In 1955, acclaimed Japanese sci-fi writer Shigeru Kayama wrote and published novellas of the first two Godzilla films and, although the titular monster has gone on to earn legendary status worldwide with countless books, films, television shows and other media, these novellas had never been translated into English – until now. Translated by Jeffrey Angles, this is a truly fascinating and historic release, although maybe just for diehard fans.
Yes, the significance of these novellas and their translation is heightened considerably for Godzilla’s fans and followers in the English-speaking world – but those with just a passing interest in the character may not be too impressed with the novellas. While everyone knows the cultural significance of Godzilla and what it represents, these novellas perhaps make the point a little too clearly with some rather clunky and ham-fisted dialogue. “We can’t let that berserk offspring of the H-bomb just run around wild! If anything, Godzilla himself is the hydrogen bomb hanging over Japan right now!” is just one of many examples. Readers without knowledge of the significance of these texts – which we will go into a little more detail into shortly – might come away finding the book to be a little overly simplistic.
Perhaps it’s worth noting that these novellas were written for YA audiences, much like the “junior novelisations” we get for similar films these days. They can feel a little dumbed down, and while this is the tone that the films would certainly go on to take, it feels a little disingenuous to write 1954’s Godzilla story in this way. Don’t get me wrong, the story is largely handled with respect and the message is – as discussed above – written loud and clear, albeit simplistically. But there’s something about it that loses the dark, harrowing essence of the film. An adult-aimed adaptation could have gone deeper into the complex human emotions and dark allegorical meanings. And naturally, those striking black & white images of Godzilla’s destruction are lost in the written text.
Fans will find a lot of interest in the changes the novellas make to the films, alongside the insightful translation notes at the end of the book that discuss these changes and more. Taken as a curiosity for fans, this is essential reading and a wonderful treat. These novellas have been something of a holy grail for so many years, and to have them available in English is a hell of a thing. Enormous kudos to University of Minnesota Press for making this happen.
One for the fans, to be treated as a curiosity and a fascinating insight into Godzilla history.
GODZILLA AND GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN: THE ORIGINAL NOVELS is available October 3 2023 from University of Minnesota Press. More information can be found here.