Godzilla

Autoethnography – Why it’s a good thing

Let’s start with the definition that will probably be included in every blog post this week.

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)” (ELLIS, 2004; HOLMAN JONES, 2005).

In my own words, Autoethnography is the implementation of personal experiences and culture into the study and writing of things to help understand the researchers own personal context and the effects it will have on their interpretation of the material being studied.

I’m pretty sure I may have made it sound more complicated (haha) but this is the way that makes sense in my head. The phrasing of this is due to my personal history of extension history and research- which was all about using the information you’re given to present an argument based on your own ideas. Which I think is definitely similar to autoethnography.

After a quick flick through the Wikipedia page, it makes sense that if we want to study social aspects further, then we must look towards our own views and background to make sense of it, as well as to show new and improved concepts on past studies.

Somethings have already stood out to me as being autoethnographic-ish in this subject. Firstly, in week one with our study of Godzilla- I realised that due to my personal background, I had a deeper understanding of the Japanese culture and the importance of the signage and language format used throughout the film. I then used this in the blog post for that week to explain to other in the class, what it was in my personal context that allowed me to notice these details.

I think this is beneficial when it comes to research and the future of studying topics across cultures. It enables a better understanding of the culture being studied and also of how your own personal context can influence how you see things and interpret what you’re seeing. While more traditional research practices ask you to remain impartial and not choose sides- this is impossible and often leads you to read research papers without knowing fully the context of the writer of the work.

When it comes to the interpretation of film and media consumption- it’s beneficial and important to know the biographical details of both those who created the work and also those who are researching and passing on their opinion.

I hope this made sense, and I didn’t end up rambling too much!

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Sources:

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My First Godzilla Experience

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Gojira (1954). Photo credit: The Focus Pull

I think this was the first black and white film, and first subtitled film I have ever watched from start to finish. Being a 21-year-old Australian, I tend to only watch films and television shows that originate in the US and Australia; sometimes ones from the UK sneak their way into the mix. Being exposed to a film that is as culturally diverse as Gojira, and as far from my comfort zone as can be, really opened my eyes.

While watching the film, I tweeted “what a cinematic masterpiece”… I’m not going to lie when I say I was being a little sarcastic at first but as the film went on and we were exposed to the film maker’s use of model work and post-film productions, such as the siren that alerted the city of Godzilla’s appearance, I really did start to believe that the film was kind of a cinematic masterpiece. Scenes like Godzilla destroying the obviously teeny-tiny train made me chuckle but still had me intrigued with the methods film makers had to use in times where technology was limited. Audiences from this time period probably found Gojira extremely dramatic, where a lot of us watching it in the tutorial found it quite funny.

I thought I was going to struggle to pay attention throughout the film as it was subtitled and I have a very short attention span – I think I have YouTube videos to thank for that now. I still remember sitting in my Year 9 Japanese class and not having any interest in the Japanese soap opera we occasionally watched. This, in turn, had me thinking that I wouldn’t have any interest in keeping up with what was happening and being said throughout Gojira but I found that even if I looked away from the screen for a period of time, I was still able to keep up. Most of this was due to the emotive acting and the loud sounds and near silence used throughout. I’m still quite amazed at how captivating the scenes that were entirely silent were. The overly staged and highly dramatic acting contributed to the viewing experience as it meant that I didn’t always have to rely on the English subtitles to understand what was happening in the scenes.

As someone who was never seen anything Godzilla related, I was completely ignorant Gojira‘s significant representations of historical and socio-political events. After the post film discussion in the tutorial and reading through both classes live tweets, it became blindingly obvious what Gojira, as a film and figure, stood for and represented at a time where Japan was struggling with who they were as a nation.

60 years on and Godzilla is still strong

I’m a 90s baby, I grew up watching Hi-5, The Wiggles (originals) and then grew into more sophisticated films like Mean Girls that truly understood the struggles of growing up in a white privileged society. I’ve grown up in a mostly peaceful time, and the only worries I’ve faced have been “end of the world” scares that never eventuated. As a result, the films I watched growing up were mostly light-hearted fun, adventure filled stories that never showed hard-ships.

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Godzilla (1954), image, movieboozer.com

I would have never watched Godzilla growing up, and even if I did I would have missed the underlying metaphor behind the film. This is because I’ve never lived in a time where the horror of nuclear war or death of loved ones has ever been a treat to my perfect bubble wrapped life.

 

As I watched Godzilla, I found it difficult to relate to the characters because I had never experienced anything that made me think about how my life could be affected by this. Also, my experience of films up to this point were American made or American sympathised, therefore the common enemy of those films were Russia, Japan, or Germany that had made up the Axis Powers in World War II. These stereotypes had carried across to my understanding of the world around me, and it was only until I was old enough to experience the world for myself that I found this to be this incorrect.

 

Therefore, expanding my understanding of International Film is a valuable source to understand how other countries document and make sense of hard-ships they have faced. The Japanese film industry using a nuclear, fire-breathing monster as a metaphor of the destruction the US inflicted upon Japan during the war makes this film more relatable for many different audiences, rather than if it was a more direct portrayal of the event. It ended up becoming a hugely successful formula and as a result, ironically America has released their own Godzilla films.

