception, not to mention sequel/remake production, is the poaching on the Japanese side. I’m thinking of the way fan cultures in the US poach Star Trek or X-files to create their own narratives, art, etc. There are what you could call Godzilla otaku here in the trash film scene, but they’ve got to be extremely few in number (just consider the toys on shelves and the internet sites). In Japan, the kaiju eiga poaching get elaborate, such as the “Biology of Godzilla” book. This would be an interesting place to go to to think about Aaron’s questions. The film is just as nationalistic as Independence Day, only is considerably more indirect about it. First, the decision to make Godzilla an iguana on nuclear steroids has the effect of detaching Our Godzilla from the Japanese version. Lost World showed more “debt” to Godzilla than the current remake, just for that parodic scene of Japanese tourists running down the street. You’d think they’d at least give us a Japanese Raymond Burr! Second, the handling of the nuclear issue shows a typical trope from the rhetoric of American nationalism: or basic problems get projected on other nations. Much of the problem here is with those damn French. Sure, we have incompetent politicians and generals, but the French do nuclear testing in the Pacific, the Ruskies’ second rate reactors melt down, and our bombs work just fine thank you (we just need help aiming them). What a different representation of American power this film would have if one of those generals decided the only way to take care of those mini-Godzillas infesting Madison Square Garden was to nuke New York! As it is, Godzilla is a vague foreign threat, and thank God for, as they say on X-files, the American Military Industrial Entertainment Complex. We could be on the verge of some bad shit in South Asia, but I seriously doubt spectators in the States are watching Godzilla with this in mind.
Date: Sat, 30 May 1998
Subject: Re: Godzilla
Peter’s take on Godzilla was really interesting. I have a question about the teisetsu, though. Considering how widely spread it has become, even if the films are “garbled” doesn’t this teisetsu become a reading protocol? In turn, does it become a framework for sequel production throughout the permutations you point to? In short, can we dismiss it so easily?
Date: Sun, 31 May 1998
From: “Peter B. High”
Markus wrote: I have a question about the teisetsu, though. Considering how widely spread it has become, even if the films are “garbled” doesn’t this teisetsu become a reading protocol? In turn, does it become a framework for sequel production throughout the permutations you point to? In short, can we dismiss it so easily? Markus
Yes, I would say the teisetsu most certainly does become a reading protocol. In recent years it seems to have weakened somewhat, perhaps reflecting the relative decline of the high-brow film journals in Japan (the critical “superstars” known now better via “tankobon,” or small format paperbacks). Partly it is an aspect of canonization-a-la-japonais –informing the viewer WHY he likes the Tora-san series or weeps at (or is expected to weep at) the “peace” films of Imai Tadashi. One ruling teisetsu about Ozu was that he was “uniquely Japanese,” which in turn bred the one-time Western teisetsu that Ozu was “about” Zen and wabi/sabi etc. (the view Hasumi Shigehiko so furiously refutes).
As far as I know (or have thought through, in any case), the teisetsu operates in the region of reception rather than production. Although it is not always the case, the teisetsu often contributes to the circumscription of readings within established categories or even the obfuscation of readings. Sometimes it invades film history–as seen in the manner in which the wartime war films of Tasaka Tomotaka and Yoshimura Kozaburo have become indelibly imprinted with the label of “humanist warfilms,” implying a secret, and non-existent, content questioning the war.The teisetsu circumscribing readings of the original versions LISTEN TO THE SOUND OF THE WAVES and HIMEYURI NO TO, as”anti-war” masterworks, has long disguised from view other aspects of their latent thematic content–allowing their villainous, recent remakes to pass among many viewers as genuine wear-hatred pieces. Now I know analogius fiorces are at work in the West as well. The difference, I think, is to be found in the way the Japanese teisetsu ENDURES. But perhaps because Western opinionating tends to be more iconoclastic, established readings, I think, have shorter life spans. I’m not sure what you Markus means by “dismissing” the teisetsu. In fact I see it as a major primal force in criticism here. Whether it has direct or even substantial indirect influence on sequel production is open to question and probably very difficult to verify. One arrant case is the way it has worked (here in Japan, at least) in reference to the so-called “peace” ideology of Imai Tadashi’s films.
