By Jana Monji
It’s not big news that Godzilla is from Japan and that in Japan, there are a lot of Japanese people. One of weird things about the Legendary Pictures (distributed by Warner Bros) iteration of our green scaly icon is that the screenwriters search for ways to shoehorn White people into the plot.
The 2014 Godzilla (written by David Callaham) put a French woman and an American man as supervisors for a Japanese nuclear power plant. Sure that means you get the guy from Breaking Bad as the father (Emmy, Golden Globe, Tony and Olivier award-winner Bryan Cranston), but there are Japanese in Japan and the American Occupation ended in 1952 before construction on the first nuclear plant in Japan began in 1961.
In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Cranston’s Joe Brody doesn’t come back nor does his family (Aaron Taylor-Johnston as Joe’s son, Ford, and Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife and Carson Bolde as Ford’s son, Sam). Instead, in director Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters which Dougherty co-wrote with Zach Shields, another White family becomes the emotional center: Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), his ex-wife, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and their surviving child, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). Mark and Emma had a son who died when Godzilla faced MUTO in San Francisco.
There are a lot of Asian American in San Francisco (34%) and the female MUTO was actually nesting in Chinatown, but East Asians are in short supply in this movie–even when one of the sites the mysterious monster monitoring organization, Monarch, is in China, mainland China.
The script does bring back Japanese scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) whose father helped found Monarch and adds twins Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling Chen (both played by Zhang Ziyi) in a mythologist working for Monarch. The Chens are third-generation Monarch scientists, but they aren’t the scientists attached to Mothra and these twins don’t sing a Mothra song.
Emma has a special instrument called Orca that can control and communicate with the monsters who are now emerging and she’s the one that has been monitoring Mothra in China. Emma and Madison are kidnapped by ecoterrorists and taken to Antarctica where they witness the emerging of King Ghidorah and are almost rescued by Mark.
Most people aren’t going to see this kaiju flick for the acting or the plot. From the title, you can probably guess what happens when all the kaiju, called Titans here, emerge. While I prefer a snootier, big-eyed classic Godzilla, this version is good enough with TJ Storm used for motion capture. Three mo-cap actors, Jason Liles, Alan Maxson, and Richard Dorton were used for the three heads of King Ghidorah. Liles does Rodan.
The CGI of Godzilla, Rodan, Ghidorah and Mothra make this version of Godzilla worth seeing. The Titans don’t have to worry about collateral damage and complaining citizens. They aren’t entangled in politics like DC and Marvel superheroes. They can just battle, crush, crunch and kill. The ecological message inserted into this movie provides some comfort–the Titans are saving the planet even if they are destroying man-made structures.
It is unfortunate that in 2019, Legendary Godzilla movies reverse the Raymond Burr situation. Burr has scenes inserted in the American version of original movie (1957) and played an American reporter in Japan, Steve Martin. That made sense for both the situation and for the era. The Japanese have been villainized before and during World War II. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had only been repealed in 1943 and the Immigration and Nationality Act has passed in 1952. The National Origins Formula for immigration wouldn’t be abolished until 1965.
The original Godzilla came out during the paranoid and racist 1950s. In 2019, while Serizawa and the Chen sisters have important roles in the plot, do we really need a White person’s view point? It is unfortunate to see Asians sidelined in the story of an East Asian superhero of the kaiju kind.
Despite the bad plot and questionable casting, Godzilla fans will still want to see the kaiju action in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. After experiencing the movie at the 4DX lab in Hollywood, I’m convinced that all Godzilla films are best experience that way. The extreme 4DX version with water is a hoot, like one of the better non-roller coaster rides at a high-priced amusement park.
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