Month: July 2017

The Message Behind Godzilla

 

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My personal context did have a very direct impact on my interpretation of the original Godzilla film.

Other than the obvious impacts, in that the film was created before I was born and thus the cinematography is dramatically different to what I’m used to. There were a few things that stood out to me that had more to do with information and language.

While I do come from a very Australian background, I have spent a very long time studying and enjoying Asian cultures and its entertainment industry (Japanese culture in particular). So there were a few things in this film that stood out for me and may have been viewed differently.

Firstly, the use of more Kanji characters in signage was important. In more modern films, and in Japan itself- most signs are written in Hiragana and Katakana- since it’s easier for the public to read and understand. It really highlighted the time-period in which this movie was created. A lot of the dialogue was also in stilted and in older format- more formal language than the Japanese you would hear in Anime’s or Japanese drama.

Another thing that impacted my interpretation of the film was my extensive study of the Hiroshima bombing that I did as my major work for my HSC. I’ve always viewed Godzilla as a warning from the Japanese people against nuclear warfare and a visual representation of the devastation that was caused to their country.

The visualization of Godzilla and the fact that he’s depicted as an unapologetic monster could very well show the view of the Japanese people towards America. Since the monster never apologized or rectified his mistakes- and to be honest, neither did America. I think that the evolution of Godzilla through constant remakes will help to enforce the ideal of a nuclear free environment (or at least a safer nuclear practice). But that could just be wishful thinking.

The films itself was not something I would usually watch, I don’t enjoy action films. However, it did make me want to look more into the progression of nuclear power and if there’s any counter measures that have been triggered by this film and the remakes after it.

 

Godzilla – The First Chapter

This week we looked at Gojira, a film from 1954 and the very first film in the Godzilla franchise. I should preface this by stating that this was my very first Godzilla film, yet I do have an understanding of the general premise of the kaiju style.

I grew up watching many of the classic cartoons of my generation; Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Yughioh and Digimon (And even Sailor Moon and Card Captors when my sisters were around), but there were also plenty of non-Japanese ‘toons, like Rugrats, Batman: The Animated Series, and many others. I had a healthy dose of shows to obsess over.
I also played video games, like the Nintendo 64 and Gameboy. I have particular memories of playing a broken Pokemon Red cartridge, which was unable to save. Basically, it was a permadeath runthrough of Pokemon, but I played it anyway, because I loved it.

However, even with all this exposure to Japanese digital, it took me a while to even realise that these products I consumed were from Japan. I grew up in Australia, and besides video games, tv shows and movies, I wasn’t exposed to heaps of foreign culture. I didn’t even leave the country until 2011, where I went to Europe.

Now, however, as a digital media student with an interest in film and TV, I always find it interesting to look back at classics; And Gojira is just that: A classic. So many modern tropes spawned from this film. We live tweeted the event, and it opened my eyes to even more of those aspects that I missed, like all the anti-war, and yet seemingly pro-military allusions.
Examples of the anti-war aspects are the clear comparisons between Gojira and the atomic bombs. The destructive power and lasting effects left behind by the monster show clear parallels between  the two bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima just nine years prior to this films release.
Yet, seemingly contrary to the films denotation of war, it has heavy aspects of supporting Japans military and defense forces. There’s an inspirational scene where, when all else is failing, they call in the military, and a military-arrives-from-all-angles montage breaks out.

All in all, Gojira was great to watch and commentate on because it gave context to a lot of the classic cliche’s that are prevalent in modern cinema television.

The Curation of Kaiju

Godzilla (1954) isn’t something I usually watch on a Thursday morning. As the longest running franchise, it is uncanny how little knowledge I had on a film that still influences pop culture today. Growing up, I viewed the monster genre at face value.

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Megashark vs. Giant Octopus (GIPHY)

The idea of someone dressing up as a large lizard like monster and destroying a city always seemed quite comical to me. This physical creature of fiction was something I viewed quite literally and never understood what it was supposed to represent. This experience was influenced by films such as Mega Shark vs., Sharknado or even later remakes of Godzilla. Which are often over-dramatic and created purely for entertainment value.

Due to my Western up-bringing, Asian media is largely categorised as strange and out of the ordinary. Even after guidance from Wikipedia, it is almost possible that any interpretation could be legitimate. As I watched the film, characteristics of the Japanese culture I had already been exposed to from anime and manga were normalised in my subconscious. This made it easier to understand the themes without the cultural barrier. It is understandable that terms such as ‘culture shock’ would be used to describe the film. All characters are Japanese, those who are commonly whitewashed in Hollywood productions. These characters who are usually recognised as comedic relief or bad guys, were taken seriously and sympathised with. As a previous Japanese student who finds pleasure in watching subbed anime, it was only when Tweeting was added to the equation that made it more difficult to grasp what was going on during the film.

