A beast of a book: WMU professor translates Godzilla novellas

Contact: Kayla Lambert

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The story of Godzilla is iconic: The 1956 film changed the science-fiction and horror realm as the world once knew it. And now, a Western Michigan University professor is opening new avenues for fans to expand their understanding of the legend.

Following a fire-breathing monster that wreaks havoc on Japan after it is awoken by an underwater hydrogen bomb, the film made waves as both a form of entertainment and as a political commentary of the fear of thermonuclear weapons in Japanese culture. However, despite its popularity, not many people are aware that Godzilla is not only the title character of the movie but also a series of novellas.

Dr. Jeffrey  holds a poster of the "Godzilla" book next to a statue of Godzilla.

Angles

When Dr. Jeffrey Angles, professor of Japanese, discovered the books were only published in the Japanese language, he became set on translating them into English. After a two-year labor of love, Angles completed his project. Published on Oct. 3, 2023, by University of Minnesota Press, “Godzilla” and “Godzilla Raids Again” are now available to English-speaking monster lovers.

“I really love translation because I feel it's an incredibly valuable and important thing to bring to the world's heritage of literature,” says Angles. “It's a storehouse of ideas to English language readers.”

The inspiration for Angles’ translation came after he showed the original film to students in one of his Japanese courses. There is a note in the credits that the work is based on the writing of Shigeru Kayama, the author of the original “Godzilla” and “Godzilla Raids Again” novellas.

“I began poking around, and quickly realized that Shigeru Kayama, who I recognized as a famous mid-century Japanese science fiction novelist, had written the draft of the first movie, and also very soon afterwards sat down and wrote this book,” says Angles. “I was like, wow, how is it that ‘Godzilla’ is so crazy famous, and we don't know the book that came out of it? And so it seemed to me like a neat opportunity.”

Upon the announcement of its creation, excitement over the book was buzzing. “Godzilla” and “Godzilla Raids Again” have been reviewed in the Washington Post, and Angles has been invited to countless events and Comic Cons to discuss the translation.

“It kind of caught on fire when news hit the internet,” says Angles. “The press was inundated with people who were interested in it. I’ve translated a bunch of books, but I've never had one that was this big a hit.”

Angles began working on the translation in 2020, amidst the pandemic, and chipped away at the work slowly. The longest part of the labor, according to Angles, was writing the Afterward. This portion of the book focuses on the work of Kayama, the political significance of the book and the history of “Godzilla.”

“The original ‘Godzilla’ is this very kind of deep, profound, mournful story,” says Angles. “It was made in response to Japan's fears of radiation in 1954 when the first ‘Godzilla’ movie was made.”

Angles made a point within the book to connect the events of the past to today, emphasizing that “Godzilla” makes a statement about climate change.

“‘Godzilla’ is a perfect fable for the Anthropocene,” argues Angles. “This story reminds us that when humans destroy the natural environment, nature will fight back in destructive ways that humanity cannot possibly predict from the onset.”

On Friday, Dec. 1, at 12:30 p.m. in room 1021 of Brown Hall, Angles will give a talk about his Godzilla project as part of the Faculty Colloquium Series entitled “Godzilla as Anti-nuclear Activist and Anthropocene Guerilla,” hosted the by WMU Department of World Languages and Literatures. Learn more about this event on the Soga Japan Center’s webpage.

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