When Toho Studios released Gojira in November 1954, Japanese audiences, according to William Tsutsui, watched its scenes of destruction 'in respectful silence, sometimes leaving the theatres in tears'. Gojira - or Godzilla, as he came to be known in English - was a fire-breathing dinosaur played by a man in a latex suit, but his destruction of Tokyo wasn't played for laughs. Ishiro Honda, who directed the movie, had passed through Hiroshima after the war, and Godzilla, he said, was a way of 'making radiation visible'. On 1 March 1954, the US tested a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll, showering 7000 square miles of the Pacific with fallout. Along with 28 military personnel and 239 Marshall Islanders, 23 men on a Japanese tuna boat - the Lucky Dragon No. 5 - were exposed. Their contaminated catch had already been sold when they were hospitalised with radiation sickness. Not surprisingly, there were vigorous protests in Japan (even the emperor stopped eating fish). The ship's radio man died on 23 September; there were claims that the American authorities had misled his doctors in order to protect their nuclear secrets. Six weeks later, Gojira went on general release.
LRB 3 February 2005 | PDF Download