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ICONS ARE BETTER #66: GODZILLA

They say we make our own monsters. We need to give shape to our fears so that we can understand them. In the fifties, Japan was still reeling from Hiroshima and Nagasaki – so how to understand a massive new weapon that comes from nowhere, devastates cities indiscriminately, and cannot be reasoned with or stopped?

As a huge lizard, with – genuinely – atomic breath. Does that sound outlandish? It’s no more outlandish than putting weaponized fission in the hands of us humans.

Across about 20 films, the big guy’s history is an odd reflection of the history of nuclear power. It can only be killed by a nuclear explosion (a nod to Mutually Assured Destruction), it sometimes teams up with humanity against a greater foe (our optimistic wish to use the atom for good), but, fundamentally, it doesn’t give a damn about us and our petty squabbles, producer Shogo Tomiyama likened it to a Shinto God of Destruction, with no sense of good and evil. “It totally destroys everything and then there is a rebirth. Something new and fresh can begin.”

But above all, it’s big and it’s scaly and you know it in a moment. The test of an iconic character design is if you can build a teaser trailer that barely shows them, but it still basically works.

We face down huge challenges as species this century – the big invisible, conceptual stuff that as animals we’re just not equipped to handle. If we can find some way of making those things real, we help ourselves a lot.

So. Where’s the Godzilla for climate change?

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James Mitchell – Senior Planner