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Godzilla Conquers the Globe:
Japanese Movie Monsters in International Film Art

Exhibition Room #3: Kress Seminar Room

Godzilla Makes His Debut

C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University, February - December 2004
Curated by Gregory M. Pflugfelder with the assistance of Yoshiko Fredisdorf, Ria Koopmans-de Bruijn, and Derek Lam

Exhibit map, Room #3:

The original formula was simple, successful, and long-lasting: a fire-breathing lizard towers over the cityscape, clutching subway cars in his mighty claws, utterly impervious to tank fire and to attacking aircraft. Yet from the start, even this powerful image left room for multiple interpretations. With two exceptions, the posters in this room were designed to publicize the first Godzilla film to play in their respective countries: the Hollywood-retailored version of 1956, titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters. While most fit a basic pattern, they vary subtly yet significantly—and more than in such pictorial details as whether the monster in the image faces left or faces right. Orientalist fantasies, marketing ploys, ideological agendas, intertextual allusions, locally specific conventions surrounding medium and format, all combine to produce a surprisingly malleable, rather than monolithically menacing, beast. Succeeding generations of Godzilla movies, and moviegoers, evoked or experienced a similar diversity of reactions, ranging from mirth to melodrama to mortal terror.

Poster I

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: Belgium
YEAR: ca. 1957
ARTIST: ?
DIMENSIONS: approximately 18 x 22 inches
PRINTING METHOD: offset
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image

Belgium is a bilingual country, and film titles and publicity catchphrases conventionally appear on its posters in French and in Dutch. Both "Roi des Monsters" (French) and "Koning der Monsters" (Dutch) translate as "King of the Monsters." This particular poster likely was displayed in a francophone locality, since an additional sheet of paper is attached to the bottom, promising viewers in French that they will witness "the terrible effects of radioactivity." The word "radioactivity," incidentally, is itself originally French, emerging from the turn-of-the-century research of Marie Curie. French-language posters like this one (see also Poster V) emphasize the original film's antinuclear message to a far greater degree than their anglophone counterparts. Not until 1960 would France test an atomic bomb. Ironically, the makers of Hollywood's 1998 Godzilla decided to place the blame for awakening the prehistoric beast on French rather than on American nuclear experiments.

Poster II

FILM TITLE (JAPANESE): Gojira no gyakushû
                     (ENGLISH): Gigantis, the Fire Monster
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1955
POSTER NATIONALITY: Belgium
YEAR: ca. 1958
ARTIST: ?
DIMENSIONS: approximately 14 x 22 inches
PRINTING METHOD: offset
MONSTERS FEATURED (LEFT TO RIGHT): Godzilla, Gigantis
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image Godzilla returned to Japanese screens for the second time in 1955, a year before his first feature was released internationally. This time he was not the only monster on the block. His foe, Angiras, appears here on the right as both monsters battle each other on the streets of Osaka, Japan's second largest metropolis. This Belgian poster advertised the film's screening at Ciné Capitole, one of the largest theaters in Antwerp, a predominantly Dutch-speaking city. Much of the information appears only in Dutch, for example, the fact that the show ran continuously from 1:45 PM. Despite the early hour, children were not admitted—somewhat of an irony, considering that the kaijû eiga genre subsequently came to be regarded by many as "kiddie fare." The poster artist was clearly not familiar with Chinese or Japanese characters, so that the sign on the building near the center of the image is nonsensical. Nevertheless, he or she creates an interesting array of human types fleeing—or at least in one case nonchalantly strolling away—from the scene of destruction, not to mention a peculiar array of headgear.

