Post-Fukushima, Japan's favorite monster may never go home again

Wed May 14, 2014 3:15am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - He's dark and lumbering, crashing through cities and destroying them with swipes of his massive tail and blasts of radioactive breath. Godzilla is back on the rampage, roaring and stomping, for the first time in ten years.

But the much-anticipated return of Japan's most famous and beloved monster, 60 years and 28 movies after he first rose from the depths following a hydrogen bomb test, has been filmed not in the land of his birth but in the United States - and analysts say there is a chance he may never go back to his homeland.

For in the wake of the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, when a tsunami tore through the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and touched off meltdowns that spewed radiation over a wide swathe of countryside, Godzilla and his traditional anti-nuclear subtext may simply be too touchy a subject for any Japanese film maker to handle.

"Godzilla gains his strength from nuclear power and he spews radiation everywhere," said Toshio Takahashi, a literature professor at Tokyo's Waseda University. "If Godzilla appeared (in Japan) now, he'd ultimately force people to ask themselves hard questions about Fukushima."

The nuclear disaster at the plant 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo is a sensitive subject in Japan. Directors making mass-market films about Fukushima tiptoe into the debate or set their movies in an unspecified future. Sponsors are skittish and overall film revenues falling, with viewers shying away from anything too political.

Things were different when Godzilla first crashed ashore in 1954, a symbol of both atomic weapons - less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and frustrations with the United States, which had just held a hydrogen bomb test at Bikini atoll that irradiated a boat full of Japanese fishermen.

The high-powered reboot of Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards and out in U.S. theaters from Friday from Warner Bros Pictures and Legendary Pictures, features stars including Juliette Binoche and Ken Watanabe.

It gives a nod to Fukushima with a tsunami - set off by monsters - hitting Hawaii, and a no-go zone in Japan after a nuclear accident years before. But much of the story, and most of the destruction, takes place in the United States, far from Godzilla's birthplace.   Continued...

A tourist bus passes a statue of movie monster Godzilla in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX forecourt on Hollywood Boulevard in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California, May 9, 2014. REUTERS/David McNew