Godzilla on my Mind
 William Tsutsui
Language: English Release: 2004
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Pages: 240
Genre: Non-Fiction ISBN: 1403964742

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Nicholas Driscoll

I have heard William Tsutsui's Godzilla on my Mind identified as a memoir—at least, I did so, in my review of the deservedly obscure Godzilla Rabbit, before I had read the book I am reviewing today. This designation is only partially correct; the Kansan professor's lighthearted pop-culture exploration is indeed very personal, with a number of family anecdotes and even photographic evidence of the prepubescent Tsutsui decked out in a cobbled-together cloth G-costume back in those heady 70s. However, Godzilla on my Mind is less a memoir than it is a celebration of all things Godzilla, viewed through the radioactive rose-tinged glasses of a man in love with the monster king.

From the start, Tsutsui establishes that his text would not be some stodgy tome, “rigorously and tediously objective” (pg. 10). The author's opinions tint everything, and anyone looking for journalistic distance would do well to purchase Japan's Favorite Mon-Star instead. However, the loosing of Tsutsui's quill from such quaint restraints as perceived objectivity and academic staidness has lent his book a true splash of life and fervor often absent from this kind of fare, with lively, humorous descriptions dotting the text, such as his take on Ebirah, “an overgrown crustacean who ate mariners like cocktail weenies” (pg. 50), or his frequent interjections of “ewwww!” while examining the ludicrous sexual interpretations of the sundry kaiju creations that have appeared in academic literature. Tsutsui is obviously overjoyed to write this book, and his enthusiasm is catching. It becomes hard not to be pulled into the child-like excitement that exudes from the prose.

Nevertheless, the informal nature of the book can occasionally be off-putting. Occasionally one gets the impression that Tsutsui, in his child-like eagerness, rushed through the writing without carefully checking for accuracy or completeness. Among other minor nitpicks, Tsutsui describes H-Man (1958) as a film about “radioactive do-gooders” (pg. 47), though the eponymous creatures were the menace of the film and never even pretended to kill for justice. Also, oddly enough, while the original Godzilla (1954) merits an entire chapter to itself, the other 20+ films (minus the American remake, which is discussed in a chapter about rip-offs, and Godzilla Final Wars, which hadn't been released yet when the book was published) are packed together into one brief chapter, the individual films often barely touched upon except to complain that they weren't as wonderful as the original. Occasionally one comes under the impression that Tsutsui would have been happier had the series consisted of a non-stop parade of remakes of the original rather than the panoply of zaniness that comprises the Godzilla canon.

Sometimes, Godzilla on my Mind tends to rush through all its topic matter (with the notable exception of the original movie that started it all). Occasionally a chapter becomes little more than a list of pop culture references—Godzilla showed up here and here and here, in this TV commercial, in this promotion, in this parody, in this flyer. At these times, Tsutsui's book reminds me of a Donald Glut's A Dinosaur Scrapbook with fewer pictures, just a peppy conglomeration of information. To be honest, I loved that, for the same reason I so greatly enjoy the “sightings” article here on Toho Kingdom. It may seem schizophrenic at times, but just glancing through the wide variety of Godzilla trivia compiled in Tsutsui's work is a lark. Less interesting is Tsutsui's examination of why people become Godzilla fans; his answers— that kids like Godzilla because he's big, that most Godzilla fans run largely on nostalgia or just love watching buildings get smashed, that some are drawn to the exotic foreignness of the films—are of the sort that any fellow even cursorily familiar with the kaiju scene could deduce with about five minutes' reflection.

Which isn't to say that there is no substance to Tsutsui's thoughts. One particular rumination I found particularly enlightening concerns the usage of the military in Godzilla films. After WWII, understandably the representation of the Japanese military in cinema was a controversial undertaking, especially since the nation had taken an overtly peaceful, anti-war stance. According to Godzilla on my Mind, portrayals of the Japanese military in Japanese film of the time were usually very negative. The Godzilla films, however, provided an enemy that the military could fight without controversy, and thus the valiant soldier and the gruff commander could be portrayed in a positive light (even if their efforts proved mostly useless). In a sense, the Godzilla movies were progressively nationalistic in a way few other films of their time could be. Another highlight, Tsutsui includes a marvelous translation of part of the advertising campaign for King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). I had long heard that the campaign included speeches from Godzilla and King Kong boasting about how they were going to win—the typical tough-talk that comes from any wrestlers about to take on a tough bout. Tsutsui includes Godzilla's trash talk, and it is a treat!

For its sundry weaknesses, any big fan of Godzilla should greatly enjoy Godzilla on my Mind. While I would have appreciated a bit more depth to the treatment of the individual entries of the Godzilla series, the jocular prose and the sheer breadth of the material makes up for any lack of depth perception. Indeed, after reading this book, I personally wouldn't be averse to discovering what other writings Tsutsui has on his mind.