Godzilla has landed in Toronto.
But the 50-metre-high, fire-breathing radioactive monster lizard will not be ravaging the CN Tower any time soon. Instead, tucked away in the office of Toronto's Japan Foundation, new life is being breathed into the camp classic in a staged reading of Godzilla, the 1987 script by Japanese playwright Yasuhiko Ohashi.
Fans of Ultraman and Rodan be warned: This Godzilla is quite different from the movies that made the monster a cult hero.
"I wanted to write a love story in a very pure sense," Ohashi said through his interpreter. "And for that I needed a very pure, sincere girl. So who is she going to fall in love with, but the strongest creature in the world -- Godzilla."
"I think it's true in any country, men are getting weaker, and I couldn't have that kind of man in a love story. I also think that's my way of resisting and denying such a kind of weakened man."
If Godzilla in love sounds tame, the play is not. Ohashi's Godzilla, which won Japan's Kishida Drama Award,is a highly comic take on old-fashioned, star-crossed lovers who have to overcome incredible obstacles to be with each other.
For most couples, it's usually a matter of the man or the woman being from different social classes or races. Imagine the surprise of Yayoi's parents when she brings home Godzilla, king of the monsters, instead of the Sony executive they were expecting.
Even worse is the reaction from Godzilla's family. Mothra can't understand why Godzilla has fallen for a human, and asks him how he plans on making a living when his movie career has resulted in one too many flops.
But the play is not just a B-movie companion, says Susan Doyon, one of the co-directors of the reading, which was produced by Crow's Theatre. It also touches on the intricacies of Japanese family structures and reflects on the social values of contemporary Japan.
"Even if you don't get all the cultural references and the movie references, it's still a great play," Doyon said. "With the themes of domestic relationships and the metaphor of the wrong kind of love, it has a lot of appeal."
The Japan Foundation's goal is to promote Japanese culture, and this is the second time Crow's Theatre has teamed up with the foundation for a staged reading. If the project is a success, they hope to be able to mount a full-scale production.
Doyon herself admits that while she had heard of Godzilla, she wasn't too familiar with the films. But with a little movie-watching she was primed. And she's thrilled with the success of the readings: Although fully booked, the line of people waiting for cancellations to the free production runs down the corridor.
"I think we are attracting some die-hard Godzilla fans," Doyon said. "People are laughing at some of the references to the monsters and their names. They were laughing when the girls started singing the song to Mothra -- that's taken right from one of the movies. They're getting all the inside jokes -- I'm not even getting all the jokes."
There's no trace of the familiar rubber Godzilla suit in this incarnation -- Toronto actor Damien Atkins is earnestly dressed in khakis and a sweater vest. Ohashi was adamant Godzilla should be played by a man who looked, well, like a regular man. Stressing that intelligent audiences should be able to use their imaginations, there's even a note in the play's foreward, "Please play Godzilla and the other monsters with real actors -- no stuffed animals. If spectators have good intentions and imaginations, they should certainly see Godzilla as Godzilla."
Atkins ( Good Mother, Real Live Girl) is not the only name in the cast. Cara Pifko ( Picasso at the Lapin Agile), Lorne Cardinal ( North of 60)and Julian Richings ( The Claim) are also on hand.
Although a reading, the actors are costumed and in constant motion. And while this Godzilla doesn't box Ghidrah or do his little victory dance after a battle, there is still some cheesiness in the dialogue. "Some of the language of the translation is so formal that when you hear it straight, it sounds as if it were dubbed," Doyon said.
But it's not the campiness of Godzilla that attracted Ohashi to the idea of using him as a character in the play, who prefers the original 1954 black-and-white Godzilla film to any of its descendants. And while he credits Godzilla's ongoing popularity with the monster's character, looks and style, Ohashi wants to clear up one assumption.
"I am not an obsessive fan who collects everything Godzilla," he said. "I grew up in my childhood watching the Godzilla movies twice a year, once in summer and in the holidays, and I think it's the same with the rest of my generation. These were events we looked forward to. But for the children now, I think it's the Pokemon that's more popular than Godzilla."
Would he ever write a play about Pokemon? "No," he said, laughing. Readings of Godzilla continue at the Japan Foundation until tomorrow. For information: 416-966-1600.