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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Kayama Shigeru

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To purchase Godzilla

Title: Godzilla
Author: Kayama Shigeru
Genre: Novel
Written: 1955 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 111 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: in Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again - US
in Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again - UK
in Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again - Canada
in Godzilla - France
in Godzilla - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: University of Minnesota Press
  • Godzilla in Tokyo
  • Japanese title: ゴジラ
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Jeffrey Angles
  • Published in one volume with Godzilla Raids Again

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Our Assessment:

B- : an interesting literary artefact, but doesn't do nearly enough with the material

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 29/10/2023 Kris Kosaka
TLS . 1/12/2023 Bryan Karetnyk
The Washington Post . 23/10/2023 Patrick Macias

  From the Reviews:
  • "Culturally, these two novellas expand the underlying pacifist beliefs of the entire “Godzilla” franchise and are an important contextual addition sure to appeal far beyond the kaijū fan base." - Kris Kosaka, The Japan Times

  • "No mere adaptations, they provided the author with a platform to explore his original ideas -- and to redress the omissions, alterations and attenuated political content that the studio had insisted on. This renewed political thrust is made clear from the first page of Godzilla (.....) What follows, of course, is no grand literary opus. (...) Stripped of romance and the grand spectacle afforded by the silver screen, Godzilla makes for a more unvarnished yet more layered reading experience." - Bryan Karetnyk, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Devoid of big-screen spectacle, the novel is a much starker experience than the film. Kayama’s book even omits the movie’s central love triangle (.....) Science-driven ethical debate replaces some of the human interest and tragedy that helped make the film such a classic." - Patrick Macias, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As translator Jeffrey Angles lays out in his extensive Afterword, Kayama Shigeru wrote the scenario that was then developed into the famous 1954 film, Godzilla -- "the most expensive Japanese film ever produced until that point" --, and was also involved in the writing of a radio drama based on the film; only the year after did Kayama publish this novelization, along with that of the sequel to the original film that had also been released earlier in 1955, Godzilla Raids Again.
       The story here does closely follow the movie, but there are also several differences -- beginning also with a note from the author at the start, explaining that while kaijus -- creatures such as Godzilla -- don't exist, atomic and hydrogen bombs that could wreak similar destruction do, and that his novel is meant to show his opposition to to the use of such weapons.
       The story begins out in the ocean, with a ship facing an unknown threat. They're able to send out an SOS, but their fate is sealed -- and a rescue ship sent to help is soon also facing catastrophe.
       What happened remains a mystery for a while, but one old island villager wonders: "'Might be Godzilla,' he said quietly". It is, of course, Godzilla, a hold-over from when there were dinosaurs, two million years ago, -- and the reason he's suddenly surfaced, Professor Yamane suggests, is that:

Recent hydrogen bomb tests must have destroyed Godzilla's habitat. Let me be clear. Damage from H-bomb tests seems to be what drove him from the home where he had been living in relative peace until now ...
       Indeed, the nuclear explosions seem not only to have irradiated him but also empowered him -- and really ticked him off.
       Soon he's headed for Tokyo, where an Anti-Godzilla Task Force desperately tries to figure out how to hold him at bay -- an incredible challenge, it turns out, since nothing seems to harm him. With a: "white-hot column of fire shooting out of Godzilla's mouth" he is also a walking super-flamethrower -- hitting close to home in a Tokyo that was ravaged both by fires in the wake of the 1923 earthquake and the fire-bombings by the Americans in March, 1945.
       It seems nothing can stop him -- indeed, barely anything can even get in his way -- except for something a Dr.Serizawa has invented. But it's a weapon with horrific potential -- "It could very well lead humanity to extinction", he worries. And so he's determined that if he is forced to use it: "while it's still in this preliminary state, well ... I've made up my mind to kill myself so my research dies along with me".
       Of course, there's ultimately no choice but to deploy this weapon -- but Serizawa insists on being the one to turn it on Godzilla himself .....
       The scenes of uncertainty, and then of the overwhelming force that Godzilla is, do have some power, but overall Godzilla is a thin narrative. While also addressing significant issues -- in particular, that of the development of weapons of mass destruction, with Serizawa explaining what led him down this path: "I'm just a scientist who takes his work seriously. All I was doing was testing the limits of this power ..." -- it simply doesn't take the time to develop these themes adequately fully; the same goes for the relationships in the novel.
       One interesting side-story that comes up is the existence and activity of a 'Tokyo Godzilla Society'. A letter they send even leads Professor Yamane to say: "After reading this letter, I'm not sure any longer if Godzilla is an animal or a machine under human control". Unfortunately, too, Kayama doesn't do very much with this organization -- that might simply be taking advantage of the situation or could be something more sinister -- either.
       Written for a young adult science fiction series, Godzilla reads not so much as YA-fiction as simply too quick and cursory. The scenarist in Kayama comes through too strongly: what works in a film script -- or rather then on the screen -- feels too barebones when simply presented in prose.
       Godzilla is certainly of interest -- and, at just a hundred pages, a very quick read -- but impresses more in the abstract -- the message about weapons of mass (or absolute) destruction Kayama means to convey; the comparison to the film -- than on the printed page.
       Angles' Afterword, 'Translating an Icon', is useful and welcome supplementary material, both in giving a history of the different Godzilla-adaptations and providing context and background about them and their reception, as well as also offering some interesting observations about translating the novellas. A detailed 'Glossary of Names, Place, and Ideas' is also a useful supplement to the text (and franchise).

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 September 2023

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Godzilla: Reviews: Godzilla: Godzilla - the movie: Other books by Kayama Shigeru under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kayama Shigeru (香山滋) lived 1904 to 1975.

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© 2023 the complete review

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