– Peter B. High
Date: Sun, 31 May 1998
From: “Peter B. High”
Subject: benshi on radio
This is not directly related to Markus’ query, but, while investigating very early days of radio in Japan, recently, I came across an intersting sidelight to the history of the late-era benshi.which I’d like to share here. I deliover it to you in the form of a snippet (a few paragraphs) from a piece I’m working on right now: Radio broadcasting entered Japanese national life in March 1925, the amateur radio boom and the dozens of tiny, unregulated “stations” having already sprinkled the nation with twenty thousand receiving sets. Thereafter, the number of radios compounded at about the same rate television sets did in the early sixties. By 1926 there were 200,000 home radios and thousands more set up in tea rooms and lower class eateries to lure in customers. By 1932 the government had stopped counting, assuming there was at least one set in every household that could afford one. The early content of the programs directly reflected government ownership: lectures on radio technology, health, traditional culture, speeches on spiritual uplift, and news. For entertainment, there were popular songs, rather crudely produced radio plays and humorous rakugo narrations, the Edo era art of the raconteur thus receiving a new lease on life via the wireless.
Less successful were the experiments using benshi, seen as practitioners of an allied art form, who attempted to perform segments form popular films sans the visual. As one listener wrote in, “Its as irritating as listening at the door of a movie theater without being able to get in.” The rakugo artists meanwhile became the first prima donnas of the airwaves and when they complained they couldn`t hit their stride in front of an impersonal microphone, the station staff had to troop in to provide him an audience. After listeners wrote in querying the ghostly bursts of laughter, the staff men used pillows to smother their guffaws. Coverage of boxing and sumo matches did much to spread the popularity of radio in the same way cinema popularized itself among the masses with its Veriscope “illustration” of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight in 1897. Egi Ri’ichi’s Radio Calisthenics had almost a million families stretching and bending before breakfast. At first Egi did his show clad only in shorts and running shirt, but when it became known Imperial Prince Terunomiya and his wife were also devoted listeners, he was ordered to change to formal tuxedo. –well, for whatever its worth…
Peter B. High Nagoya University
Date: Sun, 31 May 98
From: Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow
Subject: Re: Godzilla
Peter offered some great comments on the new and old Godzillas. I’d like to add some comments interspersed between his:
I must say I largely agree with Aaron’s suggestion that they tend to serve as “trope[s] for defining the national self.” In agreeing, however, I must add the qualification that in dealing with such works as the stream of GODZILLAs (or RAMBO, etc.) we must not try to get a direct “reading” of a national “psyche.” They are by nature corrupt and almost infinitely corruptable texts, which provide commentators with free-floating, protean metaphors for social “insights” they probably developed elsewhere.
Peter is very right here and I thank him for providing the Izawa/Tsurumi citation. Part of the reason I focused on discourses on the film instead of the discourse of the film is precisely because I think the texts are so “corruptible.” As such, they do not reflect any national essence unless they are read as such within certain reading formations. My interest is then in how these readings have been formed and changed. With regard to reception, Peter asks an interesting question:
One wonders how many ordinary contemporary Japanese viewers, untutored by Izawa and Tsurumi’s analysis, saw the film in this light.
I wonder if anyone has done any research on the reception of the original _Gojira_. Izawa/Tsurumi offer one form of reception, but were there others? With regard to the new Godzilla, I do think we see the operations of certain established reading formations trying to use the film to articulate national identity. Just yesterday, I was watching “Osama no buranchi” and noted two very typical responses:
1) The host gave the old celebratory tone: “Isn’t great that a Japanese star can be given this kind of treatment by Hollywood!”
2) The reporter, in explaining the difference between the old and new Godzilla: “The American Godzilla has a body closer to that of Westerners since it has long legs.” Anyone seen any other comments like these?
A different sort of stab at Godzilla interpretation was taken in in a book called BOKUTACHI NO GOJIRA (the young author’s name escapes me for the moment), published about six years ago, which I reviewed in my old YOHAKU ORAI column for Asahi Shimbun Yukan.
