Yasuhiko Ohashi, M. Cody Poulton (translator)
Language: English Release: 2002
Publisher: Scirocco Drama Pages: 79
Genre: Fiction (play) ISBN: 189623996X

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Nicholas Driscoll

Way back in college, I wanted to be a theater major. Lack of self-confidence ultimately prevented me from following that dream, and I took up writing and English literature instead. However, my off-again, on-again stage fright didn't prevent me from studying playwriting. I took three classes in that theatrical craft, including one directed study in which I worked beside a fairly accomplished playwright who was approximately 2,027 times as talented as I in that particular genre. In those classes and the other theater classes I took, I read a lot of plays. None of them were much like Godzilla by Japanese playwright Yasuhiko Ohashi. Godzilla is a story of the most bizarre sort of love, between woman and monster. Unfortunately, the play feels lethargic, especially for a comedy, and the translator is the sort of literature snob who should never be allowed near any script containing giant Japanese monsters. Well. Except maybe that bizarre book, Gojiro.

The story is very simple. Yayoi is a pure soul with a big heart full of love, and somehow in her time wandering Mt. Mihara (where Godzilla hangs out), she and Godzilla have fallen hopelessly for each other and become secret paramours. The inevitable day comes, however, when she must go and introduce her radioactive beau to her family—her parents and grandmother, who have no names in the play, and her two sisters, the twins Emi and Yumi (yes, genre references abound). Her house is alive with gossip about who Yayoi's lover might be, and her childhood self-styled sweetheart Hayata (named after Ultraman's original alter-ego) is incensed that she might love anyone but him, and is determined to have it out with the mystery boyfriend.

Well, Yayoi leads Godzilla to her home, causing much destruction to the local neighborhood. (Though Godzilla is performed by a normal-sized human, and is expressly forbidden to wear a rubber suit in the script itself, the audience is supposed to believe the on-stage actor to be his normal gargantuan size.) After some understandable terror and confusion, Yayoi successfully explains to her familial loved ones that she is in love with the big brute, and naturally enough there are objections all around. Eventually even Godzilla's brother, Mothra (whom he calls Mo'), gets in on the action, but even Mothra objects to the marriage. Mothra, after all, is realistic, and thinks Godzilla should marry another monster—just like Mothra has done, with his wife, the goofy Ultraman monster Pigmon. (I'm not kidding.) With everyone against them, with Godzilla's child in the picture from a “previous relationship,” and with Godzilla's bad temper, how will their love ever survive?

The story is truly, truly bizarre, and no attempt is made by Ohashi to make a lick of sense. Don't expect any deep or interesting characters—everyone is pretty much shallow here, and very little actually happens throughout the play. The vast majority of the script consists of talking heads with no blocking at all; when movement is described, it is via the vaguest terms, and sometimes the stage directions simply seem impossible, such as when the Yayoi's sisters shrink in size:

South sea rhythms. Suddenly the TWINS have become four inches tall and are standing on the palm of GRANDMOTHER's hand in an attitude of prayer, singing the Mothra Song. (pg 52)

How exactly this miraculous sequence is supposed to be accomplished is never explained or even hinted at, other than an a note by translator Poulton in the introduction about how Ohashi's plays were well-known for their elaborate sets. A number of times Godzilla is meant to breathe fire as well, but whether some sort of practical effect is meant to be used, or just a sound effect over the speakers, remains quite unclear.

The humor in the play is very hit or miss, ranging from Godzilla protesting that he doesn't smoke because it's “bad for the health,” to the ridiculous “meet-cute” sequence wherein Godzilla and Yayoi flirt with each other, to Yayoi's grandmother describing her freakish romance with a frog. Many, many monsters are also referenced to heighten the absurdity, though translator Poulton obviously knows hardly anything about them. He transliterates Rodan as Radon instead of using the monster's English name, and Romanizes Ultraman's most famous monster enemy Baltan as “Valtan.” Pigmon, who has an on-stage role, is described by Poulton in a note as kind of a giant cockroach, which is a rather unusual designation, since the actual daikaiju looks vaguely like a pink Koosh ball beast. Numerous other monsters are mentioned, including Nikkatsu's Gappa several times, and even Gamera shows up, off stage, to roar. Unfortunately, but Poulton's explanations of the monsters and movies are spotty at best.

Frankly, M. Cody Poulton is of the academic sort that feels it necessary to write a long, windy introduction expounding on the supposed socio-cultural profundities addressed in the Godzilla satire while looking down his nose at a genre of film he knows hardly anything about. He can pull out great meaning from the most mundane characters in the script, finding in them remarkable depth of insight into the Japanese family institution of the 1980s, but on the Godzilla films themselves he can spend very little time, despite the fact they are considerably less ludicrous than Ohashi's farce. When listing Godzilla's enemies, he names Daiei's Daimajin among them, and notes more than once that the Mothra Song originates with the original Godzilla vs. Mothra (1954), instead of attributing it to Mothra's original solo film. About The Return of Godzilla (1984), to which Ohashi's play is basically a direct sequel, Poulton sniffs “the remake elevated the genre to new levels of kitsch and camp” (pg. 16). Really, Poulton? New levels of kitsch and camp? Presumably he never watched any of the previous Godzilla sequels; Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) might be able to teach him what kitsch and camp really mean.

It is difficult to review a script for a play alone; the script is but one part of the whole, and a play doesn't come alive until it is on stage, with actors living in their parts, performing in front of sets, with sound effects and an audience and everything in place. Godzilla the play is definitely amusing, but it seems incomplete, sometimes even lifeless despite the goofy, sometimes fun dialogue. For Godzilla aficionados, Godzilla is definitely worth checking out simply to experience one of the most utterly strange versions of the Big Guy ever conceived. Unfortunately, Poulton's kaiju ignorance and self-righteous poise hold back the play. Interestingly, there is another English translation published in Half a Century of Japanese Theater III: the 1980s Part 1, published in 2001. One can only wonder if the romance of a kaiju is more lovingly rendered therein.