Legacy of Japanese Original Comes Alive With New 'Godzilla'

May 3, 2014
Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures unleash the epic action adventure “Godzilla,” a powerful story of human courage and reconciliation in the face of titanic forces of nature, when the awe-inspiring monster rises to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless.

“Godzilla” stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Oscar® nominee Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, with David Strathairn and Bryan Cranston.

In 1954, Japan’s Toho Co., Ltd., released Ishiro Honda’s groundbreaking monster movie “Godzilla” in a country still reeling from the devastation of World War II. The film became a massive hit in Japan, and, 60 years later, continues to resonate around the world for distilling the fears and horrors of the atomic age into an awe-inspiring force of nature...Godzilla.

“‘Godzilla’ is the benchmark of monster movies,” says Gareth Edwards, the British director at the helm of the epic new vision for Toho’s iconic creation. Edwards grew up on Japanese monster movies before discovering Honda’s 1954 masterpiece on DVD and was fascinated by its stark allegorical subtext and continuing relevance in contemporary times. “If you went around the world with the silhouette of a giant dinosaur looming over a city, everyone would know exactly who it is—whether they’ve seen a Godzilla movie or not. But what many people don’t realize is that the original Japanese ‘Godzilla’ is actually a very serious film. I think that’s the reason it was so embraced by Japanese culture—because not only is it a great monster movie, it was also very cathartic for people to see those images brought to life on screen in such a visceral and real way.”

Partially reshot, softening some of its metaphorical bite, and dubbed into multiple languages, the film was released abroad two years later and a legend was born. For the past six decades, the towering “King of the Monsters” has cut a swath through pop culture, spawning numerous sequels, an army of toys, and incarnations in everything from comic books to video games. A whole new genre of movies emerged—kaiju eiga—and Godzilla became one of the most beloved and recognizable movie heroes of the 20th and, now, 21st centuries.

Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull grew up devouring monster movies, but the crown jewel of Toho’s legion always reigned supreme in his mind. “From his signature roar to the outline of those dorsal fins to the radioactive fire that he breathes, Godzilla is an absolute global icon,” he says. “Over the years, Toho has examined the character in different ways and pitted him against a whole menagerie of giant creatures, but my favorite will always be the Japanese original, which was at once a terrifying monster movie and a profound cautionary tale.”

Tull long harbored a passion to bring the titanic leviathan to the big screen in a summer spectacle with all the heart and human stakes of the original. “Our intention has always been to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain relevant for as long as it has,” Tull explains. “Our plan was to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see—a movie that didn’t feel like a thrill ride for its own sake, but to take it back to its roots and create a human story within the context of today’s world. I’ve been waiting for this film my whole life.”
Knowing he was being handed the reins to a legend, Edwards turned for inspiration—as Ishiro Honda had before him—to the world he saw around him. “I know it sounds impossible, but imagine for a moment the arrival of a great creature that mankind can’t even communicate with, much less control...what would that be like to live through?” he posits. “How would the world react? We’ve all seen or experienced incomprehensible disasters, natural or otherwise, that would seem like a scenario from a movie if they didn’t actually happen. So the challenge of making the ultimate Godzilla movie was to reflect that reality, which gets back to the heart of what Godzilla is really about.”

Working out of London, Edwards embarked on marathon Skype sessions with the film’s Los Angeles-based screenwriter, Max Borenstein, to shape a story that would both hint at Godzilla’s origins and unravel the mysterious events that herald his emergence in the context of the today’s world.

Borenstein wrote the screenplay, from a story by David Callaham, after immersing himself in research, which included taking in all 28 “Godzilla” movies produced by Toho Co., Ltd., encompassing the Showa, Heisei and Millennium series. “Our ambition was to treat this story as if this was a terrifying, real incident happening today, with all the gravity of a real disaster, while still making a big, spectacular monster movie that’s fun to watch,” Borenstein details. “The original film is an amazing tale of humanity’s insignificance in the face of nature, but with the human strength and resilience to rise and survive a disaster of that magnitude.”

Before a single frame of “Godzilla” had been shot, the director and producers created a 90-second teaser to express the mood they wanted to bring to the film, which they debuted at the annual Comic-Con International before nearly 7,000 screaming fans. The grainy footage revealed a city reduced to rubble, with the great creature materializing through the smoke and dust, and issuing his deafening roar. Over the imagery, Edwards played the haunting words of Robert Oppenheimer, “father” of the atomic bombs that reduced the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki to radioactive ash, quoting the Hindu scriptures to describe the incomprehensible Pandora’s Box they’d opened: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Godzilla has always had a mystery and duality about him—a being of pure instinct that moves not in concert with humanity, but towering over it as he rises implacably from the sea. “Monsters have always been metaphors for something else,” Edwards notes. “They represent the darker aspects of our nature and our fears of what we can’t control. In a way, Godzilla almost embodies a kind of ‘wrath of God’—not in a religious sense, but rather nature coming back to punish us for what we have done to the world. In our film, we are definitely tapping into those ideas.”

Slated to open across the Philippines on May 15, 2014, “Godzilla” is expected to be presented in 3D, 2D and IMAX® in select theatres and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, except in Japan, where it will be distributed by Toho Co., Ltd. Legendary Pictures is a division of Legendary Entertainment.

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