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Godzilla Conquers the Globe:
Japanese Movie Monsters in International Film Art

C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University

February - December 2004

Curated by Gregory M. Pflugfelder with the assistance of
Yoshiko Fredisdorf, Ria Koopmans-de Bruijn, and Derek Lam

General Info

What better occasion to assess the legacy of the unique film genre known as kaijû eiga (Japanese monster movies) than the fiftieth anniversary of Godzilla's debut on celluloid. Tôhô Corporation has itself announced that it will discontinue production of Godzilla movies after this year. Films featuring Godzilla and his fellow monsters are the first Japanese cultural product to have won a truly global audience, bulldozing a path that, more recently, such East Asian pop-culture goods as Pokémon, Hong Kong action cinema, and anime (Japanimation) have followed. One of the key elements of the kaijû eiga lies in its outsized spectacle and globally hybridized iconography, the result of which has been the creation of a visual culture of monstrosity encompassing multiple national and cultural traditions. Thus, in Italy, for example, Godzilla movies of the 1960s and 1970s were often billed under the name "King Kong" (with correspondingly simian imagery on publicity posters), while in West Germany these same films just as frequently bore the name of "Frankenstein." The worldwide circulation of Godzilla movies, and of the visual images and material objects attached to them, provides a key to understanding how the globalization process has led, somewhat paradoxically, to a multiplication and adaptation of local understandings, rather than to a homogenization of culture per se. The present exhibition focuses not only on Japanese and American materials, which are the most widely known, but on the local reception and transformation of Japanese monster imagery in a variety of other cultural contexts, including Western and Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, and Australasia.

How to get there

The exhibit is located in two areas of C. V. Starr East Asian Library: the Main Reading Room and the Rare Book Room. Entrance to Starr Library is from the third floor of Kent Hall on Columbia's Morningside Heights campus, near the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 116th Street (116th Street Station on the 1/9 subway line). The exhibit is free, and no I.D. is required for entry. Large-format posters, the majority originating from Italy and France, are displayed on the walls of the Main Reading Room, just inside the library entrance. A glass display case at the center of the room contains miscellaneous publicity materials and photographs. The exhibit continues in the Rare Book Room, which can be reached from the 200 level of the library stacks (there is an elevator across from the Circulation Desk). The first room features a selection of Japanese monster-related materials from Starr Library's Rare Book Collection as well as private collections. In the adjoining seminar room are publicity posters issued around the world to mark the release of the first Godzilla film, Gojira (1954), which was retailored by Hollywood in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

Please remember that Starr Library is a working facility, and observe the following rules:
-refrain from loud conversation
-no food or drink
-no flash photography
-turn off cell phones and pagers

When to get there

The entire exhibit may be viewed only during certain hours; however, parts of the exhibit are always accessible during library hours. The Rare Book Room is open to viewers from 9 AM to 1 PM, Monday through Friday. The Main Reading Room is open throughout the library's working hours (M - Th, 9 AM to 11 PM; Fr, 9 AM to 7 PM; Sat, 12 noon to 7 PM; Sun, 12 noon to 10 PM). For a detailed calendar, including university holidays and extended/shortened hours, please visit the Columbia University Libraries' website at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/services/hours/

Poster conservation by Chris Cloutier (at posterfix.com)
Photography courtesy of Lee Pennington
Web assistance by Kazuho Tsuchiya
Last updated 2004-10-14

The C.V. Starr East Asian Library, one of the largest and deepest collections in North America, has started its second century of supporting the research and teaching on East Asia for which Columbia University is famous. It is currently in the middle of a $1.5 million challenge-grant period, with commitments to expand the collections, to digitize more of its unique materials, and to upgrade services for the 21st century. The campaign provides an opportunity for friends of the Library, foundations, and corporations to invest in the future of the Library's collections and services.

Exhibition

Go to EXHIBITION ROOM #1: LARGER THAN LIFE

Go to EXHIBITION ROOM #2: FROM FOLK MONSTERS TO MASS MONSTERS

Go to EXHIBITION ROOM #3: GODZILLA MAKES HIS DEBUT

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