The author is Sato Kenji. I like Peter’s reading of the original _Gojira_ in terms of the victimization complex and would like to expand on his last comment:
One other motif in Godzilla which I will only introduce without developing , is the evolving manner in which the (Japanese) military is depicted. In the original two Godzillas, the Army trundles out a host of cannons and tanks to do battle with the monster. But these are wilted like frail plastic under the fiery breath of G. The police too are helpless and in hysterical disarray. The ones who destroy the monster are the only part of the Japanese Establishment unimpugned by direct war responsibility–civilian scientists. In later Godzillas, we see a return of the heroic and ultimately effective Japanese military. In other monster films–I’m thinking here of anime–we see the emergence of the Monster Destroying Specialist–quasi-military elite units, openly motivated by the same Spirit-ist ethos we find in Pacific War films. In other words, seen as a series, the Godzilla films transform away from anti-military/authority motifs and slowly revalorize Authority and the elite military unit.
I think there are two points that need to be stressed here: First, that the Godzilla series definitely changes over time. We all know some of the changes: from films aimed at adult audience to mostly youth audiences, with a corresponding shift from a complex, monstrous Godzilla to Godzilla the friend of children (by the late 60s). Thus while I think Markus is right in asking about the perpetuation of certain reading protocols for Godzilla (they are real historical phenomena and are part of the larger text “Godzilla”:
Peter’s take on Godzilla was really interesting. I have a question about the teisetsu, though. Considering how widely spread it has become, even if the films are “garbled” doesn’t this teisetsu become a reading protocol?
In turn, does it become a framework for sequel production throughout the permutations you point to? In short, can we dismiss it so easily? to relate this to the production situation also demands we relate Godzilla to other discourses in production. The primary one and one closest to _Gojira_ is Toho tokusatsu film. There I do think one sees, as Peter notes with Godzilla, an increasing move to revalorize authority and the military elite. In fact, I think the central text here is _Kaitei gunkan_ (1963) in which the Earth must call on a former Imperial Navy ship and its technology to save the day. Looking at that film and many others in which the Japanese (even in the guise of the world defense force) military saves the day, I get the impression that many of the Toho tokusatsu films are fantasies about Japan winning WWII (the fact that such fantasies are still common in video games and book fiction confirms the depth and longevity of such fantasies). These discourses I think influence the later Godzilla and undermine their status as a pure expression of horror and anxiety about nuclear war.
Aaron Gerow YNU
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 1998
From: “Mark Schilling”
Subject: Re: Godzilla
I’ve been reading the posts on Godzilla with interest, especially Aaron’s reports on the wide shows. But though complaining that Hollywood has trashed a Japanese icon may make a good talking point for a wide show tarento, Toho expects the film to do enormous business here. The following is an excerpt from a marketing campaign report I wrote recently for Screen International that attempts to explain why.
Toho, which killed off its own Godzilla in the 22nd installment of the series – the 1995 Godzilla vs. Destroyah – and is distributing Roland Emmerich’s replacement in Japan, is convinced that none of the critical carping will matter at the box office. “It’s going to be the event movie of the summer” says Toho publicist Masahiko Suzuki, “We’re projecting film rentals of Y10 billion ($73 million), or about the same as The Princess Mononoke and Titanic.” To achieve this figure, Toho is mounting what Suzuki describes as “an orthodox campaign” that bears only a passing resemblance to Sony’s year-long promo blitz. The company has hung a poster on a twin tower that is a Ginza landmark saying that Godzilla is “as tall as this building,” but has not plastered Tokyo with posters saying that “size does matter.” “Japanese already know how big Godzilla is,” says Suzuki. “We don’t have to spend a lot of money reminding them.”
Working with a relatively small promotional budget compared with its US counterpart, Toho is saving its big guns for the month before the film’s July 11 opening, when it will saturate the market with TV and print ads, as well as posters in trains and train stations. The target of this campaign will be a wide demographic, including young adults in their twenties and thirties that are the core movie audience in Japan. To accommodate the expected crowds, Toho is opening Godzilla on 400 screens – its widest release ever. Many of the screens will be in Warner Mycal, UCI and other multiplexes that are rapidly reviving the Japanese exhibition business. “We are not limiting ourselves to our own circuit,” says Suzuki. “We want to get this film into as many theatres as possible. Hard-core fans may say that this Godzilla is not the real thing, but we think ordinary moviegoers are going to love it.”
