In 1954, a Toho movie producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was inspired with an idea for
a movie that would create an entire new genre of Japanese theatre: kaiju eiga. Most
commonly translated as simply "monster movie", it as has supernatural
and cultural meanings that do not translate well into English.
There were numurous events that contributed to Tanakas idea. At the time,
Tanaka's latest project had fallen through. He has spent the previous months
working on a co-production with the Indonesian government titled In the
Shadow of Honor. The move was to depict a Japanese soldier fighting along
side Indonesia in their struggle for post-war independance. The project was cancelled
by a nervous Indonesian government. Tanaka was desperate to come up with a
Japan itself was less than ten years removed from a
combination of humbling and terror at the end of World War II. In early 1945,
Tokyo was firebombed for three consecutive days. And in August, 1945, America
dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For seven years, in post-war
occupied Japan, the Allied Powers controlled the Japanese cinema, using it to
promote democracy and Western culture.
But Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone did not
produce Godzilla. As a matter of fact, few Japanese movies have been made to
date about the Atomic Bomb, the most acclaimed being Akira Kurosawa's I Live
in Fear (a.k.a. Record of a Living Being, 1955) and Tanaka's Godzilla.
In 1952, during the occupation, RKO's King Kong (1933) was
re-released internationally, with a successful Japanese run. And in 1953, The
Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the story of a dinosaur awakened by atomic
tests, was released in America. Japan was a nation trapped between Cold War
atomic tests: the Soviet Union on one side, and the US Pacific Proving Grounds
on the other.
But Japan was a nation of shame and repression, and it was actually a
fishing boat named the Dai-go Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon #5) that
inspired Tanaka to create Godzilla. On March 1st, 1954, the US detonated a 15-megaton
H-bomb near the Bikini Atoll. Codenamed Operation Bravo, this was labaled a routine
atomic test by the Atomic Energy Commission. A large part of Bikini was vaporized and a cloud of
radioactive dust drifted eastward. About 100 miles east of Bikini, the Lucky Dragon sailed,
on a tuna-fishing trip. The boat and it's 23 crewmen were covered with sticky, white radioactive ash. Within hours, several
crew members were took ill, and a few days later, many of their faces turned dark. The captain abandoned
the fishing trip and returned to port. Two weeks later, the incident broke in the Japanese newspapers.
The US government initially denied that the atomic test was related to the Dragon's misfortune, and later accused
the dragon of being on a spy mission. In September, the radio operator of the Lucky Dragon died of leukemia, the first
of six of the crew to die of cancer related illnesses. Newspapers reported the radio operators last words as "Please
make sure I am the last victim of the nuclear bomb."