Since Godzilla


There goes Tokyo.

Godzilla has wrecked havoc for almost 50 years. In over 26 movies the oversized radioactive dinosaur with really bad breath has destroyed most major population centers in Japan as well as a few overseas targets. Over this time, Godzilla has gained enormous popular support in Japan and a strong cult following overseas. Godzilla has recently gained a higher cultural status with entry, and that was not through the roof, into a major art gallery. The exhibition, 'Since Godzilla', at the Taro Okamoto Museum of Fine Art, is surely only the forerunner to the latex lizard being declared a Living National Treasure.

The exhibition begins with a time setting display of art and artifacts. As well as electrical goods of the 1950's, this includes a spectacular painting by Taro Okamoto. It depicts a horrific incident, where a Japanese fishing trawler, the Lucky Dragon, was caught in a cloud of radioactive waste from a US nuclear weapons test which resulted in many deaths. The event not only inspired Okamoto's painting but also was an important source of inspiration for the Godzilla story.

Tomoyuki Tanaka, who died 1997 at age 86, was the creator of Godzilla. He was also the producer of the first 22 Japanese Godzilla films over a 41-year period. From its first appearance, as the result of nuclear testing on US controlled Bikini Atoll, Godzilla has undergone various transformations over the years from villain to super hero. In its celluloid reign as king of monsters, Godzilla has also battled innumerable other giant mutant creatures on earth as well as in outer space.

A large part of this series of film's popularity is their sci-fi "campy" farce. A feature has been the 'man in the suit' style of special effect. The exhibition includes four full sized Godzilla suits as well as an assortment of other monster suits. Godzilla films have also always been noted for the quality of their miniature work, particularly the accuracy of city set constructions. The exhibition includes a full city diorama from the Millennium Godzilla film. It depicts the monster (an actual suit) in battle against a UFO, from the climactic end of the film.

There are also various film props such as an egg from Godzilla vs. Mothra, 1992, as well as Mothra's larvae form. The oxygen bomb, which once successfully rid the world of Godzilla, is also on display along with an impressive display of art produced for film posters. Actual scripts and original storyboards by some of the epics noted directors, such as Ishiro Honda, add to the artistic source material on display.

Since Godzilla's radioactive birth from nuclear weapons testing, the epics have had a number of underlying serious themes. To stress these connections the exhibition uses newspaper headlines and TV excerpts of events from the era on display.

This documentary evidence reminds us of events such as the environmental disaster of Minimata disease. Where it was found that a chemical plant dumping waste into Minimata Bay resulted in people dying of mercury poisoning from eating fish caught in the area. Spawned from these ecological disasters was the 1971 production Godzilla versus the Smog Monster Hedola. In this movie, an outer-space germ feeds off the planet's pollution and industrial waste. The 1962 Godzilla V's King Kong, which ends in a polite draw, is a monster metaphor for the US/Japan security relations of the time and the future fight for economic dominance. In other more recent movies, a Robotic Godzilla rages rampant -- technology out of control. Yet, in more recent films a robot is the savior from the beast. The exhibition illustrates how the Godzilla series reflected the nation's fears and aspirations over the last half-century.

Sited in the green oasis of Ikuta-Ryokuchi in Kawasaki city, the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art is a spectacular museum. In the same park are the Nihon Minka-en (Outdoor Folk Museum), Youth Nature Museum and remains of Masukata Castle. The Godzilla exhibition, which is drawing good crowds from across three generations, is a must for anyone who has enjoyed a film from the series. However, the exhibition is also strongly recommended for anyone interested in the art of Japanese popular culture or just curious about the world outlook from this seemingly crazy, crowded island.

Taro Okamoto Museum of Art 7-1-5 Masukata, Tama-ku, Kawasaki Tel: 044.900.9898 9:30 17:00, closed Monday Adults Y900 Children 700 Odakyu line, Mukogaoka-Yuen Station.
through July 28
Related events at the museum: June 6, 1:00 - 14:00 Discussion - Peter Mulsov, The US, the war and Godzilla followed by screening, Godzilla vs. Biollante June 16, 1:00 - 14:00 panel "What is Godzilla?" followed by screening, Godzilla '84 July 21, 1:00 - 14:00 Shusuke Kaneko (GMK director), "The Future of Godzilla". followed by screening of GMK: Daikaiju Soukougeki