The giant lizard-like creature Godzilla, also transliterated from Japanese as Gojira, first appeared in the 1954 Japanese film with that title, directed by Ishirō Honda. The heavily edited American version was released in 1956. From its initial appearance as a destructive monster, Godzilla subsequently acquired a more positive image and even superhero status.
As originally presented, Godzilla’s hybrid form and huge stature resulted from nuclear radiation. The monster wreaked havoc on and around numerous Japanese islands, destroying boats and homes and killing many people. Investigating scientists determined that it had mutated from a mythical deep-sea creature because of the underwater testing being done with atomic weapons, especially hydrogen bombs.
Japanese anxiety over nuclear war grew steadily after the United States used atomic weapons against two Japanese cities near the end of World War II. In August 1945, US planes dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, making the United States the only country ever to deploy nuclear weapons and Japan the only country ever to be attacked with them. In the years that followed, the fallout and lingering radioactive contamination continued to affect Japan, affecting water and food production and causing a wide range of horrific birth defects in humans and other animals.
The United States continued to develop other weapons, expanding its attention to hydrogen bombs. The 1946 American weapons tests on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific are referenced in Godzilla. From the late 1940s onward, the nuclear arms race became a crucial and alarming component of the Cold War. In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic weapon. In 1952, US H-bomb tests were done underwater in the Pacific Ocean near the Marshall Islands.
The acceleration of the arms race and the proximity of the Pacific test sites to Japan, as well as the country’s experience trying to recover from the 1945 attacks, contributed to the fears expressed in the science fiction film.