He’s a 350-foot-tall metaphor.
The King of Monsters returns Friday in Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla,” and though he has been dormant from the big screen for a long time, one thing hasn’t changed in the 60 years since he first stomped onto the shores of Tokyo: He represents our fears of a modern world.
Back in Toho Studios’ 1954 movie “Gojira” (a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla and whale — sort of like Sharknado), the rampaging radioactive mutation may have been an actor in a rubber costume, but he captivated worldwide audiences still terrified by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their atomic and environmental fallout.
Of course, the world has walked away from the brink of atomic warfare, but Gareth Edwards, director of the new “Godzilla,” didn’t have to look hard to find psychological fears to explore in his bigger, badder CGI behemoth.
Godzilla will always represent that fear that there is something beyond our control.
“It was just a case of trying to find what the relevance is today,” Edwards told The News. “And ‘Godzilla’ has always been about nuclear power and radiation.
“As we were writing the film, the horrible events in Fukushima (a tsunami-caused nuclear meltdown) happened and we had to make the decision: Do we stay away from that or do we acknowledge that you’ve opened this Pandora’s box of nuclear power, and when it goes wrong, it really does go wrong?”
In “Godzilla,” the monster is awakened from the deep by a malignant creature discovered when it attacks a nuclear plant in Japan. Though the humans are largely irrelevant to the story, a heroic engineer (Bryan Cranston) and his son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) join forces with a secretive Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) to stop the towering threats as they head across the Pacific to the U.S.
The swath of destruction they leave in their wake is evocative of news footage from the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 tsunami — but don’t call it coincidence. Call it relevance. Freaking out filmgoers is just a matter of opening up the paper and putting it in your script.
“Unfortunately for our generation, you don’t have to imagine very hard,” says Edwards. “For the last 10 years, there have been these horrific situations and the visuals from those moments have just scarred everyone’s minds.”
Just as “Godzilla” did for Japanese audiences back on Nov. 3, 1954, when the film opened in a nation still very much in the throes of nuclear anxiety.
But it wasn’t the attack on Hiroshima that provided the jumping-off point for producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and director Ishiro Honda’s original classic. It was an incident that March when the crew of a Japanese fishing boat, Lucky Dragon, was contaminated by fallout from a U.S. bomb test at Bikini Atoll.
“The genesis … spoke to something very real and traumatic with the atomic experiences in Japan,” says Thomas Tull, the head of Legendary Pictures, the company behind the new “Godzilla.”
Godzilla crossed an ocean two years later as an Americanized dubbed version, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” with extra scenes featuring Raymond Burr spliced into the film to provide a recognizable face for Western audiences.
By the late ’60s, he had the indignity of romping around on screen with a smoke-ring-blowing son; 10 years later, he was a more literal cartoon. The adults had long left the living room.
Toho rebooted the brand in the ’80s with slightly more menancing effects, but those movies barely made a ripple on this side of the Pacific.
That was before Tristar’s 1998 American version in which Godzilla was remodeled to look like a giant iguana, a more damaging blow to the big fella than any punch from the giant ape in the 1962 mashup “King Kong vs. Godzilla.”
The Roland Emmerich-directed movie had the largest budget of any Godzilla installment, but commited the cardinal sin of treating the star as a giant punch line instead of a force of nature. That’s something the filmmakers behind the 2014 edition were determined not to repeat.
“Godzilla will always represent that fear that there is something beyond our control,” says screenwriter Max Borenstein. “That no matter how much preparation or how much technology we might pour on a problem, we could be washed out or stomped out instantly and capriciously just like ants.”
Watanabe says he signed on for “Godzilla” after the tsumani, though battling monsters is something of a family affair for him — his wife, Kaho Minami, starred in 2001’s “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.”
“Even after 60 years, still people are fascinated by Godzilla,” says Watanabe. “Why? After all these years, we have the same fear. The things that terrify us have not changed. The situation has not changed.”