Preposterous Universe

Monday, October 18, 2004
Ahead of the curve

And here I thought it was just me who thought about the scientific issues raised by Godzilla. No, there are a bunch of people interested in this and all other sorts of Godzilla issues; they're getting together this week to exchange ideas.
The University of Kansas plans to pay homage to the giant lizard later this month, organizing a three-day scholarly conference for the 50th anniversary of his first film.

It's not just about celebrating campy creature features. Planners want to provoke discussion of globalization, Japanese pop culture and Japanese-American relations after World War II.


The movie - in which H-bomb testing disturbs Godzilla's undersea habitat and transforms him into a behemoth with fiery, radioactive breath - reflects anxiety and a feeling of helplessness in the face of a nuclear threat, Igarashi said.

The franchise was widely known for its campy special effects. Godzilla films featured men in dinosaur suits stomping around miniature urban landscapes and some monster battles that, Tsutsui acknowledged in his book, seem more like professional wrestling matches.

When an American version of the first film was released in 1956 - re-edited to include new scenes featuring Raymond Burr of "Perry Mason" fame - the New York Times dismissed it as "cheap cinematic horror-stuff."

"It is true there were some bad, bad films produced, particularly in the late '60s and early '70s," said Igarashi, who plans to lecture at the conference on the 1964 movie "Godzilla vs. the Thing," in which Godzilla battles the giant moth, Mothra, and its offspring.
I don't know why I wasn't invited to the conference. Maybe the organizers thought I was already traveling too much.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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