Godzilla conquers the world Monsters: Immortality means never having to say you're sorry, no matter how many times you squish Tokyo.

April 07, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

Long live Godzilla!

The exhortation is probably not needed. The death this past week of Tomoyuki Tanaka, the man who created the puissant monster that has flattened Tokyo over and over again for four decades, will in no way retard the career of the reptile in question.

Tanaka was a mortal man. Godzilla is forever -- the way Santa Claus was for Dear Virginia: He lives in the hearts of little boys and girls everywhere.

Kabloom! There goes the power station!

Tanaka died of a stroke Wednesday in Tokyo. He was 86. He insinuated the monster into the consciousness of the world starting in 1954 with his quirky film titled "Godzilla," renamed "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" for the American market.

Forty-three years later, Godzilla is still king. Monster Zero from Planet X has been dispatched. King Kong got his chest hair singed. The Thing's a vegetable. The Smog Monster? Blown away.

Godzilla emerged at a time when nuclear bombs were on everybody's mind, especially in Japan. It would have been hard to choose a more appropriate birthplace for an irradiated being, the spawn of the plutonium-dirty early nuclear age, a monster with atomic energy provoked into life by nuclear explosions. He emerged from a turbulent sea with fire on his breath.

What Godzilla did to Tokyo was what happened to Hiroshima. The same lay in store for Washington and Moscow and points east and west if the people in charge didn't get their heads screwed on right.

The southwest section of the city of Fuji is practically destroyed! More than 1,600 dead are reported.

Godzilla would fight anything. Eagerly. The only thing that slowed him down, it seemed, were intellectuals, especially film critics who saddled him with symbolism, made him a "metaphor for his time," and for a lot of other things as well.

How tiresome it must have been for this thoroughbred leviathan to be so encumbered, as he careened through the urban rubble of his own creation, by such an old story. The tale of the monster that destroys his creator was better told the first time. How different he was from Dr. Frankenstein's puny creature, stitched together from random body parts.

Now there was a felon for you: He threw little girls into lakes. Godzilla was the product of inadvertence, the spawn of gargantuan impersonal forces. But he was a better bloke entirely.

So he stepped on buildings. So he squashed tanks, melted entire regiments of armor with his hot breath. Wasn't he kind to little children?

One of his cinematic clones, Gamera, was an immense turtle who ate Tokyo. But he also rescued a 10-year-old.

The main storage tank of the Japan Oil Company has exploded! All residents of the vicinity are ordered to evacuate. Immediately!

Children sense the protective affection, especially little boys. Boys have a fondness for scaly, rough-skinned things. They like frogs and snakes and dinosaurs, and all the other creatures which offend the sensibilities of those most likely to intrude on their secret ceremonies. Snails and lizards and newts are put on Earth, they know, to fend off maiden aunts and other intrusive females. Such animals are sanctified.

There is probably a reptile of some sort, a snake, a dragon, a combination snake and bird, present in the mythology of all pristine, self-created cultures -- from India to China to Mexico. Wasn't a serpent there at the start of the Judeo-Christian experiment?

Ask a little boy why he likes Godzilla. He will give you an uncomplicated answer.

"He breaks up ships, and sinks them," said 6-year-old Nicholas O'Neill, interviewed during a screening Thursday of "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster."

In that film, the marketing of Godzilla had even been incorporated into the story itself. It opens with a scene of a little Japanese boy playing with a Godzilla doll, much like the doll Nicholas has in his own toy box.

"Godzilla beats all," the boy chirps.

And he does. Having stomped Tokyo enough to have lost all enthusiasm for it, Godzilla deploys his muscle to save the world from the spawn of industrial pollution. In this case a belligerent tadpole.

So long as they dump sludge into the sea, these monsters will come on land. We must do something. Immediately!

Godzilla made a lot of money for those fortunate enough to be associated with him. He has endorsed everything from bath mats to beach balls to bedroom slippers. Appropriately, for something with breath like his, he has touted a mouthwash.

He has starred in more than 20 movies, growing heavier and taller all the time. It's necessary growth -- to keep up with Tokyo's soaring skyline.

The Japanese know his value, not only as a cash cow (or whatever) but possibly in the broader context of their national success in the second half of the 20th century.

They never fail to credit him. About five years ago Japan put on a six-month-long exhibition of Japanese industry and culture in England. It included objects and demonstrations of all their esoteric arts: Zen gardening, calligraphy, sumo wrestling. Very dignified it was. And at the heart of the big show, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, stood Godzilla.

At 43, Godzilla is still going strong. It's not clear how old that is in monster years, but it doesn't matter, does it? Not for a walloping titan who defies the laws of time, inertia, and is not at all impressed by the American Way.

If our information is correct he will appear in his first American-made picture next summer. New York is on the menu. Baltimore is not displeased.

There goes the Chrysler Building! The monster's heading for Yankee Stadium!

Pub Date: 4/07/97

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