Japanese purists no fans of American high-tech Godzilla
TOKYO — The big-screen Godzilla that scared and thrilled viewers in 1954 was an actor in a rubber suit with a zipper up its back. And many Japanese fans still prefer that monster over a Hollywood version made in full 3-D computer-graphics glory. “American Godzilla is just a giant iguana freaking out,” says Mudai Nozaki, 30, who believes Godzilla is Japan’s greatest contribution to cinematic history next to Seven Samurai and Kagemusha director Akira Kurosawa. His reaction is typical among Japanese who have seen the trailer of the film, titled simply Godzilla, which premieres May 16 in North American in July in Japan. They wonder if the Warner Bros. remake will be a tribute or an embarrassment for Japan’s monstrous legacy. Japanese Godzilla-lovers say their iconic hero falls into a special phantasmal category called “kaiju,” which have more imaginary, far-fetched traits than what they see as more mundane monsters like King Kong or Frankenstein. And the Hollywood version is no kaiju, said Kazuya Haraguchi, a 45-year-old technician for reel films who collects Godzilla goods. Almost everything about the new creature is wrong, from head to toe — how its arms are limp at its sides, how the scales on its back are too regular, even the shape of its head, he said. He shrugs off the creature in the new film as depicting what he pronounced as “Gadzilla,” imitating an American accent — instead of “Gojira,” (Go-jeeh-ruh), the way Japanese say it, a word that combines “gorilla” and “kujira,” or whale. In the original story, Godzilla emerged from the Pacific Ocean, a mutation awakened by nuclear-weapons testing on the Bikini Atoll, underlining Japan’s emotional trauma from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. All director Gareth Edwards says he has done is produce an improved, more realistic Godzilla. “As an adult, it’s hard to point at a film where that truly did him justice. Especially with the digital tools we have available today,” he told The Associated Press. Haruo Nakajima says a true Godzilla must be a figure of pathos as it destroys buildings and bridges in its path. He should know. He was the first Godzilla. Nakajima, 85, was a stunt actor in samurai films when he was approached to take the Godzilla role. He had to invent the character from scratch, and went to the zoo to study the way elephants and bears moved. The suit was so hot, the sweat he wrung from the shirt off his back would fill half a bucket, he recalled. “If Godzilla can’t walk properly, it’s nothing but a freak show,” he said, stressing that later Godzilla are mere imitations. The theme of his Godzilla was grander and more complex, addressing universal human problems, as it spoke to a Japan that still remembered wartime suffering, he said. “Everyone asks me to play Godzilla again. My Godzilla was the best,” Nakajima said proudly, sitting among sepia-toned photos of him as a young man and Godzilla figures in his apartment.