Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lola vs. Godzilla

If you’ve ever spent much time with a young child, you’re aware of how drastically moods can shift. One minute they’re the most lovable and considerate little snuggle-bug you’ve ever met, and the next they are a seething ball of rage.

Since she was little, we encouraged that compassionate side of our daughter Lola with semi-regular doses of Mister Rogers. His calm, measured demeanor never failed to re-center her. But sometimes it is important to give that other side a chance to roar and rampage. For that we turn to the other side of Lola’s personal yin-yang — Godzilla!

I showed Lola her first Godzilla film when she was around 2 1/2 years old. Having a passing familiarity with the Showa Era films (via Channel 9 marathons my Scoutmaster had taped for us to watch en route to campouts), they seemed like something that might speak to the non-Rogers side of my daughter’s personality. I started with my personal favorite, Invasion of Astro-Monster.

She didn’t hate it. It was a movie, after all. But she also wasn’t as invested in it as she had been in animated fare like Coco, or even Paddington 2. I chalked this up to the fact that Invasion of Astro-Monster was a bit light on the monster action, and over the next couple weeks I tried showing her Son of Godzilla and Destroy All Monsters. But neither film seemed to really move the needle. So I decided not to push things further.

Last year while checking out what was available on the newly-launched Criterion Channel, I decided to check out a few minutes of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla on my phone. Within seconds the now-3 1/2 year-old Lola was at my side watching over my shoulder. We made it about twenty minutes before it was time to start getting her ready for bed, but within a couple of days we found a chance to finish it. And it was love at second sight. In no time flat Lola was referring to him as “My Zilla.”

My follow-up offering, Mothra vs. Godzilla, was a little bit of a misstep but it did yield some interesting moments. Unlike the former film, the latter film came from earlier in the series when Godzilla was still playing the heel. Because Godzilla could do no wrong in Lola’s eyes, she was actively cheering for him to eat Mothra’s egg. But once the egg hatched and not one but two babies emerged, things got a bit more nuanced.

Suddenly there were “peers” for her to identify with and Mothra’s battle to the death with Godzilla was retroactively reframed as a touching display of maternal love and sacrifice. Now she was cheering for the twin silkworms to entangle her beloved monster with their spray. Since then I’ve stuck to the films where Godzilla is the hero, but she does know that he has the potential to be a bit of a scamp.

After this, Godzilla movies became our special daddy/daughter thing. Whenever ‘Becca’lise would go out to see a show with her mom or sister we would knock out another film. In between we would watch YouTube clips while getting dressed in the morning and listen to snippets of score while driving to school. When we ran out of English-dubbed films, we gave Godzilla vs. Hedorah a spin in Japanese. She didn’t mind. Altogether she’s seen eight of the films and two of them twice. Her fourth birthday was even Godzilla themed, complete with a Mothra piñata (courtesy of her Auntie Dri).

And it’s not all just monster mayhem and “real life Pokemon” like her cousins called it. The Hedorah film has a very strong environmentalist message and most of the latter films deliberately feature a child character for younger viewers to identify with. The relationship between Godzilla and Minilla is particularly poignant for us since it is essentially an adoption story and Lola was adopted.

These films even helped her to come to terms with the giant spider we use for Halloween decorations. All I had to do was start calling it Kumonga. It didn’t matter that Kumonga is a “bad guy” who tried to eat Minilla. Now she takes him for walks on a leash, tells him her troubles, and gives him kisses.

Admittedly, these films aren’t for everyone. You know better than anyone what your child is or isn’t ready for. But Godzilla has given Lola and I so much. The films are a blast, they present an outlet for some of those trickier emotions, and it's a special way for the two of us to bond that is uniquely ours. Gamera may be officially branded as “friend to all children” but in this house, Godzilla truly is king of the monsters!

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