Ja­panese purists no fans of Amer­i­can high-tech Godzilla

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Yuri Kageyama

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.

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