Criterion Month: The Wild and Traumatized ‘Godzilla’ Universe

Horror films are poignant, cultural commentaries, reflecting our fears back at us. Yes, you may want to sit back, turn on a scary movie, turn off your brain, and just watch giant mutated animals fight each other, but you can’t ignore what they’re saying about their cultural contexts. Take Ishirō Honda’s 1954 classic, Godzilla. At face value, it is a silly movie about a giant lizard stomping on Tokyo while crowds point and scream, “Gojira!” However, it’s more than just an old monster movie — it is a cutting reaction to the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a condemnation of nuclear power. Godzilla is literally awoken by underwater hydrogen bomb testing. But even more, Godzilla’s destruction is reminiscent of these bombings. As he crushes buildings and demolishes cities with his nuclear breath, images of devastated cities are conjured up. Characters in the 1954 film even reference the bombings when discussing their fears of the giant lizard. While these films are weird and wacky, they also serve as a reminder of the atrocities Japan has suffered at the hands of Western society.

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The puppetry is ridiculous and writing can be laughable, but there’s no doubting Godzilla’s influence on the monster movie genre. These five films are the best Godzilla movies Criterion has to offer, from their message to outright monster-fighting hilarity.

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