How 'Professor Godzilla' Learned To Roar | KUER 90.1

How 'Professor Godzilla' Learned To Roar

Jun 29, 2014
Originally published on June 29, 2014 2:15 pm

Hendrix College, a small school outside of Little Rock, Ark., is about to get a new president. His name is William Tsutsui, a Princeton-, Oxford-, and Harvard-educated economist, but he's best known for a certain expertise that has landed him the nickname Professor Godzilla.

Tsutsui first heard the infamous roar of the radioactive monster lizard when he was 8 years old, living in the tiny college town of Bryan, Texas.

"Unlike many Japanese-Americans, I've not ever had the experience of living in a place with a large Asian-American community," Tsutsui says. "So I've never lived on the West Coast, I've never lived in Hawaii; so for me it's really been, in a way, a very lonely experience."

Tsutsui was an only child and biracial; his dad was Japanese, and he had an Anglo mom. There was only one other Asian-American family in Bryan. He felt like an outlier, he says, and was bullied so much he had to be transferred to a different school.

But everything changed one day, as he lay on the shag carpet in his parent's bedroom, watching a big old Sylvania TV set.

"I see this huge Japanese monster dragging his scaly feet through Tokyo, and I thought, 'That is so cool, I want to be that monster,' " he says.

Life became more fun.

"I just wanted to wrestle with my friends in the same way," he says. "I'd be Godzilla and James would be Rodan, and we'd have this epic battle of monsters on the playground at Davey Crocket Elementary School in Bryan, Texas."

Tsutsui went on to become an economist and wrote books about business and banking in Japan. Most recently, he was a dean at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"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 says. "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."

His first book on the giant lizard, called Godzilla On My Mind, earned him his nickname, recalls Tsutsui's wife, Marjorie Swann.

"Often his students had trouble pronouncing his last name ... so they'd call him Professor Godzilla," Swann says.

It wasn't always easy being the wife of Professor Godzilla, Swann says, and had to draw a firm line in the sand about how much Godzilla was allowed in the house.

"Bill has an entire office full of Godzilla toys. So he has to have very large, professional offices to take up all the Godzillas," she says.

Paul Dunscomb, a former student, recalls the lengths Tsutsui would go to to acquire Godzilla paraphernalia. Dunscomb did his dissertation in Japan.

"He actually sent to me his bank card and passbook, so I could draw on funds to basically buy for him Godzilla-related merchandise," says Dunscomb, who has known Tsutsui for nearly 20 years.

"It is one of the things that certainly defines him as a human being, the fact that he has this outsized love for a 50-meter, radioactive lizard," he says. "In many respects, I think he's been a real pioneer."

The way Tsutsui sees it, Asians were not really known in this culture for being leadership types, and Godzilla spoke to that view.

"Godzilla clearly was the boss; he was in charge, he was the hero, he was the focus of these movies," he says. "And I think from that I perhaps have taken some lessons about leadership and stepping forward and asserting myself."

As the new boss of Hendrix College, Tsutsui's planning to make his mark by putting a giant inflatable Godzilla out on the quad for his inauguration next spring.

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. A small college outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, called Hendrix College, is about to get a new president. His name is William Tsutsui.

He's a Harvard- and Princeton-educated economist. But he's most known for his expertise in Godzilla. Yes, Godzilla. Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao from member station KERA found he developed the passion for the radioactive monster while growing up in Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GODZILLA")

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: That's the roar that Bill Tsutsui first heard when he was 8 years old living in the tiny college town of Bryan, Texas.

BILL TSUTSUI: Unlike many Japanese Americans, I've not ever had the experience of living in a place with a large Asian-American community. So I've never lived on the West Coast. I've never lived in Hawaii. So for me, it's really been, in a way, a very lonely experience.

XAYKAOTHAO: Tsutsui was an only child, and he was biracial. His dad was Japanese, and he had an Anglo mom. There was only one other Asian-American family in Bryan. He felt like an outlier and was bullied so much he had to be transferred to a different school.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GODZILLA")

XAYKAOTHAO: But everything changed that day as he lay on the shag carpet in his parents bedroom watching a big old Sylvania TV set.

TSUTSUI: I see this huge Japanese monster dragging his scaly feet through Tokyo, and I thought, that is so cool.

XAYKAOTHAO: Life became more fun.

TSUTSUI: I'd be Godzilla and James would be Rodan. And we'd have this epic battle of monsters of the playground at Davy Crockett Elementary School in Bryan, Texas.

XAYKAOTHAO: Tsutsui went on to become an economist. He wrote books about business and banking in Japan. Most recently, he was a dean at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

TSUTSUI: I realized all the books I wrote about Japanese history, most of the people who read them were my relatives. 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.

XAYKAOTHAO: His first book on the giant lizard, called "Godzilla On My Mind," earned him a new nickname, recalls Tsutsui's wife, Marjorie Swan.

MARJORIE SWAN: Often, his students had trouble pronouncing his last name, Tsutsui, and so they'd call him Professor Godzilla.

XAYKAOTHAO: It wasn't always easy being the wife of Professor Godzilla.

SWAN: I've had to draw a very firm line in the sand about how much Godzilla is allowed in the house. So he has to have very large professional offices to take up all the Godzillas.

XAYKAOTHAO: Paul Dunscomb recalls the lengths Tsutsui would go to acquire Godzilla paraphernalia. Dunscomb is a former student of Tsutsui's who did his dissertation in Japan.

PAUL DUNSCOMB: He actually sent to me his bank card and passbook so I could draw on funds to basically buy for him Godzilla-related merchandise. It is one of the things that certainly defines him as a human being - the fact that he has the rather, you know, outsized love for a 50-meter radioactive lizard.

XAYKAOTHAO: Tsutsui looks at it like this.

TSUTSUI: Asians are not really known in this culture for being really leadership types. Godzilla clearly was the boss. You know, he was in charge. He was the hero. He was the focus of these movies. And I think from that I've, perhaps, taken some lessons about leadership and stepping forward and asserting myself.

XAYKAOTHAO: And as the new boss of Hendrix College, Tsutsui's planning to make his mark by putting a giant inflatable Godzilla out on the quad for his inauguration next spring. For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.