Godzilla from the 2014 film adaptation.
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Godzilla is almost certainly Japan’s most popular and enduring cultural export. The star of 28 pictures made by the Japanese studio Toho from 1954 to 2004, Godzilla evolved out of Japan’s specific experiences with war, nuclear fear, and economic reconstruction. (Although the giant radioactive reptile was also originally inspired by American cinematic monsters, especially King Kong and the raging rhedosaurus that headlined the 1953 movie The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.)

With the release this month of a glossy, fast-paced, and heavily marketed new blockbuster directed by Gareth Edwards, Hollywood is attempting (for the second time) to appropriate Godzilla for the United States -- and the effort very well may succeed. In one sense, that is par for the course: Godzilla has remained relevant because of his uncanny ability to reflect the shifting obsessions, anxieties, and expectations of moviegoers across decades, national boundaries, and wide cultural divides. And yet, in Americanizing Godzilla, we risk losing something important.

The

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  • WILLIAM M. TSUTSUI is president of Hendrix College and author of Godzilla of My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters (2004).
  • More By William M. Tsutsui