Poster III

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: Romania
YEAR: 1957
ARTIST: ? (after A. Poucel)
DIMENSIONS: approximately 18 x 30 inches
PRINTING METHOD: lithography
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image Godzilla's reception behind the Iron Curtain is a story that remains to be told. In 1957, Godzilla, King of the Monsters premiered not only in Western Europe, but also in the Soviet satellite states of Poland and Romania. (The film opened the same year in Cuba, but Castro's Revolution was still a couple of years away.) Although Romanians saw the Hollywood version with Raymond Burr, official publicity described the film as the "production of a Japanese studio." Unlike its Slavic neighbors, Romanian is a Romance language, and it might be partly for this reason that local promoters chose a French design as the basis for their poster. Nevertheless, they deleted the sensationalistic verbiage that appears on the French original (see Poster V), including the claim that the film exposed the "terrible consequences of atomic experiments." Might this omission betray an uncomfortable recognition that the East Bloc, too, relied for its security on nuclear-weapons development? At the very least, the poster reveals the insufficiencies of the Romanian consumer economy, as reflected in the inferior quality of the paper on which it is printed.

Poster IV

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: West Germany
YEAR: 1957
ARTIST: ?
DIMENSIONS: approximately 22 x 33 inches
PRINTING METHOD: offset
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image Like their American counterparts, West German film publicists had switched from lithography to offset printing by the 1950s. Even so, the posters they produced during this era display a high level of technical skill, and retain their vibrant colors even today. This poster's imagery exemplifies a peculiar breed of Orientalism that indiscriminately mixes different East Asian traditions with a large dose of the artist's own fantasy. The curved roofs of the buildings that Godzilla is about to stomp on, for example, are more likely to be found in a Chinese than a Japanese city. Some of the written characters on the shop signs, meanwhile, exist in neither country. Details aside, the artist manages effectively to convey the sense that, as the top line of the poster phrases it, audiences would witness "the most sensational film of contemporary times." The flaming cityscape and smoke-filled skies in the background of the poster may even have reminded German viewers of similar scenes of urban conflagration in their own country's not-too-distant past. Like the unusually long tail on this German Godzilla, memories of war and destruction can leave a lengthy trail in the cultural imagination.

Poster V

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: France
YEAR: 1957
ARTIST: A. Poucel
DIMENSIONS: approximately 21 x 33 inches
PRINTING METHOD: lithography
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image We have seen this monster already in Poster III from Romania, but stripped there of the profuse language that distinguishes the French original. Film promoters in France emphasized that, contrary to name of the ocean that spawned him, Godzilla was anything but pacific. The copy inside the green box reads:

A monster from the ocean
Rises from the depths of the abyss
And attacks…

He sows panic
Ships are sunk
Trains are crushed
Skyscrapers collapse
A city disappears

Trains, cannons, tanks
Can do nothing to stop him

The H-bomb
Will it be able to destroy him?

A film that is
Gigantic
Sensational
Unforgettable

Whose realism
Surpasses the imagination!
For all the impending terror, the French artist has not forgotten to endow the woman who is being carried just left of these words with a revealing evening dress and comely legs.

[ERRATUM: The label inside the display case should read "1957" instead of "ca. 1957."]

Poster VI

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: Argentina
YEAR: 1957
ARTIST: ?
DIMENSIONS: approximately 29 x 43 inches
PRINTING METHOD: lithography
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image Although the letter D in Spanish is pronounced more softly than in English, it is not entirely clear why Godzilla, King of the Monsters, lost a Z when he arrived in Argentina. In Cuba and Mexico, not to mention Spain itself, the Z remained intact. Perhaps it was simply a typographical error. The names of some of the monster's costars are similarly garbled. Correctly, the cast roster should read: Raymond Burr, Fuyuki Murakami, Ren Yamamoto, Tadashi Okabe, Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata. Furthermore, "Shinkichi" is not the name of an actor, but of a character played in the movie by Suzuki Toyoaki. On a visual level, the colorful lithography of the poster makes true on its promise to deliver a monster that is "Horrible! Terrifying! Full of radioactivity!" Argentinean printers, like their counterparts in such countries as Australia, France, India, and Turkey, continued to employ traditional lithographic methods on their film posters well into the 1960s. The caption in red, which was used also in Cuban and Mexican publicity materials, reads: "Experts are baffled / The world is astonished / The destruction of ships and entire cities!" Is it my imagination, or does Godzilla's tail appear somewhat rodentlike?

