Photo:Daniel Ramirez on Flickr

The Cinematic Icon of Japan – The Godzilla Head of Tokyo

A rampaging Godzilla appearing over 50 meters high is now a permanent fixture on the Shinjuku skyline above the Toho Cinemas. But rather than terrifying people as he did on screen, it is hoped Godzilla will help attract them. The actual 12 meter high replicated head, based on its appearance in Godzilla vs Mothra, stares down red eyed and roaring at the busy streets from a terrace on the 8th floor of Shinjuku Toho Building.

An enduring movie star in Japan and the USA, Godzilla has over 30 film credits in 60 years with more slated on both sides of the Pacific in 2020.  The radioactive super-monster has entertained generations with terror to chuckles. It’s hard not to smile when watching some of the effects in the old grainy Godzilla films where he battles anything from a three headed golden dragon to a gigantic razor-toothed plant, but then get a sense of awe in others through the old styled eeriness of the Japanese original or the polished Hollywood megabuck productions, the most recent being Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019), a global success and a boost for the franchise. The widespread fame prompted the government to appoint Godzilla as Shinjuku’s new tourism ambassador. Complete with official Japanese residency documents issued at the local ward office and being held on its behalf. 

Godzilla, or Gojira, a portmanteau of the words kujira (whale) and gorira (gorilla), a combination of something epic and powerful in the form of a fire-breathing radioactive monster, is one of those rare icons that spans generations and still remains relevant. It (it is not clear if Godzilla is a male or female) has gone through many incarnations over the decades - 50 to 122 meters in height, 100 to 212.5 meters in length, usually charcoal grey and sometimes green. But has always embodied the archetype for a power that man was helpless against. Like King Kong, but born from and about something very real that captured the fear of post-war Japan. The nuclear destruction on Japan in 1945 and a fishing incident which involved a boat and crew being exposed to a US hydrogen bomb test in 1954, the year of the original movie, was apparently the inspiration and also a kind of a birthday for Godzilla. Despite Godzilla’s mythic origins, which vary in different narratives, the nuclear age brought Godzilla to man. And it has been with us ever since. The unveiling of the Godzilla head was just shy of 70 years since his creation and over 60 years since his first appearance. Old perhaps, yet still relevant in light of the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, political debates about whether to reopen nuclear stations across Japan, and questions about what global military involvement Japan will have in the future at a time that marks 70 years since the end of World War II. 

It is clear that Godzilla is more than just a massive fire breathing radioactive monster - it is also a symbol that has enduring significance in Japan. Keeping this in mind while peering up at the replica from the Shinjuku streets below adds another layer of experience that makes the Godzilla-head not only impressive, but a little thought provoking too, and something worth a look at it while eating or drinking in Shinjuku, or maybe catching a flick of the true king of lizards itself. 

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