Godzilla takes Kansas

by Mary Jane Dunlap
Godzilla will rule at KU during a July 19 and 20 festival that includes a free showing of the original 1954 Japanese film, a panel discussion and an exhibit.

"Godzilla Takes Kansas!" is the theme for the special events exploring Godzilla as a cultural icon of Japan and the U.S. The festival includes:

- "Godzilla," a free screening of the original 1954 film at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 19, at Liberty Hall, 642 Massachusetts St. Toho Company Inc. in Japan is permitting the festival sponsor, KU's Center for East Asian Studies,to show the film, which was recently restored and includes new subtitles;

- "Understanding Godzilla," a panel discussion at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 20, in Smith Hall auditorium. Panelists will be William Tsutsui, associate professor of history; James Gunn, director of KU's Science Fiction Writing Institute, and Gray Ginther, a 1999 KU graduate whose master's thesis explores the meaning of Godzilla;

- "Godzilla and Japanese Popular Culture," an exhibit of Godzilla artifacts, movie memorabilia and books, July 15 to Aug. 15 in the main lobby of Watson Library. The display will include materials from the KU libraries, toys and posters from Tsutsui's personal collection, and Ginther's master's thesis on Godzilla.

Toho Studios is releasing a new film version of Godzilla this year, Tsutsui said. Toho is showing the reprinted 1954 film in a few U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and Lawrence.
The concept for a Godzilla festival grew out of a discussion of Japanese popular culture between Tsutsui, acting director of the Center for East Asian Studies, and Michiko Ito, librarian for East Asian studies.

"We discovered we shared a mutual interest in Godzilla," Tsutsui said. Tsutsui had watched the film as a youngster in his native United States. Ito, born in Japan, had no interest in the film until she was a young adult. "I thought of it as a kids' movie until I read reviews relating it to themes of anti-nuclear hysteria and anti-war emotion in Japan"

Ito, who learned about World War II as part of Japan's history, said that when she saw the scenes of crowds running in terror in the original Godzilla film, she imagined those scenes were similar to what the Japanese experienced during U.S. air raids as they ran for shelter.
Often the anti-American themes of the many Godzilla films that followed the 1954 original were edited out of the versions shown in the United States, Tsutsui said.

In the 46 years since the first film was made, Godzilla has taken on more than one meaning, Tsutsui said. "In part, Godzilla is symbolic of a Japanese tradition of folktales and myths about 'oni' or demons that can be both benevolent and menacing."

Tsutsui has been collecting Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese) memorabilia - particularly toys and film posters - since he was about 11 years old, the same year he made his first visit to Japan. His collection has grown as a result of his students, particularly those studying in Japan, who find more Godzilla memorabilia.

His latest addition? A 15-inch tall roaring toy replica of the new Godzilla in the upcoming 2000 Toho film. Tsutsui compared the new toy to a much earlier toy version of Godzilla. For the year 2000, Godzilla sports bigger and more menancing purple tinged dorsal fins than the 1950s' version.

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July 14, 2000
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