Thursday, March 25, 2010

Culture Shock 03.25.10: Godzilla takes up poetry on 12 steps to recovery

Sure he crushes cities, irradiates the countryside and kills thousands, but could it be that Godzilla just wants to be understood?

One denizen of the Internet, who goes by the name Samurai Frog, seems to think so and has created a Web site to prove it.

Godzilla Haiku, online at, puts the thoughts of Godzilla and some of Japan's other giant, rubberized monsters into poetic form — haiku, to be exact.

Haiku are 17-syllable poems of three lines, the first line comprised of five syllables, the second of seven and the third of five. They are among the easiest poems to write, and the hardest to write well. Traditional haiku often have a seasonal reference. But Godzilla isn't much for tradition. Skyscrapers or Shinto shrines, they're all the same to the King of the Monsters. They make the same crunch beneath his feet.

But it's not easy being king. Recently, Godzilla lamented:

I am what I am
This body imprisons me
My soul aches for love

After he trampled Tokyo, menaced Mothra and roasted Rodan, who would've thought Godzilla had it in him. Is he a poet, only we didn't know it?

Despite his grumpiness and propensity for violence and property damage, there has always been something sad, even soulful about Godzilla.

In his closing narration in the U.S. version of "Godzilla: 1985," Raymond Burr's character, Steve Martin, sums it up best: "For now, Godzilla — that strangely innocent and tragic monster — has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not, or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us remain."

Ever since his first movie stomped Japanese theaters on Nov. 3, 1954, Godzilla — or Gojira, as he is known in Japan — has been a symbol.

He is the atomic bomb. He is a force of nature. He is punishment for "tampering in God's domain," which was a common occurrence in 1950s sci-fi movies.

Strangely, as the years went on, Godzilla also became Japan's and Earth's protector, fighting other monsters, extraterrestrials intent on conquering the planet and time travelers bent on changing history.

In 1991's "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah," Godzilla saves Japan from time travelers from the year 2204, who have come back in time to stop Japan from becoming an economic power. At least I think that's the plot. I've seen the movie half a dozen times, and it never really makes sense.

Godzilla prevailed, but then Japan went into a deep recession known as the "Lost Decade," which, as far as I know, had nothing to do with incoherent time-travel schemes. You win some, you lose some.

Maybe all of that symbolism is too much to ask of anyone, even a 30-story-tall mutant dinosaur with radioactive breath. All he wants to do is step on model cars and toy trains, yet we expect so much more of him.

Horror and fantasy writer Joe R. Lansdale explores Godzilla's ennui in a brilliant short story titled "Godzilla's Twelve-Step Program," found in Lansdale's latest collection, "The Best of Joe R. Lansdale."

Filled with humor and pathos, the story charts Godzilla's progress, or lack thereof, as he tries to kick his habit of pulverizing cities and squishing people between his toes. Godzilla gets a regular-guy job at a foundry. He watches TV. Some days, things seem like they might be OK. Other days, Godzilla gets that all-too-familiar itch.

If only people would just leave him alone. After all, all Godzilla wants is to appreciate the beauty of the world — and swat a few pesky airplanes from the sky.

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