Day 3: Favorite Human Protagonist
Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihito Hirata) from Godzilla (1954) and Yasuaki Shindo (Yoshio Tsuchiya) from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).
Serizawa is an anomaly in the usually-predictable realm of monster movies. When someone invents of weapon with the potential to destroy the film’s menace, the only question is whether it’ll work. But Serizawa didn’t invent the Oxygen Destroyer to be used against Godzilla - in fact, he discovered its horrific power accidentally - and initially refuses to use it. His reasoning shows an intelligence fathoms beyond that of the typical monster-on-the-loose flick:
"Ogata, if the Oxygen Destroyer is used even once, politicians from around the world will see it. Of course, they’ll want to use it as a weapon. Bombs vs. bombs, missiles vs. missiles, and a new super-weapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist - no, as a human being - I cannot allow that to happen! […] Ogata, humans are weak animals. Even if I burn my notes, the secret will still be in my head. Until I die, how can I be sure I won’t be forced by someone to make the device again?"
He relents only after seeing the devastation caused by Godzilla, but does so on his own terms, destroying his research and killing himself once Godzilla’s defeat is certain. His moral dilemma is similar to that of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project - except as a private researcher, he has the freedom to use the Oxygen Destroyer on his own terms, if only once.
Unlike most of Godzilla’s human protagonists, Serizawa’s legacy extends beyond the movie he appears in. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus presents an alternate history where Serizawa never used the Oxygen Destroyer and goes from there. GMK and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla both reference him and affirm his genius - despite taking place almost fifty years after Godzilla, no one has been able to duplicate his research in either film. In the Pacific Rim universe, the category system used to determine a kaiju’s threat level is called the Serizawa Scale, though sadly not in the movie itself. The viral marketing for the new American Godzilla movie featured the word “Serizawa” as a coded message, fueling speculation that Ken Watanabe’s character will be modeled after him.
Finally, half of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah revolves around the Oxygen Destroyer’s unintended legacy. If I may adjust the words of Obadiah Stane:
"How ironic, Doctor! Trying to rid the world of monsters, you gave it its best one ever!"
Speaking of irony, let’s talk about Mr. Shindo. Commander of a doomed garrison in World War 2, he and his men found themselves rescued by a dinosaur who appeared from nowhere to slaughter the American forces sent to kill them. Crippled by cannon fire, it wandered back into the forest and the shaken Allies moved onto the next island, presuming the Japanese soldiers dead. Mourning their defender but unable to transport him, Shindo’s garrison returned home - and he himself became an unimaginable wealthy businessman.
The dinosaur became Godzilla.
Standing apart from the other characters of the Heisei Godzilla series - yes, even Miki Saegusa - Shindo sees Godzilla as a savior. When a rather complicated time-travel plot sends the proto-Godzilla to the bottom of the Bering Sea, leaving Japan helpless against the ravages of King Ghidorah, it is Shindo who leads the counteroffensive. Some of that unimaginable wealth of his translated into a nuclear submarine armed with nuclear missiles - an opportunity, in other words, to mutate Godzilla anew.
What no one realizes - including the time-travelers themselves - is that time can’t be rewritten. Godzilla was never erased from history - it was, in fact, a nuclear accident in the Bering Sea that irradiated him in the first place. Nonetheless, the sub serves its purpose, as when he destroy it he gains a massive boost in power, sufficient to go toe-to-toe with King Ghidorah and ultimately leave the dragon for dead. Of course, he then proceeds to rampage through Japan himself.
Godzilla saved Shindo, allowing him to build a corporate empire. Now, as Shindo watches from his office in Tokyo’s wealthy Shinjuku district, Godzilla lays waste to that same empire.
But wait! The monster strides over to Shindo’s office… and pauses before him. He seems to remember that long-ago day on Lagos Island - Shindo certainly does. Eyes glistening with tears, he looks back at Godzilla and nods. The King of the Monsters throws his head back and roars… before incinerating Shindo with a blast of radioactive fire and trampling through the remains of his office.
It’s a beautiful, ambiguous scene. Was Shindo’s nod granting permission for Godzilla to kill him, atonement for his role in the monster’s rampage? Or was Godzilla’s strike one of pure vengeance? If the second’s the case, then why? Godzilla shows little regard for humans unless they attack him or employ telepathy. Perhaps he associates Shindo with a time when he was too weak to defend himself. Perhaps he hates Shindo for leaving him wounded on Lagos - or perhaps he hates him for not finishing the job, for allowing him to become an abomination, attacked by machines and monsters alike whenever he dares rise up from the ocean.
Godzilla can’t talk, so we’ll never know. But for Shindo to help raise such questions cements his tie with Serizawa in my mind.