In Godzilla's Footsteps
 William M. Tsutsui and Michiko Ito (Editors)
Language: English Release: 2006
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Pages: 212
Genre: Non-fiction ISBN: 1403964637

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Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

In 2004, William Tsutsui, a history professor at the University of Kansas, published an amusing book (Godzilla on my Mind) covering Godzilla and Godzilla fandom over the past fifty years. I personally enjoyed the book, which was written in a light-hearted, whimsical fashion, as was evidenced in my rather positive review. At the conclusion of said review, I stated that I would be interested to see what else Tsutsui might write about Godzilla. Well, he put out a second book two years after the first—though very different in style and scope. And technically he didn’t WRITE it… William Tsutsui is the co-editor (with Michiko Ito) of In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage, which features thirteen academic essays on various aspects of Godzilla pop culture or other related topics. These essays vary considerably in quality and content, so I will devote just a couple sentences to each, but overall the book is certainly interesting, and some of the insights and bits of information are pretty obscure, which is delightful to me. Still, the appeal of this book is limited, and some of the essays are rather weak.

Let’s go ahead and explore the individual essays very briefly.

“When Godzilla Speaks” by Susan Napier

Written from the perspective of a professor of Japanese studies, “When Godzilla Speaks” is kind of an overview of Godzilla’s echoing effects on Japanese pop culture… and Napier makes the case that in contemporary times, anime and manga have displaced Godzilla as the primary international media export. Napier then gives a brief rundown of her main ideas that she expressed in her book, Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle. Perhaps because I had read her book (or at least an earlier version of it), this essay seemed like an unimpressive rehash.

“Mobilizing Gojira: Mourning Modernity as Monstrosity” by Mark Anderson

This essay is a bit of an oddity; it discusses a debate that occurred during WWII in Japan about the problems with modernity, and looks at Godzilla through the lens of that debate. However, the essay itself, at least from my perspective, is one of the weakest in the book. It seems to meander with little focus, and with a torpid prose style. Interestingly, Anderson argues at one point in the essay that composer Akira Ifukube interpreted Godzilla as embodying the spirits of the war dead through the way in which he wrote the themes of the original film, long before Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)!

“Gojira as Japan’s First Postwar Media Event” by Barak Kushner

An interesting little essay that tries to explain why the original Godzilla especially was a huge media event in Japan at the time that really helped jumpstart the acceptance of Japanese movies abroad. Written in an accessible style.

“Lost in Translation and Morphed in Transit: Godzilla in Cold War America” by Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu

Really pretty fascinating look at the shifting cultural milieu in America at the time the original Godzilla film was released Stateside, written in a lively, sometimes rather informal style. One of my favorites in the book.

“Wrestling with Godzilla: Intertextuality, Childish Spectatorship, and the National Body” by Aaron Gerew

Another of the most interesting essays to me personally, this one looks at Godzilla in light of the pro-wrestling craze that rose up with Rikidozan, and the ways in which manga artist Shigeru Sugiura used the imagery and popularity of that craze to interpret Godzilla in new ways on the manga page. Gerew points out some interesting correlations between Godzilla’s movie career and symbology and Rikidozan’s, who also starred as a radioactive monster of sorts in 1954 in a movie in which he played an irradiated caveman. Also notable as perhaps the only English-language book to contain a picture of Gyottosu, a monster from an early Godzilla manga by Shigeru Sugiura.

“Mothra’s Gigantic Egg: Consuming the South Pacific in 1960s Japan” by Yoshikuni Igarashi

A look at how Japan viewed the South Pacific islands and peoples, how those views were affected by WWII, and how those views were reflected in Mothra (1961) and Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Some interesting commentary for sure, though I sometimes found Igarashi’s interpretations to have questionable grounding.

“Hybridity and Negotiated Identity in Japanese Pop Culture” by Joyce E Boss

Although written in a more academically-stilted prose, this essay was pretty interesting to me as well. It discusses interpretations of Godzilla over the years and how Godzilla and other monsters actually are a hybrid of several interpretations and meanings.

