What better way to close out Asian Pacific American Heritage Month than with release of a new GODZILLA film by director Michael Dougherty, who is of mixed-race Asian heritage (his mother is Vietnamese) from Columbus, Ohio.
As we know, one of Godzilla’s most endearing traits is he hardly, if ever, says anything in a language that we know of. Now in his 7th decade as a top-line movie star (his longevity surpasses James Bond, Superman, Harry Potter, any other filmic hero you want to name) he’s been delivering a remarkably consistent message, mainly through allegory (in this usage, “allegory” would be defined as “the implied meaning of the roaring, fire-breathing, and destruction of everything in his path”):
GODZILLA VS. ASIAN AMERICAN ERASURE
Godzilla is Asian American. He literally crosses the ocean between Japan and American more often than you or I do a load of laundry. He’s trod on Tokyo, San Francisco, New York, Osaka. You can’t exactly tell him what his residency status is, nor would he give a pho. His primary allegiance is to the whole Earth, but in terms of where he chooses to spend his time on land, he is closest to a Japanese national with dual citizenship in the United States. In the countless American versions of Godzilla in films, comics, and Saturday morning cartoons, he is the local dude defending the rest of American citizenry from getting squashed by threats foreign and domestic. He is an Asian American iconic force, our hero, our arbiter of lifes and deaths, our ambassador, our guy.
GODZILLA VS. CLIMATE CHANGE
He may not be the Green New Deal we need, but he’s probably the GND we deserve. Godzilla is the one metaphor for human-induced climate catastrophe that basically everyone knows about. He was created by a bomb that caused unprecedented devastation to both humans and their environment. He has fought smog monsters, alien invasions, robot doppelgangers of himself, always with cheerful disregard for the cities and cars that get smooshed in the process — it’s always a little murky his actual motivations for fighting (more on that later) but recurring themes do emerge: he maintains a primordial ecosystem, he likes his Alpha position atop the animal kingdom, and in about 12 years, if the oceans’ temperature and acidification levels are not to his liking, well, he’s gonna be very, very upset.
GODZILLA VS. THE MONOTHEISTIC MONOPOLY MONSTER
Godzilla argues that there is a god, but one that has nothing to do with the invented religions of humans. It’s no accidental pun that “God” is in the conventional transliteration of his name. The notional similarity in all gods is that they represent a higher power. Godzilla is that; we created him, he is very tall, and he decides the fate of the planet. My atheistic ass has to look it up everytime to confirm, but I’m pretty sure that’s what God is. But Godzilla, like Mothra but unlike Ghidorah (traditionally an alien invader) is from and for the planet Earth, the highest power worth talking about (he does at some point have a son named Godzooky, but let’s skip over the implications of that for right now).
GODZILLA VS. THE WALL
Godzilla invalidates the utility of bombs, guns, and walls. As with all long-lasting characters, Godzilla’s origin has been retconned several times, but we all basically agree that he was created by a nuclear bomb detonation. Like Hulk, the radioactive doomsday weapons of the U.S. Armed Forces are not a threat to him; the nuke is more like his mother (another factor that make him definitively Asian-American). Like the cockroaches, he would survive a nuclear holocaust. The advancements in U.S. military tech are not something he notices. And walls? Godzilla does not even know what a wall does.
GODZILLA VS. IGNORANCE OF ASIAN CULTURE
Asians are most of the planet. Godzilla is Asian, Japanese, and American (and god only knows why it’s hard for some people to reconcile those three concurrent facts). Only one nation has ever been tactically struck with nuclear weapons (an event which, apart from the human cost, unleashed the pop-cultural mutation metaphor we still are in the midst of today, creating Godzilla, the X-Men — the imaginary byproducts of the nuclear age.) Despite this, if aliens observed Earth, they would conclude that it was mostly Asian, because it is, by a wide margin. And Godzilla is an effective ambassador for all of humankind’s achievements and hubrises. And you can handicap the fight between Godzilla and King Kong in any way that makes you nationalistically happy, but you can’t erase the fact that King Kong is also an immigrant (even if only by being victim of involuntary trafficking), and whoever wins in next year’s announced GODZILLA VS. KONG remake is a victor for all hyphenated Americans.
GODZILLA VS. LL COOL J
As this trailer shrewdly emphasizes, don’t call it a comeback. Godzilla has never left us. Heck, the flying nuclear turtle spinoff Gamera has never left us, he’s just been chilling out there in the Marianas Trench somewheres.
GODZILLA VS. THE HERO-SAVIOR COMPLEX
Godzilla’s function as a hero is one of the great dramatic enigmas in modern fiction. He’s essentially a Neutral Good NPC who tends to favor balance (as in, the exact ratio of crushing giant monsters to the collateral crushing of human cities and towns, a math equation that only he will ever know or understand). He doesn’t seek material gain, recognition, or even justice — he kinda just wants to bash Ghidorah’s heads in and then go sink back into the sea where he’s at peace. Of course, he also destroys lives as well as things: Bambi, people who live in tall buildings, the tall buildings themselves. But, lest we forget, forces of nature do that. Godzilla is the force of nature who just happens, percentage-wise, to save our asses more often than he stomps them.
GODZILLA VS. MECHA-ADULTHOOD
The way I got attached to Godzilla was similar to the way I first ingested Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, that is, both bonds formed during the childhood discovery years, and thusly formed an aesthetic preference that is impervious to adulthood, gaining perspective, medical treatment, anything. You like what you liked as a kid when you were learning to like things, and nobody can take that away from you.
Like so many Asian Americans of a certain age who developed coping mechanisms for the inability to avatarize ourselves into our favorite TV and movie characters due to how we looked, I liked Godzilla for the same reason I like Spider-Man. He could be anybody behind that mask, inside that rubber suit. Could be any damn kind of person, you don’t know.
I liked Godzilla because in that grade-school year I got chicken pox and had to stay at home and focus on not wanting to scratch my own skin off in excess of the normal amount, there was some cable channel playing the original Toho Godzilla movies. All week, all day, all scratch-resisting hour. ALL-GODZILLA WEEK. Unlike Mechagodzilla, I eventually (un-miraculously) recovered.
GODZILLA VS. THE OTHER JAPANESE SUPERHERO I GREW UP WITH
And yes, for those of you who have followed this screed down to this final graph, rigorous Chrome research quickly revealed that GODZILLA vs. ULTRAMAN exists. Not in the real world. Just on the internet.
(And we cannot close without mention of one of the finest movie theme songs of all time, by Akira Ifukube. Open another window and play the classic version and then try re-reading this post, it will probably start to seem much cooler than it actually is.)