At the start of this year I spend some time in Japan where for the first time I was engulfed by the means of Asian media. Anime, Cosplay, Gaming, Manga, you name it. While all adapting to the nation’s ‘Kawaii’ lifestyle. Contemporary forms of the nation’s popular culture, are not only forms of entertainment but also aspects to distinguish contemporary Japan from the rest of the modern world.
Prior to this week’s seminar I had not experienced any of the ‘Godzilla’ films especially that of Ishir Honda’s 1953 original ‘Gojira’. But interestingly enough I believe I was quite familiar with the narrative – to which an immense lizard-like monster creates havoc within the cityscape. But why is it, that I was so known to this story? Popular culture has since taken this notion of Gojira and has replicated, regurgitated and revamped it to suit and interest audiences today and as I aged I was always exposed to these kinds of media.
Growing up as a Vietnamese-Australian, subtitled and dubbed movies were always playing for my grandparents and parents within the home, mostly being dramas and action. One of my all-time favourites was ‘The New Legend Of Shaolin’ (1994), and looking back now these Vietnamese-dubbed films could be a reason for my appreciation of production and diverse narratives. So, entering this session I was not completely new to the concept of Asian media, especially that of film. My first reaction to ‘Gojira’ was that for something that was over 60 years old, the score and effects utilised within the film were fantastic for it’s time. Through a production and performance filter, it’s truly an epic and dramatic piece of Japanese cinema.
I delved further into the film. The best place to start is with the characters, because like the best in any monster movie or natural disaster film, and it’s not because of drama or strong development in character but the fact these characters are real. When I mean real I don’t mean they’re based off real life people but portrayed in a realistic sense as well as this movie in theme, message, tone and setting/time period. Nine years after the U.S. nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the film Gojira was officially released. The period in between these events was filled with years of American military occupation of Japan, testing of Hydrogen bombs off the coast of Japan and a reshaping of Japanese culture. For Gojira was, even in its “King of the Monsters” incarnation, an obvious gigantic, unsubtle, grimly purposeful metaphor for the effects of nuclear testing/warfare. A line that sticks with me is when after the Oxygen Destroyer defeats Gojira, Dr. Yamane remarks – “I can’t believe that Gojira was the only surviving member of its species. But, if we keep on conducting nuclear tests, its possible that another Gojira might appear somewhere in the world, again.”. This is obviously a warning towards the imminent threat of nuclear devastation as humans continue to experiment with nuclear weapons technology.
I believe that the representation of Gojira helps us understand the nuclear realities during the 50s. Retelling the story may have been a controversial choice due to its perhaps exploitation of a nation’s suffering in a time of healing, however such decision was influenced by the colossal social and cultural perceptions of the time.