To This College President, 'Godzilla's A Hero'

This story was originally published on May 22, 2014, in KERA News (NPR digital network).

By Doualy Xaykaothao

William Tsutsui is leaving as dean of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. His new job? President of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. He’s a native Texan who’s an economic policy expert. But what’s really cemented his place in history is Godzilla.

When Tsutsui first heard the roar of Godzilla, he was 7 or 8, living in Bryan, Texas.

“We were one of two Japanese-American families," he said. "At that time, [it was] a very small town. And for me, Godzilla became a way of relating to my Japanese identity. I loved those movies. And my friends thought they were cool.”

At 9, while his parents both worked as professors at Texas A&M, Tsutsui wanted to be Godzilla.

“In Bryan, Texas, in the 1970s, there were only three ethnic possibilities," Tsutsui said. "African American, White, and Hispanic. So my father would walk down the streets in Bryan, and people would speak to him in Spanish. He’d respond in Japanese, and make a new friend.”

Following in his parent’s footsteps, Tsutsui not only made tons of new friends, but also became an academic, a historian, and an economist. He has degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Princeton.

“For a long time I thought I had serious work, but I realize all the books that I wrote about Japanese history, most of the people who read them were my relatives," he said. "Whereas I wrote about a giant rubber monster rampaging through toy cities in Japan and tens of thousands of people read it. So I'm actually real proud to be known as the guy that studies Godzilla."

He wrote "Godzilla On My Mind, 50 Years of the King of Monsters" and "In Godzilla’s Footsteps." He’s been interviewed by The New York Times, CNN, Fox, The Guardian, among others.

“Godzilla’s a hero," Tsutsui said. "When you get right down to it, Godzilla is a big guy fighting for what he believes in. And usually, he's victorious, and that's a narrative that really is universal. So while the movies have dealt at various times with issues from nuclear war to government corruption, to environmental pollution. At the real essence, they are just morality plays. And that is fundamentally appealing to movie-goers everywhere."

As a super fan, he was worried about the new "Godzilla" movie. While he says he likes it, he adds that it just doesn’t beat the first by Ishiro Honda.

“I love that 1954 original film," Tsutsui said. "It really was a very serious movie. It essentially was a cautionary tale about nuclear testing, and about destruction of nature through these powerful scientific forces. And it's still, I think, a very visceral experience to watch that, and to think that was only 10 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s defeat in World War II. It really is a classic of world cinema.”