For Godzilla’s 57th birthday, The Cinémasochist dissects Godzilla vs Hedorah,
In the early 70s , Japan was facing a bright future as it sat on the verge of an industrial upsurge that would make it the world’s second largest economy.
But it needed power- electrical power- to make that national dream a reality. Lots of power. And it needed it fast.
The traditional means of generating electricity in Japan, coal, would prove to be a major concern: Smog, acid rain, greenhouse gases- all were effects the Japanese people could see- and deplored.
Coal generating plants belch carbon at the foot of Mount Fuji
So the idea of nuclear energy was brought forward. It was relatively cheap (in terms of energy produced) and “clean” (from a carbon emission point of view) but the investment would still be massive and required a strong commitment. The people of Japan would have to embrace an energy source whose dark side the elders were intimately aquainted with- having been the only nation ever to be on the receiving end of a nuclear attack.
But nuclear energy wasn’t the same as bombs. It was really a new form of steam power with a massively hot cooker. That’s all. The atom is your friend.
Selling this idea to the masses was not going to be an easy task given that they weren’t blinded by the insane profits the power companies would make. Rebellious ecologically-minded youth- not yet easily dissuaded by the phrase “it will mean jobs”- was bound to question the logic behind wanting to set oneself up for yet anther round of nuclear nightmares. The industry needed a pitchman who could allay the fears of a generation already jittery at the prospect of extinction through war. Someone who had already had a firm hold of their imagination. One whose street cred was built on his own radioactiity.
They needed Godzilla.
As anyone who wasted valuable academic time researhing perfectly useless topics like “Asian Trash Culture “will tell you: Godzilla was originally conceived in the mid 50s as a metaphor for the downside of nuclear technology. Whether he was embodying the bomb or (as he would in the 80s) the threat of a power station meltdown; The Big G was always a promethean caution AGAINST releasing the nuclear genie from its bottle.
But in the early 70s, Godzilla took a break from his role as anti-nuke cruisader to being the spokesperson in favor of the emerging nuclear industry. It was the day Godzilla sold his soul.
Known in America as Godzilla vs The Smog Monster at the time of its release, Godzilla vs Hedorah is an epic collision of Saturday morning kiddie matinee, educational shorts and Midnight Movie psychedelia that has delighted children and acid-heads alike for close to forty years.
Crazy animation interludes pepper the film.
The film’s rubber model-stomping baddie is Hedorah- a nasty smelly pile of industrial sludge brought to life by some kind of space element. Looking at first like a big tadpole, the shape eventually evolves a pair of legs (much more comfortable for the suitmation actor) and struts to the nearest industrial sector to take bong hits off the somestacks- all the while purring like a kitten. Hedorah (whose name literally means “sludge” and figuratively “pollution”) feeds on waste.
“Whoa! I think I see a giant lizard, dude. This is good smokestack!”
Instead of walking off the calories, Hedorah mutates into a giant cow flop and goes flying, carried aloft by his methane emissions and burning eveything that comes in contact with his sulfuric emissions
You’ll believe a cow-cookie can fly!
The people of Japan are powerless. The situation is hopeless. Then, to the tune of the most unenthusuastic character theme ever, hope- in the form of Godzilla- appears.
Who changed my music? This new theme really sucks!
A long drawn out fight begins which culminates with Godzilla, like any self respecting superhero, pulling out a couple new tricks out of his ass: the most hotly debated one is his sudden ability to fly.
Just ignore the bit about the flying- it’s just going to get us off-track.
What really concerns us here is his newfound talent for generating electricity in industrial quantity- like a goddamned reactor!
The army’s plan to dispose of Hedorah is to lure it between two large metallic panels and zap him with a shitload of electric arc animation. When the power lines go down, it’s up to Godzilla to fire his atomic halitosis at the metal panels and generate the flashy optical effects needed to reduce Hedorah to a pile of powdered carbon. See kids? He’s radioactive and therefore electric. Get it?
In the end, the big lizard’s mission is accomplished: Hedorah is vanquished. Flowers can bloom again. Godzilla -fallout and all- is our friend. Cue the “Save the Earth” song.
I’d get misty eyed here save for the fact that the film (despite being derided on this side of the Pacific) was not only a commercial hit in the Land of the Rising Sun but a critical darling as well. It was credited with having “helped” the youth of Japan shed its concerns over Nuclear power and celebrated for calmly explaining the science behind atomic power stations. ( Regrettably, it was not taken to task for not mentioning concerns about the disposal of spent material- this could have been worked in the script with a discourse on the half-life of Godzilla’s droppings). It even had cute animated interludes to explain fission.
Yes. They actually gave nuclear fission a happy face!
The downside of nuclear reactors would thankfully reemerge as a central theme of future Godzilla movies a decade later. However, for the time being, Japan would gleefully move forward with building these little prosperity generators- geological surveys be damned.
No need to go any further. You and I know all too well how that turned out. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 but that’s no reason to dismiss this reassessment. If anything, we should use that newfound clarity of vision to reflect on where this all went wrong.
Godzilla flying used to be the big objection fans had to this film. Now, questions should be raised regarding the film’s motives in the first place.
Thanks for making this entry the most read on this blog.
Although not the first story posted, it was originally written as the “warm up” for this entire blog. I am humbled to see hits on this particular story almost every day from all over the world,
As a thank you, here is a look behind the scenes.