GAZETTE: How did you get into the character?

TSUTSUI:  I was 7 or 8 years old. I was in my parents’ bedroom on a blue shag carpet on a Saturday afternoon watching the “Creature Double Feature” on our big old Zenith TV set. A Godzilla movie came on, and I just fell in love. There wasn’t really a lot about Japan that I could relate to as a kid, growing up in a small town in central Texas. My friends usually teased me about my Japanese heritage, but Godzilla was something we all thought was pretty cool. So Godzilla ended up becoming an important part of my identity as a Japanese American, as something about Japan I could take pride in.

GAZETTE: You teach a course on Japanese monsters. What is it really about and why is it so popular?

TSUTSUI:  It’s often been said Japan has more monsters than any other culture in the world. The course covers texts from the first written history of Japan, which is from the eighth century, up to the present day. We look at how monsters have figured in the Japanese imagination, and been shaped by social, political, economic, and technological change. Japanese monster culture is very vibrant — both in terms of its folklore and as new monsters (like Pokémon) are continuously being created. For the class, which touches on topics from “The Tale of Genji” to cryptozoology and UFOs, I thought I’d mostly have students who are interested in Japan, but there’s a really wide range of concentrations and personal experiences represented. What ties us together is our shared fascination with the variety and novelty of Japanese monsters.


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GAZETTE: Last question, who do you think be the victor in this new film?

TSUTSUI:  Back in 1962 when the original “King Kong vs. Godzilla” came out, there was a legend that they made a Japanese version where Godzilla wins and an American version where Kong wins. The reality is that the original movie was a draw. Basically, Kong swims off in one direction, and Godzilla swims off in another. The reason, of course, is that the studio wanted to make a sequel. That sequel never happened, so we’ve had to wait decades for a rematch. I am going to predict that this showdown ends up pretty much the same way as the previous one, without a definitive victor. What I’m hoping for, no matter who wins, is we’re going to have the opportunity to see two tremendous monsters, two real icons of global popular culture, just whomping on each other for 90 minutes. I have the sense that this is something we all need in this stressful moment of the pandemic. Fingers crossed, it’s not going to disappoint.

Interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.