William Tsutsui. Godzilla On My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 228 pages; $12.95 paperback.
The echo of reverberating footsteps of some gigantic beast, its terrifying roar, and the fiery, atomic blast of its breath destroying all in its path was brought back to life for me from a distant nostalgic memory while reading William Tsutsui's entertaining and informative book, Godzilla On My Mind. My first experience with the beast was, of course, as a child, when I witnessed its black-and-white rampage on television one afternoon. I was enthralled by the destruction and the ability to somewhat, at that early age, identify with this atomic mutant. And it is this identification, argues Tsutsui, that has established Godzilla's popularity and longevity in world cinema.
"Understanding the appeal of Godzilla, when all is said and done," Tsutsui states, "means understanding ourselves." Godzilla on My Mind attempts to examine that understanding, albeit from a devoted fan's perspective. This fan-based, personal perspective (Tsutsui begins by recounting his Halloween experience as a child costumed as the Japanese pop icon-"When I was nine, I wanted to be Godzilla" is the opening sentence) prevents the book from becoming a dry academic tome in trying to understand the aesthetic and intellectual response to Godzilla. It also adds considerably to the readability and enjoyment of the book itself, knowing that its author is so excited about his subject that this excitement becomes contagious.
This author is not only a fan, but, better yet, he is a fan with credentials! William Tsutsui is an associate professor of History at the University of Kansas and also the acting director of KU's Center for East Asian Studies. His major interests include postwar Japanese economic and business history, U.S.-Japanese relations, and Godzilla as a Japanese cultural icon. In October 2004 he helped organize a conference sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies titled, "In Godzilla's Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage." The conference, held in Lawrence, Kansas, was both well attended by Godzilla scholars and reported by the media. This book represents his coming to terms with his fan-based emotional fervor and his academic intellectual curiosity. As such it has the advantage of both a personal memoir of a pop culture icon and an assessment of the global importance of that icon in mass media.
The subtitle of Tsutsui's book "Fifty Years of the King of Monsters" emphasizes the scope of the beast's longevity on the big screen and in popular culture. Goijira's initial arrival in 1954 came at a time when other gigantic monsters were also invading the movie theatres, namely the thawed survivor of the dinosaur age in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and the atomically mutated ants in Them! …