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Godzilla Rules the Pop Psyche

By Leanne Potts
Of the Journal
    Bill Tsutsui wants to know what Godzilla means to you. Tsutsui, a professor who teaches Japanese business and history at the University of Kansas, is writing a book on the impact the Tokyo-stomping monster has had on American pop culture. He wants to hear your reflections on Godzilla so he can include them in his book.
    The as yet untitled book will be published by an academic division of Macmillan Publishers in November 2004 to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the release of the first Godzilla movie.
    Tsutsui (pronounced (soot-SUE-ee) has written three dumbbell-weight books on the history of Japanese banking and management, serious books that help a professor earn tenure.
    But Tsutsui's heart belongs to a fire-breathing, radioactive relic from the Jurassic Age.
    "Godzilla is my lifetime passion," he said by phone from his office in Lawrence, Kan. "I was Godzilla for Halloween when I was 9. I built Godzilla models. I have an officeful of Godzilla toys. I can never remember living without thinking of Godzilla."
    He's not alone.
    There have been 27 Godzilla films to date, not counting 1998's big-budget Hollywood flop, and after a 10-year interruption that spanned the late 1970s to the mid-1980s one film a year is still being made in Japan. ("The effects are better, but the stories are as bad as they ever were," Tsutsui said.)
    There have been about 10 Godzilla spoof films made, like the animated "Godzilla Meets Bambi" and the 1998 Star-Wars-meets-Godzilla-film "Godzilla Versus Disco Lando."
    Godzilla has appeared in rap and rock lyrics, poetry, art, trading cards and TV commercials. And the requisite Google search for "Godzilla" turns up 905,000 hits.
    Godzilla is almost as big as Star Trek.
    Tsutsui wants to know:
  • When did you see your first Godzilla movie?
  • Why do you like these films?
  • Do your friends or family members share your interest in Godzilla?
  • Do you own Godzilla collectibles?
  • Why do you think Godzilla has become such an enduring icon in American pop culture?
        Tsutsui has his theories about why cheesy movies that featured guys in latex suits wrestling amid models of Tokyo have been around for half a century. Those primitive production values are a large part of Godzilla's appeal in this age of computer-generated special effects.
        "Nostalgia is a big part of it," he said. "It's the baby-boomer generation that grew up with Godzilla. It's hokey, but Godzilla takes you back to a simpler time when you didn't have to answer e-mail every five minutes."
        Godzilla also managed to communicate some of our culture's deep fears about science and the nuclear age, Tsutsui said. "Godzilla always carried the warning about playing with nature and science, forces we didn't thoroughly understand."
        Mess with Mother Nature, Godzilla films tell us, and you might end up with a giant spiked turtle leveling Pacific Rim cities.
        Who says pop culture doesn't teach us worthwhile values?
        Send your thoughts on Godzilla to Professor Tsutsui at btsutsui@ku.edu, or via snail mail to William M. Tsutsui, Department of History, University of Kansas, 1455 Jayhawk Blvd., Room 3001, Lawrence, KS 66045.
        PRAIRIE HOME BARGAINS: With Frank Lloyd Wright designs on everything from calendars to T-shirts, it's safe to say the founding father of modern architecture is a pop-culture icon.
        Wright, who designed New York's Guggenheim Museum and the famed Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania, is in the same high-art-gone-pop league as Vincent van Gogh or Georgia O'Keeffe, those other fixtures of museum gift shop mouse pads.
        The Frank Lloyd Wright Saguaro Night Light, based on a glass panel in the foyer of the Arizona Biltmore and complete with bulb, is nice ($25.15 at www.maclinstudio.com). But the ultimate Wright collectible would be an actual Wright-designed building.
        Impossible, you say.
        Possible, I say.
        At any given moment there are dozens of Wright houses for sale around the country. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the architect's work, keeps a current listing of Wright homes on the market on its Web site, www.savewright.org.
        At the moment there are 18 houses listed. Most cost more than $1 million.
        They are, after all, collectors' items. Only 400 or so Frank Lloyd Wright structures still standing.
        But there are a couple that are bargains, particularly when you consider the median price for a boring ticky-tack tract home in the United States is $162,000.
        The 1939 Bernard Schwartz house, a 3,000-square-foot, Wright-designed house in Two Rivers, Wis., can be yours for $395,000.
        The 109-year-old, five-bedroom, three-bath Stephen A. Foster Home and Stable in Chicago can be yours for $399,000. (This is not the same Stephen Foster who wrote 19th-century minstrel songs "Oh! Susanna" and "My Old Kentucky Home." If it was, this house would be a pop-culture grand slam.)
        The Helen and Ward McCartney House, a three-bedroom, two-bath house on 11/4 acres of land in Kalamazoo, Mich., is listed at $375,000. The price even includes some Wright-designed furniture and his original plans for the house.
        Most of Wright's houses are in the Midwest, so you would have to deal with six-month-long winters. And finding a job in Kalamazoo can't be easy.
        But imagine, you could live in a work of art for less than it would cost to live in a Tanoan starter mansion.

    Leanne Potts writes this column weekly for the Albuquerque Journal. She can be reached at lpotts@abqjournal.com.