Before dismissing Toho’s box office projection as hype, remember that they erred on the conservative side in forecasting the take of The Princess Mononoke; Toho thought it would earn about Y40 billion in film rentals, but it ended up clearing more than twice that. If they are right and Godzilla becomes a Titanic-sized hit here, I suppose we can say that snazzy CG effects outweigh any fan loyalty to a local idol. Given that sequels to the US Godzilla are already in the works, the Japanese Big G may be forced into a long retirement and become even more of a nostalgia item – the Japanese equivalent of Mickey Mouse – than it is already. I also think, though, that Toho will bring Godzilla “back home” someday, thunder thighs, rubber suit and all. But will anyone over the age of 12 still care?
Mark Schilling (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 1998
From: email@example.com (gregory starr)
Subject: Re: Godzilla
Mark, Good luck to Toho and their marketing campaign. But after seeing it at their premiere screening, I personally think they mig ht have some difficulties reaching their goals. Setting aside the entire Ja panese Godzilla vs. U.S. Godzilla lip-flapping fest (which, if anything, mig ht stimulate people to go see what the fuss is about), I think this film lac ks the broad appeal of a Mononoke or any other of the big box office leaders . Most of them had legs that resulted from strong word of mouth as well as promotion–and enjoyed an audience that ranged from schoolkids to the grayin g set. This film doesn’t offer much of value for anyone over 12–there’s no campiness, no charm, no plot. There’s a big CG iguana, but the kids have se en a lot of good CG on their video screens these days. I’ll be surprised by any longevity in this Godzilla. But I guess we should never underestimate the power of marketing. Cheers, Greg Starr
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 1998
From: “Mark Schilling”
Subject: Re: Godzilla
Having not seen the US Godzilla, I have no argument with Greg’s observation that the film lacks camp and charm, characters and story. I also admit that I was surprised by Toho’s prediction that the film would earn more than Y10 billion in rentals. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Toho does not always overhype their forecasts (though the one I quoted for PM should have had a period between the “4” and “0”), so I thought that they must have their reasons, though it wasn’t my brief in the marketing piece to speculate on them. On reflection, though, here are a few reasons why, despite poor reviews and a disappointing opening weekend in its home market, Godzilla might still do well here:
- All of Toho’s Godzilla films released in the nineties have earned more than Y1 billion in rentals, with two, Godilla vs. Mothra (1993) and Godzilla vs. Destroyah recording Y2.0 billion or more. Given the strength of the franchise, a Godzilla movie made with 10 times the budget and vastly superior effects compared with earlier entries is almost certain to improve on their numbers.
- A bad critical rap and disppointing numbers in the States does not mean that an action film, especially, will also perform poorly here. Case in point is Speed 2, which was trashed by US critics and ignored by US audiences, but still managed to become the fourth highest-grossing film of the year in Japan.
- Toho is not only the most successful distributor but the biggest exhibitor in Japan – and Godzilla is their baby. A big reason for PM’s success here last year was solid backing from Toho, which opened it wide in their best theaters. Godzilla is opening much wider and, in many markets, will be the only show in town. Despite the incredible legs of Titanic and the arrival of challengers like Deep Impact, it is unquestionably the summer movie to beat – and will have to bomb spectacularly indeed to lose..
- A US industry analyst said that Godzilla would get zero repeat business from anyone over fourteen – a fatal black mark, in his opinion. In Japan, of course, the Godzilla films have always primarily targeted a low demographic, but the young adults have come anyway. I’d rather not comment on audience mental age vis a vis Japan and the US, but that fact remains that the core audience here – teens and young adults – will turn out in large numbers for big effects shows, even ones aimed at 12-year-olds.
Still, I doubt that Godzilla will be able to put up PM- and Titanic-sized numbers. As Greg mentioned, it would have to draw the same wide demographic and the same number of repeaters and, in my opinion, it ain’t going to happen. Even so, I can see it approaching the take of Emmerich’s last film to open in Japan, Independence Day, which lacked Godzilla’s hometown-boy-makes-good appeal, but still managed to clear Y6.65 billion in rentals. My own best guesstimate, given the film’s bad advance vibes: Y5.0 billion.