Study Guide

Godzilla What's Up With the Title?

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What's Up With the Title?

The monster movie community has several unspoken commandments: rules that filmmakers inherently follow even if they don't have a checklist they are required to check off. One such commandment is that thou shalt delay showing the monster for as long as possible. Another is that thou shalt always end your story with a hint that the monster is still out there.

And then there's the commandment that brings us here: thou shalt name thy movie after the monster.

These commandments were in place well before Godzilla stomped his way through Tokyo. One of Godzilla's inspirations, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, followed it. Care to guess what that movie is about? Later films, such as Gremlins, did so as well. Novels even followed this commandment before movies were a thing, with Dracula being a well-known example. And Godzilla, a high priest in the monster movie world, leads by example.

Why name your movie after the monster? Because these stories are all about the monster. Its presence kickstarts the story. It provides the main source of conflict for the human characters to overcome. And the story's only over when the monster has been defeated. No monster, no story. So it gets top billing in the title.

Curiosity Killed the Entire City

There's another reason the monster always gets top billing. Its name entices audiences, draws them into the theater to find out what that story's about. Again, Godzilla is a prime example.

The name "Godzilla" has two parts to it. The first is "god," signifying the creature's supernatural strength and size. The second is "zilla," which points toward its lizard-like qualities. When put together, you get a creature that is completely inhuman both for being a lizard and for its supernatural, god-like qualities. These phonetic clues signal terrifying qualities to English-speaking audiences, and you just have to know what a creature sporting such a name is all about.

The Japanese title, Gojira, is similarly enticing for a Japanese audience. The name's a
portmanteau of the Japanese words for "gorilla" (gorira) and "whale" (kujira). Like the English variant, it signifies something that's both inhuman and otherworldly. The inhuman part comes from the fact that both animals are stronger and larger than people. The otherworldly part comes from the connections between whales and the ocean, that mysterious place where mythology often houses supernatural creatures and demons. Anybody else getting a kraken vibe?

Whether in Japanese or English, this movie's title creates an air of mystery around the creature, and the only way to solve that mystery is to see the film.

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