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.

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8 comments

  1. Your style of writing aligns so well to that needed within an autoethnographic study. You provide personal information allowing the reader to understand an aspect of your cultural background and you create a connection here which is critical to build credibility within this style of research. It is really well balanced with evidence and detail behind the set text, Gojira in this case. There are some really strong reflexive ethnographical seeds here and the use of layered accounts from the film provide a really rounded and flawless piece of writing. You make some really crucial points surrounding the history and metaphorical meaning behind the film, and although you may not be an expert in the field, you make this clear and provide reasons for this, providing the reader with transparency and a clear direction of your research. Hats off to you 🙂

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  2. Your style of writing aligns so well to that needed within an autoethnographic study. You provide personal information allowing the reader to understand an aspect of your cultural background and you create a connection here which is critical to build credibility within this style of research, your use of layered accounts to create a foundation of evidence alongside reflexive ethnographical research, really creates an in depth account of the film in relation to your cultural background. It is really well balanced with evidence and detail behind the set text, Gojira in this case. You make some really crucial points surrounding the history and metaphorical meaning behind the film, and although you may not be an expert in the field, you make this clear and provide reasons for this, allowing transparency and a clear direction for your research.

    Like

  3. This was a really good post! Being able to reflect on your own experiences with Asian cinema, and the ability to recognise that western films about Asia can colour our view of actual cultures was great. It’s unfortunate that western audiences haven’t been able to recognise Godzilla for the themes it presented Japanese watchers, and the 1998 Broderick film didn’t help. Consideration of the films timing and context is really essential to the understanding of its message, and it was great to see that you gained deeper meaning as film went on breaking from your initial disconnect.

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  4. You have introduced us to your understanding of cultural viewpoints, specifically viewing Asian cultures through a Western lens. This is something we will likely be coming back to so it is important to look at. Your post flows well from introducing your limitations as a viewer to gradually coming to terms with what the film is really about.

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  5. Coming from a similar background to you (growing up on a farm) I can relate to the lack of understanding of Asia and in particular the Asian film industry. You have pointed out a generalised picture of how the film is viewed amongst Western audiences and I think this is and important point to raise when discussing how you have interpreted the film with this viewpoint in your mind. However, unlike many Western audiences before, you noted how this film is more than what it appears and I have noticed the irony of how American films have appropriated this genre.
    This is well written and kept my interest, as well as providing extra reading material so that your readers can read more in depth if they choose. Keep up to good work Kurt!

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  6. Firstly, I completely agree with your characterisation of films like The Last Samurai as perpetuating mythology surrounding Asian culture. I think that from a Western perspective this is often mistaken for reality. I also really appreciated your mention of being a communication student and still having difficulty removing yourself from your cultural framework. I think this is a really important part of the autoethnographic process and is extremely important to remember that despite being students of communication, we are still deeply affected by our cultural conditioning. I felt the initial disconnect that you mentioned for a large part of the film but with the context of the aftermath of nuclear war, everything becomes clearer and to an extent comprehensible.

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  7. You addressed a rather interesting topic within your post being the generalised idea that western audiences have conceived in regards to Godzilla. I also come from a similar background to you and when I used to think of Godzilla it was in a more humourous sense than anything else. It’s crazy how from watching Asian inspired, western films audiences can easily go on to misinterpret Asian culture.
    This post has a great balance of personal experience and background research, I enjoyed reading your very well-written blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

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