“Teaching Godzilla: Classroom Encounters with a Cultural Icon” by Joanne Bernardi

Okay, I really liked this essay, too. I am a teacher—an ESL/EFL English teacher—so I was interested to see how this essay would pan out. Bernardi teaches film, not English, and here she looks at some ways to present the original Gojira to the film classroom. Really interesting essay!

‘‘’Our First Kiss had a Radioactive Taste”: Ohashi Yasuhiko’s Gojira in Japan and Canada” by Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.

Given my recent article on Godzilla and romance, Wetmore’s essay was of especial interest to me. His essay offers some interpretation of Ohashi’s comedy romance, but the essay actually comes across as more journalistic than most of the other essays due to his straightforward description of how the play came to be performed in several venues in Canada.

“Godzilla Meets Super Kyogen, or How a Dinosaur Saved the World” by Eric C. Rath

This essay really has next to nothing to do with Godzilla. Instead, Rath discusses a “Super Kyogen” play by Umehara Takeshi called “The King and the Dinosaur,” which was made to protest the Iraq War. The play has a stupid king who loves money and weapons (a representation of President Bush) and a dinosaur called Tottarazaurus that tricks the king into dropping a poop bomb instead of a nuke. Like several other essays, this one seemed a bit unfocused to me, though it was a window into an area of Japanese culture I knew next to nothing about.

“Monstering the Japanese Cute: Pink Globalization and Its Critics Abroad” by Christine R. Yano

An exploration of Hello Kitty and its popularity and interpretations. I don’t know much about Hello Kitty, so it was interesting to me to find out how Sanrio operates and why so many people love those characters.

“Kikaida for Life: Cult Fandom in a Japanese Live-Action TV Show in Hawai’i” by Hirofumi Katsuno

Probably as you’ve noticed, the essays towards the back of the book have less and less relation to Godzilla. This essay is completely concerned with Kikaida fandom in Hawaii and why it just exploded there, as well as fan interpretations and reactions. Hey, the essay made me curious to see Kikaida anyway.

“Apocalypse in Fantasy and Reality: Japanese Pop Culture in Contemporary Russia” by Yulia Mikhailova

An exploration of anime fandom in Russia, including some extended discussion on an original Russian manga called Nika. Easily the worst-written piece in the book, with often very poor citations, but still, again, this is a topic I knew nothing about, and so I was curious to read this essay. One interesting factoid: apparently in Russia, none of the Godzilla movies were released until the Heisei films. The only Japanese monster film released in Soviet Russia was the 1977 movie The Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds!

There is also a very short fourteenth epilogue essay from Theodore C. Bestor about how the meaning of Godzilla has changed over time.

Basically, I enjoyed this book. However, I wanted to deal with a little controversy briefly here. Since writing my review of Tsutsui’s Godzilla on my Mind, I became aware that some fans and Godzilla scholars did not appreciate Tsutsui’s tendency to denigrate the writings of other Godzilla authors in his first book (I hadn’t even noticed this denigration in my first reading of Godzilla on my Mind). For example, when Tsutsui referred to the works of another Godzilla author in his text, he would write something like, “One fan argued…” or “A fan wrote…” rather than giving a name or any authorial weight to his sources. (I am paraphrasing the quotes because I have misplaced my copy.) Anyway, the gist of the complaint is that Tsutsui kind of treats these other Godzilla books as mere fan works, as works without any credibility. When I first read Tsutsui’s I must admit that his attitude did not come across to me so negatively, but in retrospect I can understand why some readers took umbrage at Tsutsui’s flippant manner. For those concerned, during my reading of In Godzilla’s Footsteps, occasionally I noticed a few passages that I thought might irk some readers in how they seemed to downplay the journalistic/interpretive efforts of others—but on the other hand, authors like Steve Ryfle are quoted respectfully in the essays this time.

At any rate, for open-minded folk who have a taste for academia and pop culture studies, I thought this was a pretty unique and interesting read. Definitely not a recommendation for everyone, but for eccentric folk like me who actually enjoy some academic writing at times, it was fun to follow the various authors, explore their diverse perspectives and areas of knowledge, and then step back and ponder Godzilla anew from a new point of view.