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GRAAWRR!! A WMU professor brings Godzilla to Kalamazoo

Jeffrey Angles wears a sky blue button up shirt with thin white stripes. He has a brown and grey beard, with matching hair. Around his neck lays a wooden bead necklace, with a claw like item hanging from it. Angles is holding his book "Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again." The cover shows a deep black scaled Godzilla, his toothy maw agape to release red hot fire. A larger poster behind Angles depicts the same cover. Further to his left is the edge of a red curtain, it displays numerous cute depictions of round looking cats, bunnies and people.
Michael Symonds
Jeffrey Angles said he's been a fan of the King of Monsters since he was a kid, making the opportunity to translate the Godzilla novels that much more exciting.

More than 6,000 miles separate Kalamazoo from Japan. But one of that country’s most famous icons, Godzilla, now has a local connection.

The original Godzilla film, “Godzilla,” was released in 1954, and so turns 70 this year.

Godzilla's "godfather," co-creator Shigeru Kayama adapted his screenplay into a book, along with the film’s sequel, “Godzilla Raids Again.”

While popular in Japan, the novellas, published as one volume in 1955, were never translated to English, until recently.

Jeffrey Angles is a Professor of Japanese Literature and Translation at Western Michigan University.

Angles said he acted quickly after he realized the Godzilla novels lacked an English translation.

“I thought, oh, my gosh, this is incredible. Like, how has this never been translated, I was completely shocked by this,” Angles said.

His translations of “Godzilla” and “Godzilla Raids Again” are published by the University of Minnesota Press.

The translation process wasn’t without its hurdles. Angles said Godzilla is never referred to with a pronoun in the Japanese version.

He toyed with referring to Godzilla as an ‘it,’ but his students rebelled.   

“The comment that I kept on hearing was that Godzilla has too much personality just to be referred to as an ‘it.’ The word — it just seemed too cold and too distancing."

Angles eventually went with ‘he’ in keeping with some other adaptations.

There are also a number of differences between the novellas and the movies, according to Angles, including the sound of the monster’s world-famous roar.

“I was really surprised when I read the book to find out that the that the roar, in the written version of the text is pronounced like 'GWAH.' It doesn't sound anything like the roar in the films."

WMU Professor explains how the book version of Godzilla sounds different

The book includes other significant departures from the film.

Angles said “Godzilla” the novella has an even stronger anti-nuclear message than the film.

“The people at Toho studios didn't think that making a very heavy-handed protest movie would be good for sales of tickets," Angles said. "So, they kind of massaged out a little bit of the protest elements and kind of toned it down.”

This message was not only in response to the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which had happened just under a decade before the film's release, but also a then-recent controversy: U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. This led to a crisis when contaminated fish made it to Japanese markets.   

Michael Symonds reports for WMUK through the Report for America national service program.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.