Poster VII

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: Australia
YEAR: ca. 1960s
ARTIST: ?
DIMENSIONS: approximately 14 x 22 inches
PRINTING METHOD: lithography
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image Melodrama, according to The American Heritage Dictionary, is a form of "drama, such as a play, film, or television program, characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts." This Australian poster, which likely publicized a 1960s rerelease of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, is unusual in emphasizing the movie's (melo)dramatic as much as its horrific qualities. It is uncertain whether the "FOR ADULTS ONLY" rating that Australian censors gave the film was due to its romantic or to its violent content. In the original movie, a love triangle—hence the "interpersonal conflict"—involving Ozawa Hideto (Takarada Akira), Yamane Eriko (Kôchi Momoko), and Serizawa Daisuke (Hirata Akihiko) forms an important subplot within the larger narrative, but it recedes to the background in most film art. (The Takarada-Kôchi couple appears, however, on the Spanish publicity poster [Poster IX] three spaces to the right.) For Australians, many of whom were raised watching American television programs, Raymond Burr was a familiar dramatic actor, known primarily from his starring role in the detective series Perry Mason (1957-1966). Whereas the French poster (Poster V) two spaces to the left, for example, does not even mention Burr's name, Australian publicists gave the Hollywood actor conspicuous billing. Indeed, there is little about the poster to reveal the fact that what was in store for viewers was a largely made-in-Japan production. This "whitewashing" of Godzilla contrasts with most of the other items in the room (the Danish poster [Poster VIII] to its right is a notable exception), which indicate the film's Japanese origin either explicitly, implicitly in the names of the cast and crew, or through Orientalized imagery. Australian posters such as this daybill (a vertical format similar to the U.S. "insert") were used also in New Zealand.

Poster VIII

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: Denmark
YEAR: 1957
ARTIST: ?
DIMENSIONS: approximately 24 x 33 inches
PRINTING METHOD: offset
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
click to see larger image "Makes King Kong look like a midget! wrote the US press," gushes this poster from Denmark. The comparison may have been exaggerated, but American publicists—more specifically, the New York Daily News—had indeed made such a claim the previous year. The cartoonlike simplicity and rich lithography of the Danish poster are captivating. Note the suggestion of a forked reptilian tongue in the monster's fiery breath. Within four years, Denmark would produce its own knockoff version of Godzilla, namely, the title creature of the 1961 film Reptilicus. The Danish thriller, made by local director Poul Bang together with American Sidney W. Pink, tells the story of a frozen dinosaur that is unearthed in a copper-mining operation above the Arctic Circle and brought back to life by scientists. Reptilicus nearly destroys Copenhagen before being finally put down by NATO troops. Without the nuclear-weapons angle of 1954's Gojira, the political edge of the Danish film is rather dull—unless one chooses to view it as a jab at the mining industry. Denmark was not the only European country to copy the prehistoric-monster-reawakened formula of Godzilla in the years immediately after the Japanese monster's 1957 debut on that continent. In 1959, British filmmakers created their own G-monster: Gorgo, a saurian who emerges off the coast of Ireland in the wake of a volcanic eruption, and whose even more terrifying mother lays waste not to Tokyo or Copenhagen but to London. Another British wannabe is Behemoth, the Sea Monster ("THE BIGGEST THING SINCE CREATION"), also from 1959, whose title creature, like his Japanese predecessor, is accidentally revived as the result of nuclear-weapons testing. At one point in the film, a Cornish fisherman who dies after being exposed to Behemoth's radioactive rays is pointedly described as exhibiting the "same symptoms as Hiroshima."