Katakana is the Japanese alphabet used to transcribe foreign words. This means that Godzilla is a portmanteau for ‘gorilla’ and ‘whale’. Rather than a large salamander, Godzilla alludes more to it’s size, power and aquatic origin. Due to it’s context, Ishirō Honda plays on the nuclear paranoia of post-Hiroshima Japan. As a person who grew up post-9/11, strong comparisons are explored with block busters showing New York under attack. Whether it be the crying of young children and their mothers or the destruction and evacuation of homes – these themes were comparatively used to convey the devastation and create an empathetic response from the audience. I was also interested how the most unsettling scenes were filmed by the beach or even underwater. This is a motif that I couldn’t help respond to, due to my phobia of deep water. As a country without borders, Godzilla uses the feeling of being trapped to play on that fear.

 

 

A very Different Film Experience…

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Being a 21-year-old Australian I generally tend to watch films that are contemporary Hollywood blockbuster romantic comedies, so watching the film Godzilla was definitely a diverse experience.

During the beginning, the first thing I realised was that the film was in a square format, which I am not familiar with only watching modern day movies. This along with the black and white made me question how long I’d be able to dedicate my attention to the film. Being someone who is attracted to bright colours I assumed I would lose focus fast but fortunately this wasn’t the case. Come to think of it, I haven’t watched a black and white film before other than the Wizard of Oz but that was only black and white for a short period in the beginning, hence why Godzilla was far out of my regular film choice. Fortunately, the dramatic story line kept me entertained for much longer than expected, the effects were extremely impressive for such an old film and it was pleasant watching something from a different era, although I wouldn’t do this regularly.

Comparatively, I did think there were a few issues with the film in terms of performance and editing. The scratches in the film became quite distracting and there were times there was a need for sound but it cut out unexpectedly which was a let down. Not only this, the acting was very dramatic and highly staged in comparison to the mainstream Hollywood films I watch which are generally natural and realistic and this really emphasised how ‘corny’ Godzilla was at times. Especially referring to the monster itself, who looked fictitious and artificial, specifically in the scenes where it emerged from the water and ‘breathed fire’.

The subtitles in Godzilla created a new film experience for me, being someone who hasn’t watch a film with subtitles before. I’ve never needed to as I’ve always watch movies in English and had no interest in anything else. I didn’t realise until about 5 minutes into Godzilla that all I was doing was reading the subtitles and not actually watching the film itself. They became quite distracting because I knew I wouldn’t understand what was going on if I didn’t read them, so I continued to lose focus until about midway through. From here it became easier and easier as time went on to channel my focus into the entire film experience including the subtitles, actors, scenes etc. and it surprisingly became quite enjoyable.

Out of my own curiosity to decided to research how effects were executed before we had the luxury of all these fancy computer programs. According to Harness, the approach they took to editing especially in regards to films with animation or monsterous characters like Godzilla, was very time consuming and required a lot of patience (2010). Everything had to be done in a manual manner, and discovering the effort that went into the creation of the movie really made me appreciate it more.

Something I noticed was that there was a clear difference in terms of how women were represented in this culture and time in history. From what they wore, how they acted in front of men, to how the men treated them. It opened my eyes when comparing it to cinema today, female actresses now have much more power and equal rights than during the time Godzilla was filmed.

Overall, this movie was the complete opposite of what I’d usually choose to watch and although there were parts that made me slightly cringe, it was an insightful experience to see a cultural and historic film with a thriller story line like Godzilla.

 

Photo credit: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/z6-schilling-godzilla-old-a-20140523.jpg

Harness, J 2010, Special Effects before Computers, Mental Floss, viewed 30th July 2017, <http://mentalfloss.com/article/24209/no-cgi-please-special-effects-computers&gt;

Godzilla – For The First Time

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Today I watched the original 1954 Godzilla film, and it was very interesting.

To look at this film from an autoethnographic perspective, my background is very much Australian, and before that English, so it’s easy to say that this style of film isn’t the typical kind of movie that I would elect to watch. I am very used to western films and I have grown quite accustom to them, I am from a very small family and in saying that, there is not much cultural diversity. This essential background of my culture and viewing habits might shed light to why I feel the way I do about the original Japanese 1954 Godzilla film.

Honestly, I’m really just not a huge fan of the Monster genre, any of the Godzilla films are ones that I wouldn’t choose to watch.

I have only really seen snippets of the modern Godzilla remakes, so…

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Godzilla, Cinema and Cultural Construction

In this blog post I will be delving into my understanding of the 1954 Japanese classic, Godzilla (ゴジラ). Using my understanding of auto-ethnography I will attempt to interpret this film’s cultural significance as an artefact of time.

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During the week I watched this film for the first time and live tweeted throughout using the #DIGC330 hashtag on my Twitter (@hazeldinesam).

