At this point, you’d think Michael Dougherty would be jaded. He’s just directed the latest Godzilla movie, King of the Monsters. But there he was last month in Toho Studios, and like the rest of the assembled press, in awe of the original 1954 storyboards laid out of the table. He pulled out his phone and snapped some photos.
Hearing Dougherty talk about Godzilla makes it abundantly clear he’s a fan. A big one. He rambles off his favourite kaiju with ease and discusses the finer points of how the franchise has evolved. This guy loves Godzilla. It makes sense, right? I mean, who doesn’t like giant monsters fighting and destroying cities?
But for Dougherty, the reason why he loves Godzilla runs much deeper.
“I grew up watching these movies,” Dougherty said during a Q&A. As a child of four or five, he’d sit in front of the television, enthralled.
“I was a little half-Asian kid growing up in Ohio. And I was made fun of a lot, and to watch these amazing movies about giant monsters—and I already had a love of dinosaurs and animals and nature—that were made by other Asian people meant the world to me. You know? Because other than that, it was cowboys and cops and robbers.”
He continued, “Godzilla provided this weird security blanket because he was so strong [and] he was so powerful.”
That, coupled with how the Godzilla character stands for something and how the films have deeper subtext made a lasting impression. “Besides the fact it was entertaining and fun, I was aware even at that young age, that there was a message underneath all that,” Dougherty said. “And I heard that. And that meant a lot. In the same way that Star Wars is really a movie about spirituality if you dissect it, Godzilla has this oddly subversive message to it. So that resonated and the fact that it was made by other Asian people just meant a lot.”
But Dougherty wasn’t content to only watch Godzilla movies. He wanted to make them. By the time he turned 10, Dougherty made his first film, which was inspired by Godzilla. Using his parents’ Betamax camcorder, he filmed Tony, his pet tortoise, rampaging through his Star Wars figures.
“I tried to do it again in college and made a two-minute Godzilla film,” he said. “So it’s always been in the back of my head that I’ve wanted to do that. I can even remember when I was in college they were shooting Roland Emmerich’s movie in New York. And I was a little bit jealous and a little bit angry that I wasn’t going to be able to do it.”
With King of the Monsters, Dougherty finally got his chance. The production is far more elaborate and expensive than Tony the box tortoise knocking over Kenner action figures, but the feeling of awe and wonder remains.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is out now.