October 21, 2004

One big foot almost steps on seven deadly sins

By Ward Triplett

If you want to get highly dramatic about it, you could say a powerful overseas corporation came this close to stomping out one of the elements of Lawrence's Godzilla conference.

The truth carries a lot less anxiety, but it is the reason the free reading of seven original 10-minute plays about the creature Tuesday is called “Zodgyra and the Seven Deadly Sins.”

“We ran into a very peculiar problem,” said Paul Lim, a professor in the English department at KU and the coordinator of Tuesday's program. “About six months ago the people who own the copyright in Japan, Toho, were looking through Web sites, and they found out this conference was going on. They didn't mind the name being used for a scholarly conference … but were very apprehensive about a creative project using the name. They let us know they preferred we not do that.

“Since we didn't want KU to get in trouble, we changed the name. We transposed the ‘g' and the ‘z,' and ended it with the ‘ra,' like the original name, Gojira.”

The scaled-down name was enough to bring peace to the corporation concerns, and the plays, each of which is themed around one of the seven deadly sins, will be read as scheduled at the Lawrence Arts Center.

“We are not in any way attempting to reproduce him … that would not go over well anyway in a reading,” said Lim, who specializes in teaching creative writing and playwriting. “But we are using some of the sound effects.”

The project began about a year ago, shortly after William Tsutsui (see story, Page 33) asked Lim if the performance group he runs, the English Alternative Theatre, might be interested in helping out in a Godzilla conference. Lim put out the call to present and past students, and found 10 of them were highly enthusiastic about it. To put an “umbrella device” over the idea and to make it more manageable, Lim came up with the notion that there would be seven plays, each dealing with one of the seven deadly sins.

The sins were divided among student writers Will Averill, David Huffman, Jonathan Langford, Tim Macy, Chris Nelson, Alan Newton and Paul Shoulberg.

“That's just how it turned out,” Lim said of his all-male creature featurers. “Interestingly, as Bill says, even though Godzilla goes beyond race, creed, gender and class, it's still mostly a guy thing. Normally we see Godzilla going on the rampage, and that's still more of a guy thing.”

But not all of the plays are about city-stomping mayhem. In fact, Lim said the most interesting thing he found as the works went through rewrites is how each student, in his own way, reinvented the character for America in 2004. Three of the seven deal with the war in Iraq.

“In some he is the Godzilla of old, very warlike, vengeful, and you can read whatever you want into that and what it says about America today,” Lim said. “But in others he is laid-back and benevolent. He teaches lessons.

“In the play on sloth, the playwright suggests those of us who are slothlike and lazy turn into a nerd kind of Godzilla, allowing things to happen in the world that shouldn't be happening.”

After Tuesday's reading at the Lawrence Arts Center, Lim said it's up to the students if they want to pursue the ideas any further. They now own the copyrights to their visions of “Zodgyra.”

Lim's own view of Godzilla was colored by his childhood in the Philippines. He was born in 1944 and grew up with many stories about World War II, the Japanese and the bombs that effectively ended World War II.

“So my first reaction (to a Godzilla film) was truer to what I think the filmmakers intended, that it was a cautionary tale of what could happen in the event of nuclear war,” he said. “It was very different to the kids in the '60s, '70s who saw him as a friendlier creature. For us he was just this terrifying creature. Terrifying. We have subsequently learned he was just a guy in a rubber suit … with bad sound effects.”


“In Godzilla's Footsteps — Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage,” an academic conference that brings together some of the foremost authorities on Japan's pop culture, will be held with associated events Oct. 26-30 at the University of Kansas. The conference is free, but registration is required. To register go to g2004.net/godzilla/registration.asp. For information, call the Center for East Asian Studies at (785) 864-3849.

Activities next week:

• “Zodgyra and the Seven Deadly Sins,” staged readings of 10-minute plays by KU students, performed by the English Alternative Theatre, 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Lawrence Arts Center.

• Godzilla on My Mind, book-signing by William Tsutsui, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oread Books, Kansas Union.

• Ceremonial inflation of big Godzilla balloon, 12:45 p.m. Oct. 28, Liberty Hall.

• Free screening of “Gojira,” the original 1954 film, without the footage of American actor Raymond Burr that was knifed into the movie for its U.S. release, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28, Liberty Hall. Followed by discussion with KU professor Gregory Cushman.

• Opening day of “In Godzilla's Footsteps” conference, 8:15 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Oct. 29, Lawrence Arts Center.

• Free screening of “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29, Liberty Hall.

• Second day of conference, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Oct. 30.

• Free screening of the 2001 film, “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30, Liberty Hall, followed by discussion led by KU film professors Chuck Berg and Michael Baskett.

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