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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hello Kitty Turns 40, Godzilla Celebrates 60

It's good to be king. Or queen. Or so I hear.

What can you say? She still looks pretty good for an old broad - Hello Kitty, that is, while Godzilla, I think he looks good for 60 - who can tell with all of those scales and waves of radiation peeling off him/her/it?

Ladies First 
It was 40 years ago, when a white cat sporting a cute red bow atop her head made her debut on a vinyl coin purse in Japan. It's been a money-making icon ever since.

Now an internationally recognized cultural icon, Hello Kitty - that cute little cat that never seems to have a mouth is 'mouthpiece' for brands across the globe, found everywhere from clothing, jewelry, airplanes, toys, and even in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a massive balloon.

Mum's The Word
Did you know that Hello Kitty is NOT her name? Really! According to Sanrio Co.’s official website for her, her official name is Kitty White, and she was born outside of London, England (so was I!) on November 1, and she has a twin sister named Mimmy.

Kitty White (Hello Kitty White!) is one of dozens of Sanrio characters, which also include Keroppi (a frog), Monkichi (a monkey), My Melody (a rabbit), and Badtz-Maru (a penguin).

While many of these characters can be found alongside Hello Kitty, none have seen the incredible popularity that the little white cat has achieved, which is why you probably have no idea of what I am talking about.

Hello Kitty came about when Sanrio’s founder Tsuji Shintaro (surname first) noted that the merchandise he was selling (rubber sandals in particular) moved more product when “cute” designs were added. He hired cartoonists to design characters for his merchandise, and Shimizu Yuko (surname first) came up with the cat. Hello Kitty helped the Sanrio company in a massive way increasing their sales seven times over the four years following the first release of a Hello Kitty product.

She's Got The Look
While Sanrio’s primary audience for Hello Kitty has always been young girls, the company has expanded Hello Kitty’s brand into an impressively wide amount of products.

In 2009, Bank of America began offering Hello Kitty-themed checking accounts, allowing people to get debit cards and checks with Kitty’s face on them. Also in 2009, the company entered the wine market, offering four different Hello Kitty-themed wines. There have also been collaborations with Simmons and Zales to introduce high-end Hello Kitty jewelry over the last several years.

Hello Kitty has also been more than just a brand name for a product. She’s also starred in multiple animated series, such as Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater (1987), Hello Kitty and Friends (1993), and Hello Kitty’s Paradise (1999-2011). Plus, there have been dozens of Hello Kitty video games spanning nearly every major console, such as Hello Kitty’s Cube Frenzy, Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams, Hello Kitty Online and Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic.

Hello Kitty now brings in more than $7 billion every year for Sanrio, meaning she isn't going away anytime soon. Here’s to another 40 years! Stay cute!

Godzilla - Burning Down The House
It almost makes me feel old!

On November 3, 2014, Godzilla celebrated his 60th birthday - a date we can be sure of, as on November 3, 1954, the movie Gojira was released in Japan.

Gojira was the first of the Japanese kaiju (strange creatures) series of tokusatsu (live action) films.

Released by Toho Company Ltd., the original film was directed by Honda Ishirô (surname first), written by Honda and Murata Takeo (surname first), with story by Kayama Shigeru (you know I do surname first by now!).

God help you if you have only ever seen the heavily-edited and reworked version that was released in the West as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in 1956 by TransWorld Releasing Corp.

I had only ever seen that version until some time this past year when I saw the Japanese version (with subtitles). Oh. My. Godzilla. This was a monster movie. It was so much better than the hackneyed reworking deemed fit for the West, that I was sick to my stomach after realizing just what I had been missing for all those years.

Godzilla was originally called Gojira, a combination of two Japanese words “gorira” which means gorilla and “kujira” which means whale.

Following the devastation of the very real atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II and the very real Lucky Dragon 5 incident (see my article HERE) with a hydrogen bomb, the character of Godzilla represented a metaphor for the destruction of nuclear weapons.

It was to show the folly of atomic and nuclear weaponry - the arrogance of man daring to tamper with forces beyond his control - and the damage it could release.

I don't want to talk too much about the whole Godzilla movie series, suffice to say, you can read about that HERE. Yeah… I write a fair bit about Godzilla - because it's a cultural icon of the country.I'm not an expert on Godzilla, however.

The IT Lizard - Or The Fashionable Godzilla
Godzilla’s physical stature is an amphibious, reptilian monster combined with that of a dinosaur that stands in an upright posture with scaly skin, spiky plates on his back leading down to a long tail used as much for balance as it is a weapon of mass destruction.

Art director Watanabe Akira designed the creature as a combination of dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus Rex, Iguanondon and a Stegosaurus, while also adding in some traits from an alligator. Godzilla's arms, however, while still short for its stature, are not as spindly or as ineffective as the classic T-Rex.

The Stegasaurus, I should note, is the dinosaur with the row of plates on his back... or at least that's what paleontologists thought up until the 1980s.  It was then that they realized that the Stegasaurus actually had two rows of plates on its back... so Godzilla, if you want to maintain a 'modern' or 'correct' Stegasaurus look, then he should also have two rows of plates. But, whatever.  

Oh yeah, while Godzilla's interior is indeed a nuclear furnace, when he's about to fire a blast of radioactive breath, you can see it charging up along his spine and plates - it's a sight to behold - as long as you aren't the target. 

Traditionally Godzilla has appeared on screen by an actor wearing a costume, though he’s also been brought to life through animatronics, stop motion, and computer generation.

While I love the computer generated animation of the more recent vintages, I do have a very healthy respect for the man in the suit in the earliest flicks, namely Nakajima Haruo (中島 春雄), who was born on January 1, 1929 - and strangely enough, is best-known for portraying Godzilla from the 1950s through the early 1970s in the movies and bar mitzvahs.

I'm kidding about the last part. I think. 

Speak Godzilla
Composer Ifukube Akira created Godzilla's his signature roar by recording the sound of a resin coated glove rubbing across the string of a contrabass then slowing it down on the playback.

So Godzilla's roar is a string instrument… or something out of an S&M kit. I like to think it's a little of both. 

The Toho Company has created 28 films for Godzilla to stomp through, along with a US version in 1998 by Tri-Star and a Legendary Pictures version (good - but less suspense, more action!) earlier this year to celebrate Godzilla at 60.

Popularity for the films led to the character’s introduction into TV, music (like Blue Oyster Cult), books, comics (Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW), and video games, along with tons of merchandise (I gave a way a 60-centimeter high Godzilla action figure to one of my students before leaving Japan 20 years ago).

Anyhow, if you are hosting a birthday party for Godzilla - do NOT let him blow out the candles!

Andrew Joseph

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