10/11/2004

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Contact: Bill Tsutsui, Center for East Asian Studies, (785) 864-9435.

KU professor to read from new book 'Godzilla on My Mind' Oct. 18

LAWRENCE -- Ask University of Kansas history professor William Tsutsui (pronounced soot-SUE-ee) what is on his mind, and he is likely to respond, "Godzilla."

Although he is recognized in academic circles as an expert on the history of Japanese banking and industrial management, Tsutsui's newest book, "Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters" attests to a lifelong fascination with the monster. Tsutsui will read from his book at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.

Known to many on and off campus as "the Godzilla guy," Tsutsui not only celebrates the 50th birthday of the first Godzilla movie in his book but also examines the cultural impact the monster has in both the United States and Japan.

"Godzilla really was a pioneer," Tsutsui says. "Godzilla started the flow of pop culture from Japan to the United States, and in his wake has come everything from Astro Boy, Speed Racer, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to today our society's fascination with anime, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Iron Chef -- you name it.

"Sixty years ago the only thing Americans knew about Japan was it was an enemy power across the Pacific. Today, though, Japanese pop culture is everywhere. Globalization has really brought us closer."

The publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, timed the book's release this month to coincide with KU's plans to celebrate all things Godzilla at a conference and film festival Oct. 28-30 in Lawrence. And yes, Tsutsui and another Godzilla fan on KU's faculty, Michiko Ito (pronounced EE-toh), librarian for Japanese studies, organized the events.

The original 1954 Godzilla film, "Gojira" (pronounced GO-gee-rah), was produced in Japan by filmmakers who were trying to make a statement. Tsutsui notes: "In fact, one of them later said that they hoped by making that movie, they would actually stop nuclear testing.

"Of course it didn't happen. But that was a movie meant for adults, meant for people to think about. And even now, 50 years afterwards, it is still thought-provoking."

"Gojira" is one of three films that will be shown at Liberty Hall, 642 Massachusetts St., as part of the upcoming Godzilla extravaganza in Lawrence. A new print of the original, uncut, subtitled version will open the film festival at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28. The films and conference are free to the public. Conference registration closes Oct. 15.

For his book, Tsutsui corresponded with hundreds of Godzilla fans. He received letters ranging from 6-year-olds whose mothers wrote the letters for them to an 80-year-old retired North Carolina doctor "who told me that for the past 30 years she's had a Godzilla ashtray sitting on the desk in her office. And she frankly couldn't explain why she liked it, but she always responded to the King of the Monsters."

As he researched the book, Tsutsui realized part of his fascination with the pop icon grew from a childhood desire to relate to his Japanese heritage during the 1970s when his family lived in central Texas.

"There weren't many Asian-Americans in my community," Tsutsui recalls. "I couldn't relate directly to Japan. For me, though, Godzilla was a way to have some attachment to this country where my father had come from and to have something cool that was Japanese."

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