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.

godzilla-1954-4

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.

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6 comments

  1. Your understanding of the film is fascinating because I had never seen it also, therefore I hadn’t taken in its cultural significance. I totally agree that Gojira is an ‘artifact of time,’ and after seeing it I can understand why it continues to be adapted and recreated 30x throughout time. There is longevity in its relevance both politically and socially. I haven’t really ventured into the Bond world either but I am willing to look for the persuasion. You must be a Bond fan?

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  2. Really interesting comparing biased representation of cultures in the James Bond franchise and the reaffirmation of culture in Gojira (1954). I agree that the film is somewhat of a declaration that Japan was as much a victim of the war as the Western countries were involved, and goes to great lengths (particularly in the destruction scenes) to suggest this.

    Also your suggestion that Gojira is “regressive novelty” is quite an interesting one. With many films of it’s ilk, I’d be inclined to agree, but Gojira actually blew me away with it’s prosthetics and practical effects. Again though, it makes a nice comparison between modern audiences and what we expect of a film by default due to the progression of the film industry.

    An interesting post Sam!

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  3. I found your analysis of the film to be really interesting and raised some points that i myself hadn’t realised. Culturally i didn’t put much thought into how this film would be significant and reflective, in hindsight it makes perfect sense. Your comparison to the Cold war and the Bond films and how these reflected what was occurring politically and socially of that time helps put into perspective your ideas of the film was an interesting point too. Great blog!

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  4. Your auto-ethnographic approach and choice to draw parallels between Godzilla and other films that you have seen sets the scene of your personal framework really well. It’s so interesting to think of Godzilla as a warning to future generations because it simultaneously tells of the destruction of humanity in the same way. Much like The Hunger Games or other films within this genre, they warn the audience of the turmoil to come if they continue in the same direction. I really like how you identified the film as being representation of Japan’s shaken identity. Take a look at this article under the heading ‘Vulnerability of Japan’ here: http://www.international.ucla.edu/asia/article/24850 It ties together really well with your perspective and adds the metaphor of Godzilla as a force of Nature that cannot be controlled.

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  5. The comparison that you draw between Gojiras demonisation of war and too-powerful weapons and western society’s focus on other cultures as the enemy was a new insight for me for this film. Where it seems that our society blames others, your post led me to believe that Japan blames war itself rather than other countries, for the destruction and humiliation that it causes. It is also interesting how films in particular can shape or reflect the culture of a nation in a specific moment. This is obviously apparent in WWII German culture, which this article explores http://edictive.com/blog/influence-of-film-on-modern-society/. Do you feel that if Gojira had not been made, we as a western audience would have any obvious insight into how Japan and its people were feeling at this point in time?

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