GODZILLA ON MY MIND: FIFTY YEARS OF THE KING OF MONSTERS by William Tsutsui, 2004, Palgrave Macmillan.
A Book Review by Vennie Anderson

This is a book about Godzilla, but it’s actually just as much about us Godzilla fans–becoming a fan, being a fan, and experiencing G-fandom as a child and adult. It’s not just about Tsutsui the G-fan, although there’s no doubt of his fan status and the varied and often hilarious experiences associated with his own love of the Big Guy. Tsutsui says it best in the early pages: “This book is an attempt to understand why we Americans enjoy, respond to, and in some cases, love a half-century-old Japanese movie monster.”

Tsutsui speaks of “outing” himself as a Godzilla fan. And well he might. His professional colleagues no doubt were surprised, perhaps dismayed, at the publication of this book, following in the footsteps of Tsutui’s other scholarly books, including BANKING POLICY IN JAPAN: AMERICAN EFFORTS AT REFORM DURING THE OCCUPATION (1988) and MANUFACTURING IDEOLOGY: SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY JAPAN (2001). The author is a history professor, and Chair of the Department of History at the University of Kansas. While his pedigree includes degrees from Harvard and Princeton, no less, Tsutsui adamantly denies being a “geek.” He does, however, admit he is “extremely opinionated, passionate, and stubborn when it comes to the relative merits of the Godzilla films, the way Japanese monsters have been embraced (or, quite often, disgraced) by American pop culture, and the cosmic question of ‘what Godzilla means.’”

This is a different sort of book about Godzilla. It doesn’t list films or casts, human or monster, and it doesn’t dwell on the talents (or lack thereof) of various directors and other film makers. That’s not to say it isn’t loaded with a lot of fun stuff, including fascinating facts about the scaly critter we all know and love. Tsutusi writes with style and wit, and there are occasional laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout the book. His discussion of Godzilla as a screen icon, a culture phenomenon, and a source of joy and entertainment for generations of fans will keep you smiling in personal recognition of your own fan experiences. “Yes! That’s the way I feel about it!” I frequently thought as I read along.

Part of one chapter deals with Tsutsui’s personal experience attending G-Fest 2003 in Chicago. Since I’m planning to go to G-Fest this summer, I found a wonderful glimpse of what’s in store for me in the Windy City.

Tsutsui casts mild aspersion on some of the “experts” who have tried over the years to analyze Godzilla and his effect on his myriad fans. Hidden sexual symbolism? “Eeewww!” says Tsutsui. He does a little examining of his own, but emphasizes that “different people invariably see the same thing–in this case, the king of monsters–in a multiplicity of different ways. And herein lies the rub for anyone foolhardy enough to try analyzing American’s ongoing romance with Godzilla, or any screen icon, for that matter.” He describes Godzilla as “a moving target,” defying attempts to explain or analyze, constantly changing, presenting a “shifting metaphor.” And Tsutsui and I agree this is part of the Big Guy’s charm!

We don’t agree on everything, which isn’t at all surprising given the variety of fans and our individual preferences. For example, Tsutsui comments on Megaguirus as a “largely forgettable” monster ( I happen to think she’s cool! She’s one of the favorites in my kaiju eiga figure collection.) Speaking of which, collectibles, or “graven images,” as Tsutsui refers to them with a twinkle in his voice, are discussed in some detail, from the toys of the ‘50s to the elaborate action figures still being issued in great profusion today.

If you’ve read my other book reviews on The Godzilla Saga you know authors get points for footnotes and an index, which Tsutsui obligingly includes. Published in 2004, the book contains references to the Millennium films other than Godzilla: Final Wars, which was in production as the book went to press. Happily, this book is about Godzilla from beginning to (nearly) end, his role in post-war Japan, why he endures, the source of his “mojo,” his appeal as a comforting way to revert to our childhoods ( if only for a time), and most of all, some explanation and justification of why we love him. “Loving Godzilla...is not a neurosis to be monitored, exorcised, or cured,” says Tsutsui. “And neither is it a social pathology to be scrutinized with bloodless rigor. Loving Godzilla is, in the end, a personal passion that should be embraced and celebrated every bit as much as it is analyzed and demystified.” Amen, Dr. Tsutsui!

Bottom line: interesting, funny, thought-provoking, and definitely worth the money.

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