Poster IX

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: Poland
YEAR: 1957
ARTIST: Alicja Waszewska-Laurman
DIMENSIONS: approximately 23 x 33 inches
PRINTING METHOD: lithography
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
This poster may be the only one in the room to have been designed by a female artist. Whether or not gender has anything to do with it, the Godzilla depicted here is unusually peaceable, even sort of cute. The full title of the film when released in Poland was Godzilla [or Godzila], morsko cudoviste—"Godzilla, the Sea Monster." Waszewska-Laurman's Orientalist imagery conveys the air of a poster for exotic travel to a foreign country, a luxury that was unavailable to most Poles under Communist rule. The sloping roofs and pagodas in the poster seem vaguely Chinese, although the copy states that the film is a "Japanese production." The theater program accompanying the movie's Polish release may be seen upstairs in Display Case B. Godzilla, King of the Monsters was one of the first Hollywood-marketed films to play in Poland after the post-Stalinist thaw of the mid-1950s. Long before the Cold War ended, audiences not only in Poland but also in such Communist states as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania (see Poster III), and Yugoslavia were able to visit Japan through the medium of kaijû eiga.

Poster X

FILM TITLE (ENGLISH): Godzilla, King of the Monsters
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
POSTER NATIONALITY: Spain
YEAR: ca. 1957
ARTIST: Macario Gómez ("Mac")
DIMENSIONS: approximately 27 x 41 inches
PRINTING METHOD: offset
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
This is the sole poster in the room that does not mention Godzilla by name (whether spelled correctly or not). Instead, Spanish publicists promised viewers that they would witness "Japan under the Terror of the Monster." As earlier noted, the couple who are at heart of the film's romantic subplot, played by Takarada Akira and Kôchi Momoko, appear in the poster's top left corner, although it is hardly love that shows in their faces. The name of Japanese director Honda Ishirô is given here as Inoshiro Honda. This is a common mistransliteration in overseas materials; even some Japanese get the director's given name wrong when they read its characters, which can be pronounced in more than one way. In advance of a movie's opening, Spanish theaters distributed handbills (programas de mano), also known as heralds, which were usually smaller versions of the full-sized poster. Two examples may be seen in Display Case B upstairs. The reverse side of one indicates that "Cinema Mari" (location undetermined) featured Godzilla, King of the Monsters as its special New Year's Day show in 1957. It further added that the film was "appropriate for all audiences." Spanish children, one can only conclude, were more mature than their counterparts in Australia and Belgium, who were barred from viewing it altogether. What was similar to Australia, however, was local publicists' emphasis on melodrama: as the herald put it, "Every scene of this extraordinary production [serves up] a heap of emotions."

Poster XI

FILM TITLE (JAPANESE): Gojira tai Mekagojira
                      (ENGLISH): Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster
ORIGINAL YEAR OF RELEASE: 1974
POSTER NATIONALITY: Poland
YEAR: 1977
ARTIST: Maciej Zbikowski (1935-?)
DIMENSIONS: approximately 23 x 33 inches
PRINTING METHOD: lithography
MONSTER FEATURED: Godzilla? Mechagodzilla?
(from the collection of Gregory M. Pflugfelder)
Fashions change. By the 1970s, Godzilla—or rather, his evil space twin, Mechagodzilla—had donned a metallic suit. To Americans, who were watching a lot more TV than they did when the original Godzilla arrived on their shores, the titanium cyborg was introduced as the Bionic Monster, a transparent attempt to cash in on the current television popularity of the Bionic Man (played by Lee Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man [1974-1978]) and the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman [1976-1978]). Even behind the Iron Curtain, men were running around the streets in bell-bottomed trousers, wide neckties, and long hair. The 1950s through 1970s are regarded as the Golden Age of the Polish film poster, and this example amply conveys the genius of local artists in this medium. Critics are divided as to whether to interpret their collective creativity as a form of resistance against the conformity of Communist culture or, conversely, as the result of being free to develop their art without having to bow to capitalistic market pressures. Maciej Zbikowski is known for his satirical cartoons and drawings, which appeared in such weekly magazines as Szpilki and Polska. He worked also in an animation studio, which contributed to the distinctive style of this and many other film posters that he created between 1965 and 1979.

SEE MORE OF THE EXHIBITION IN ROOM 1 and ROOM 2

Godzilla (R), all related characters and the character designs are trademarks of Toho Co., Ltd.
© Gregory M. Pflugfelder

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