The Zen of Godzilla (proposal)

I’m sorry I haven’t written much for this blog lately. I’ve been devoting lots of time to my YouTube channel ( But I’ve thought I would share some of my unpublished material with you nice folks.

First up is material from a book I proposed to New World Library in 2011 but never finished. Below is the proposal I sent them. In the next few weeks I will be putting up some of the chapters I finished before I abandoned the project. I thought the material I wrote was good, but after a handful of chapters I ran out of steam on the idea. I couldn’t produce enough to make a whole book.

Japan’s most famous marauding radioactive dinosaur, Godzilla has been an international cultural icon since his film debut over fifty years ago. Godzilla made his American debut at about the time the Beat poets were discovering another Japanese cultural import, Zen. But could there be two aspects of Japanese culture any less similar?

Perhaps not. In fact it was a love of Godzilla movies that brought me to study Zen in its native land. The parallels between Godzilla and Zen are plentiful, even if they usually go unnoticed.

There is a groundswell of popular interest in Buddhism these days. Even so, most books about the subject still cater either to scholars, new age enthusiasts, or the already converted. The few books out there that try to explain this difficult philosophy and practice to new-comers tend to be written as if their authors had no contact with 21st century popular culture.

This year Warner Brothers announced that they will be making a new Godzilla film for release in 2012. The media push will be tremendous and we can expect to see Godzilla make a major resurgence within the next two years. The timing is perfect for someone to take a philosophical look at one of pop culture’s most widely recognized and enduring icons. These days, bookstores are full of books connecting pop culture and philosophy. We’ve had The Simpsons and Philosophy, LOST and Philosophy and even The Dharma of Star Wars.

I am uniquely qualified to comment on both Godzilla and Zen. I am a Zen Buddhist monk, ordained in Tokyo by Gudo Nishijima Roshi as a teacher in the Soto tradition. I also spent 14 years working for Tsuburaya Productions, the company founded by Eiji Tsuburaya, the creator of Godzilla.

I have written four books about Zen, including Hardcore Zen, in which I wrote about my life at Tsuburaya Productions. I was also the uncredited editor of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, a heavily illustrated biography of Eiji Tsuburaya that I supervised and for which I cleared all of the various licenses necessary to produce the book. I’ve visited the sets of countless Japanese monster films and befriended many of the people who created them including Shusuke Kaneko, famous for directing the most philosophical of the Godzilla films, as well as Haruo Nakajima, the original man inside the Godzilla costume. I’ve even appeared as an actor and extra in several. 

The healthy sales of my previous books have shown that there is an audience for pop-culturally savvy books about Buddhism, and Godzilla is a great hook to attract readers who would not otherwise buy a book about Buddhism.

This book will examine the Godzilla films in terms of what these films can tell us about Zen as well as about Japanese culture and philosophy in general. Like all films from foreign countries, the Godzilla films contain a wealth of cultural information that is often missed or misunderstood by casual viewers. The Godzilla films are especially good examples to look at because their target audience is not scholars or film buffs but ordinary folks looking for fun, escapist entertainment. 

The Godzilla films are not all quite as stupid as comedians and elitist film snobs would have us believe. The first Godzilla film was, in fact, one of the few Japanese productions of its day to address the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cleverly recasting the atomic bomb as a horrifying and unstoppable monster.

Conversely many of the later Godzilla films really are incredibly dumb. But even in these films there is a treasure trove of hidden cultural and philosophical information just waiting for the right person to dig it out and bring it to light.

But people won’t be buying a book called The Zen of Godzilla to immerse themselves in stimulating intellectual concepts and theories. This will be a fun and funny look at a beloved character from a standpoint that’s never been attempted before.

Only William Tsutsui’s Godzilla On My Mind and In The Footsteps of Godzilla have come close to delving into the philosophical underpinnings of this immensely popular film series. And, although the publication of these books made headlines and got its author a lot of exposure, Tsutsui wasn’t really the expert on Godzilla he liked to present himself as. The book was rife with errors even casual fans of the films could spot. And Tsustui was mainly an armchair researcher. He watched a lot of Japanese monster movies, but, unlike me, he never participated in their making or appeared in them.

I have dealt with Toho, the company who owns Godzilla. But I have never worked directly for them (the company I worked for did not own the copyright to Godzilla). They are very protective of their copyright. I know of at least five books that have used the name Godzilla in their title without licensing it from Toho. However, when I worked on Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, even the use of the name Godzilla in the subtitle was a point of contention. We were able to use it in the end, without payment. But it took a lot of arguing. Therefore, we need to be aware from the outset that it’s possible we may not be able to use the name Godzilla in the title of the book. Or that we may have to pay Toho or WB a licensing fee to use it. This matter should be researched because there are already numerous precedents. I would rather not deal with licensing from Toho at all. However, I have had experience doing it and I know some of the people currently working in that area of the company.

That being said, this would be a cool and fun book that I’m certain would sell even if we had to call it “The Zen of Giant Japanese Monsters” or some other very obvious allusion to Godzilla. For a cover, I would propose having Alex Wald illustrate a gigantic fire-breathing Buddha destroying Tokyo. With a cover like that, no matter what the title we can’t lose!



September 1, 2021 LECTURE Turku, Finland (more information coming soon)

September 2-5, 2021 RETREAT Hämeenlinna, Finland

September 8-12, 2021 BENEDIKTUSHOF RETREAT near Wurzburg, Germany

September 15, 2021 LECTURE at LibrairieAlmora Paris, France

September 18-19, 2021 TALK and more in the Ashram de Gilles Farcet, Angles-sur-l’Anglin, France