Godzilla isn’t stampeding toward Stillwater, but a Godzilla expert is.
William Tsutsui is the president of Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. He’s also a Godzilla scholar. He’s coming to Stillwater to share his love and expertise of Godzilla at LexiCon, a free comic con and fandom event slated from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at Stillwater Public Library, 1107 S. Duck St.
Tsutsui, who earned degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Princeton, is the author of eight books, including “Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters.” He will present a panel (“Beyond the Man in the Rubber Suit: Godzilla in the 21st Century!”) at LexiCon.
For information about the con and sister events (a Friday, Sept. 13, dance party at Modella Art Gallery and a cosplay crawl in downtown Stillwater), go to the LexiCon — Stillwater Public Library Facebook page or visit library.stillwater.org/lexicon.php.
Tsutsui fielded Godzilla-related questions in advance of his Stillwater trip.
It’s interesting that a university president also is an expert on Godzilla. Thoughts?
I’m not the run-of-the-mill president, but Hendrix is not a run-of-the-mill college either. It’s a quirky, creative place that warmly embraced me and my lifelong love for a certain giant, irradiated movie reptile.
I guarantee that I am the only college president in America with an office full of Godzilla toys (my wife won’t let me keep them at home) and that Hendrix is the only college with its own 30-foot-tall inflatable Godzilla balloon. Godzilla turns 65 years old this November, and we are planning to blow up the balloon, bake a big, old green layer cake and have a birthday party in the college cafeteria. I have a great job.
What’s the story behind your interest in Godzilla?
I saw my first Godzilla movie when I was 7 or 8 years old, lying on the blue shag carpeting in my parents’ bedroom, watching the “Creature Double Feature” on our giant, wood-grain television set. It was love at first sight: I wanted to be that monster, stomping through cities, knocking planes out of the air, making chemical plants explode.
But Godzilla also had a deeper meaning for me: As a Japanese-American kid growing up in a town in central Texas without a whole lot of Asian residents, that movie monster from Japan really became a part of my ethnic identity. Kids on the playground would taunt me about Pearl Harbor, I would roar like Godzilla, and we would all end up laughing and pretending to be giant monsters wrestling in Tokyo.
Godzilla could have been just another character on a movie screen, gone and forgotten after one film. Instead, Godzilla is an enduring figure in pop culture. Why does Godzilla have staying power?
It is amazing that a man in a rubber suit walking through miniature cities has become a beloved global pop culture icon. There are loads for reasons for this, but many of the fans I have talked with over the years come back to some enduring universal characteristics of the monster and the movies.
Godzilla is a classic hero: he’s strong, big, ready to fight for what is right, and he usually comes out the winner. And the Godzilla films are always good fun: They are upbeat, sometimes downright wacky and (with the exception of the first one, which was somber) have optimistic, happy endings for Godzilla and for humanity. They are also good family films: no nudity or sexual content, no swearing and the violence is very stylized. So many folks grew up watching Godzilla with their parents, grandparents or siblings and feel tremendous nostalgia every time they see the king of the monsters up on the screen.
What’s the best reason people should read your book?
You’d be surprised how much you can learn about Japanese history, global popular culture and contemporary American life from the movies of a 65-year-old radioactive lizard that is compulsively drawn to destroying Tokyo.