Can Godzilla help people cope in times of trouble?

It’s hard to think of Godzilla being someone to turn to when things go bad, but after the devastation in Japan this past March, there were several articles written about how the monster may help people cope with fear.

In the New York Times, Peter Wynn Kirby wrote an opinion column called “Japan’s Long Nuclear Disaster Film,” mentioning that when the first Godzilla movie came out, audiences were shocked by the images of a devastated Japan, saying the early films in their uncut form were “earnest and hard-hitting. They were stridently anti-nuclear…They were also anti-war in a country coming to grips with the consequences of World War II.”

Kirby added, “Audiences who flocked to Gojira [the original Japanese title of the first Godzilla film] were clearly watching more than just a monster movie,” and that the monster “illustrated both Japan’s aversion to nuclear radiation and its frustrating impotence in a tense cold war climate…If the monster film is less ubiquitous than it once was, the themes it reflected are no less present today.”

So why would people turn to a monster movie in such turbulent times, when you’d think that’s the last thing someone would want to see in these situations?

Often people who make horror films are asked what scares them, and clearly horror and genre films are a way of giving fear a form and coming to terms with it.

Many have pointed to horror’s popularity in the new millennium as a post 9-11 reaction, which a number of horror directors have dismissed, but Stuart Gordon, director of Re-Animator and From Beyond, says, “I think what that says is about the importance of horror, and how some people need it as a way of dealing with real life horror. There’s something very healthy about horror movies.”

And indeed, a good, scary movie, or even a silly one like the more recent Godzilla films, can be a healthy catharsis, and a way of dealing with the frightening unpredictability of life.

In his review of the horror classic Phantasm, L.A. Timescritic Charles Champlin wrote,

“The shriek of laughter sounds like a contradiction, but it has kept the horror movie profitable for almost as long as there have been movies. Audience dance to the macabre with great pleasure, glad to be scared only half to death and evidently glad for both the tingling excitement and for the safe release that makes calm reality not half bad to see again.”