Even as the film starts there is immediately a distinct feeling that you are watching an old film, the aesthetic of projection wobbles and jerking, grainy black and white film and jarringly sparse use of music and sound effects. This automatically places the viewer at certain point in time, which for me as a millennial creates more a sense of regressive novelty rather than a nostalgic reminder of my earlier years. My nostalgic ‘early years’ of experiencing film are best understood as the era of flip phones, Justin Timberlake with ramen hair and the beginning of the never-ending Fast and Furious saga. So context for me took a while to be understood and formed as the viewer.

As it progresses growing suspicions of the film’s didactic plot I perceived were to illustrate the devastation of World War II and atomic weaponry, moreover reinforce the need to avoid such destruction for future generations. This approach by the director to use cinema as a warning to future generations that ‘big actions have big consequences’ is a common idea which film has used for decades to establish popular narrative.

In particular, throughout Cold War era Hollywood there appears to be a necessity to demonise the enemy (usually Russia) and condemn any opposition to western cultural imperialism. Examples that immediately spring to mind are the Roger Moore and Sean Connery

James Bond films, which without exception have an oriental, middle eastern or soviet enemy – all of which remain alien cultures to dominant U.S. narrative.

This idea of cinema as a tool of persuasion is undoubtedly a powerful concept, I suggest checking out this article from Business Insider which goes deeper into Hollywood’s impact on the Cold War.

More relevant to the ideas shown in Godzilla I believe this film was a part of a recognition process in Japanese culture. What I mean by this – this period of history for Japan unquestionably shook the nation’s identity, being overpowered by the might of the western military in 1945 was humiliating for their proud culture. As part of the years following the war, this film helps to form a common recognition of the scale of devastation and loss – in the film this is manifested as WMDs and a mutant lizard. With the real life experience being the allied bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima resulting in similarly horrific circumstances.

Of course, this is an armchair analysis from someone who admittedly knows little about the Japanese cultural construct, however to be able to remain detached of emotion towards the ‘facts’ is half the battle. Furthermore, I believe that in the present era of information proliferation, it is exponentially easier to understand the inevitable two sides to every story.

Oh no there goes Tokyo!

I was raised on a healthy diet of movies as a kid and a few of those films ended up becoming repetitive watches for me. one of the most prominent films I remember watching repetitively was 1998’s American adaptation of Godzilla featuring Mathew Brodrick. The film while critically panned at the time (who cares when you are 5 years old) yet I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. For many, this film comes across as a slight against the Godzilla mythos and more broadly against Kaiju films. For a long time, the American Godzilla was my Godzilla.

It may be the nostalgia setting in but I think the film is a great fun romp that was at times very earnest, however, after watching the original Japanese version of the film I can see why many would view the American version as a bastardization of the franchise and what it stands for. contextually the 1954 version of the film or Gojira as it was called in Japan was a fantastic post-war allegory for the destructive power of the nuclear bomb. Post war Japan would have been rife with anxieties about Nuclear weapons, the 1954 version nestles itself nicely into these fears and creates something that a modern audience struggles to comprehend.

while I don’t think the 1998 version is a bad movie It is easy to see how the destruction seen on screen leaves the audience feeling a sense of apathy, It isn’t able to tap into the cultural fears of the American audience. Comparatively the 2014 Godzilla remake which is critically regarded as the better of the American Godzilla films works much better. One can speculate that the effectiveness of this film stems from the fact it features imagery reminiscent of the 9/11 terrorist attacks which would play upon the anxieties of the post-9/11 America. many modern films use this type of imagery as it evokes an emotional response in the audience.  For me watching the 1954 film feels less impactful than how it was probably received in its day, and while I find the effects a little hammy (to their credit some scenes in the movie are very captivating) the movie plays as a nice little morality tale about war, weapons and the human spirit and if a movie can do that more than half a century later it has done its job.

 

I’ve included a video essay that talks about the importance of Godzilla as an allegory for the Hydrogen bomb that I found incredibly helpful so I’d recommend you check it out.

ゴジラ

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This week I watched Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Godzilla. It was the first time I’d actually seen the film in its entirety, and I must admit I was a little disappointed with myself for not having watched it sooner. Anyway, here’s my reflection on Godzilla and the characteristics that make up the movie in the context of my cultural background.

Japanese:

I was first introduced to Japanese movies when I was probably about 10, when my Dad showed me My neighbour Totoro, and my love for Japanese film and television really took off from there. I’ve watched a lot of Japanese movies, I will admit that most of them where animated, but even then the amount of live action movies I’ve seen is still probably more than the average person. Battle Royal will continue to be one of my guilty pleasure movies for years to come. So when I was watching Godzilla I felt familiar with what I was seeing, from a cultural/social perspective.

Black and white/from the 50s:

As you’ll probably figure out reading this, I watch a lot of movies, so watching a movie in black and white wasn’t anything new to me. Some of my favourite movies (Seven Samurai, It’s a wonderful life, The Elephant man) are in black and white. My love of black and white movies probably stems from my Dad showing me a bunch of old horror movies, like The thing from another world, Invasion of the body snatchers, Nosferatu, etc. That’s part of the reason I was disappointed I hadn’t already seen it.

It is important to remember when Godzilla was made, 1954 is only nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for the people watching the film at that time the destruction that this monster created by nuclear test bombing it must have been horrific to see. It’s easy for me to see the link between the nuclear bomb and Godzilla, but I’m sure it had nowhere near the impact it would have had on the Japanese audience at the time.

Subtitles:

You can probably guess already that I was fine with the subtitles, along with the Japanese movies that I’ve seen, I also really like kung-fu movies from China and Korea, and many European movies, and with the amount of anime I watch (#subsoverdubs) I’m pretty sure I watch something with subtitles every week.

Kaiju movie:

We’ve finally gotten there, my favourite thing about Godzilla is it’s a Kaiju movie, and not only a Kaiju movie but one of the first. I’ve seen quite a few of the 90s Godzilla remakes as well as a bunch of other original franchises, my favourite being The Host (2003). Something I noticed though is that a lot of the Godzilla remakes tend to get into the destruction faster than the 1954 Godzilla, and have maybe a little less suspense. Also the relationship to Godzilla the monster has changed since 1954, in a lot of the movies now Godzilla is seen as the protector of Japan/Earth rather than just a monster.

Why Godzilla is no joke.

Everything about my life is a product of western culture.

Objectively, this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise given my Australian upbringing.

Now it gets a little concerning when my only engagement with varying cultures, specifically Asian culture, has come from a completely Western viewpoint. Films like The Last Samurai and Lost in Translation, although presenting themselves as thinly veiled avatars of Asian culture, are still predominantly constructed with the western gaze in mind.

This exposure, or lack thereof, has been profoundly influenced by my cultural context. Growing up on an Australian farm during the early part of the 21st century isn’t exactly an ideal scenario for contact with culturally diverse images and messages. This not only affected the frequency with which I came into contact with these varying modes of media, but also the way in which I interacted with them when I finally did so.

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(director Ishirô Honda on the set of 1954’s Godzilla)

Take for instance Ishiro Honda’s cult classic Gojira (1954). Western audiences have spent more than half a century interacting with Godzilla as no more than a comical, far cry from the horror films constructed in Hollywood lots and locations. The monolith of Godzilla is viewed, still by many, as a joke dinosaur in a rubber suit. The overly histrionic sound effects and visuals all play into a highly-constructed camp backdrop that has western audiences viewing the film as no more than a bit of Japanese ‘trash-culture’. Even my years as a communications student did not make me immune to the comical scrutiny that I placed upon the film, commanded by my own cultural frameworks.

But constructing Godzilla as the harbinger of a man-made apocalypse isn’t just another attempt at securing audiences who are drawn to high-impact scenes like moths to a flame. The film is a sober allegory intended to shock and horrify an adult audience. The use of startling images – cities in flames, crowds in panic, helpless armed forces – would have unfortunately been all too familiar to the cinemagoers who less than a decade before would have experienced the key themes of survival and death depicted within the film. This is further developed through the highly poignant script which posed deliberately provocative questions about the use of nuclear power, and post-war power struggles.

My own cultural upbringing in the 21st century unfortunately created an initial disconnect between myself and the film. Like many blockbuster hits that I am accustomed to, I viewed Godzilla as no more than a fictive construction deployed to entertain audiences. But as the film continued on, and focuses narrowed in, it became hard to ignore the reality of the tragic story of nuclear paranoia presented before me.

Talking Smack on Twitter during Godzilla

We were asked to watch the 1954 Godzilla film, and tweet during the experience. I immediately point out that the film didn’t star Bryan Cranston, and therefore probably not as good. This was followed by my friend Bradley tweeting an edited photo of Bryan Cranston’s face on Godzilla captioned ‘Look again”. This led to me using MS Paint to draw rollerblades and crop Bryan Cranstons face onto Godzilla, in, what I consider to be, a witty retort.

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Contextually, this is a large web we drew on for both of our entertainment. And people responded on Twitter to this. They got that Bryan Cranston was in 2012 Godzilla, a remake of the current film, that he was also in ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, rollerblading in a single episode. And now, somehow, the audience understood what I was making reference to. Which, is bizarre. How did these people make these links, without assistance? Looking back, it is convoluted, and was mostly a joke to one of my friends.

I guess what I took from the live tweeting experience, is that somehow, we can draw on a collective knowledge as people when viewing something. We all bring our own knowledge and share it together. Did it enhance the film? I would say no. But was it more fun? Probably.