 

If you’re interested in a little background reading:

Here’s an article of photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki then and now from the Guardian 

And a review of Godzilla

Gojira, an Understanding

When I first realised I would have to do this subject on Digital Asia, I must admit I was wary and disappointed. I am not really one to watch anime, or read manga, or really I’ve never been interested in it at all. I was again surprised that the first movie we were to watch would be Godzilla. I’ve never watch the original, although I have watched the latest one (Gareth Edwards, 2014), and the one where the bad hair over took the story line (Roland Emmerich, 1998). This subject is heavy on the autoethonography methodology, and it is necessary for me to relate back to the subject matter in a way that explores my own connection and contextual understanding of it. My cultural background is limited, at best. I have no real understanding of Asian media, other than the cartoons dubbed for Cheese TV back in the ’90s-00’s.

The way I have watched, understood and disassemble the movie Gojira from 1954 is through the discussion in class about the contextual and historical location Godzilla has in the film world. I never really put much thought into the big lizard, and through the discussions over twitter and in class I have learnt a lot more about where it stands as a movie.

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The movie came out at a time where Japan had lost its sense of self; the Japanese culture had lost a part of its identity due to the clashes with the West. Not so subtle inferences to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fall out of nuclear war are echoed throughout this movie. Godzilla himself, with his nuclear breath, is the metaphor for a time where the possibility of being wiped off the map, was a reality some thought would happen. The sentiment of antiwar and anti-nuclear weapons was a powerful message to be sending out in a post-war Japan. Godzilla was symbol and exploration of the people’s fears, encased in a rubber suit.  To my understanding, Godzilla was a call for the end of this type of destruction. Godzilla speaks louder than roars, as even in modern times, the monster can be the symbol for whichever man-made disaster is occurring at the time.  Global Warming, war, nuclear power – all of these topics are easily interchangeable as a new Gojira.

My understanding of the context and importance this film has all stems from discussions in class and a larger memory of history than I thought I had. The subject matter is much richer than just a monster in a rubber suit. It is a movie that speaks up about what an entire country felt at the time and that is powerful.

Ahhhhhhhh, It’s Gojira!!!!!

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Last Thursday must have been one of the more interesting opening tutorials I’ve experienced.  It was nostalgic.  I can vividly remember seeing Hollywood productions of the same black and white era being played around midday every weekend.  Watching a monster film instead of the usual “Hi, I’m blah-blah-blah and I like blah-blah-blah” was definitely a nice change.  While I knew about the Kaiju genre of Japanese films, I had never properly sat down to watch an original.

From the outside, you could be forgiven for thinking that ‘Gojira’ is a movie without much substance.  People awaken monster, monster destroys stuff, people come together to destroy monster.  I had never given these films much thought either.  Perhaps that’s because so many of the Kaiju-esque films that Hollywood produces follow this same trope without much in the way of themes or worthwhile story.

But ‘Gojira’ needs to be viewed differently; understanding its context is important.  With ‘Gorjia’ releasing in 1954, it’s hard not to realise just how politically and culturally important the film is for Japan.  Godzilla represents nuclear holocaust, with his attacks being a reflection on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Reflecting on my own context and media consumption experience, it has always been the “communists” or in more recent times those from Middle Eastern origins who have been portrayed as the antagonists in films we see in the west.  It must also be said that they are far less subtly villainised on the that the US was in ‘Gojira’.

My consumption of Japanese media is usually limited to food or fashion, so being able to view the important cultural roots of Japanese cinema was excellent.

‘Gorjia’ has really given birth to global genre, and one of the more interesting offshoots is that of North Korea’s 1985 film ‘Pulgasari’.  Why is it interesting?  Well that’s because Kim Jong-il had the man hailed as “South Korea’s Spielberg” kidnapped in 1978 to help make North Korea a film making powerhouse. Sufficed to say the plan didn’t work very well, but it made for a cult hit in the western world.

Godzilla

Growing up I was never allowed to watch a lot of TV and the movies we did own on VCR were Disney, Julie Andrews films and the Pippi Longstocking movies thanks to my German mother.  Most of the content (if not all) I consume is western media, so a 1950’s black and white Japanese film was an entirely new experience for me.

I hadn’t seen any Godzilla films and had very limited knowledge on it asides from the fact that it’s some kind of monster. Because I’d never dabbled in any of the Godzilla recreations I couldn’t even conjure up an image of what Godzilla is meant to look like although I’m sure at some point I would have seen a movie poster somewhere. The name ‘Godzilla’ is familiar, but little else is.

As such I didn’t have any idea what to expect of the film. I have so little knowledge of Godzilla I wasn’t even aware the film was originally a Japanese creation, and in my mind I had the assumption that it was a more recent Western creation, when in fact the Japanese film has had over 30 remakes since the original in 1954.

Hesitations aside I was pleasantly surprised that whilst the film was something I would never watch by my own choice as I watched it I did become invested in what was going to happen. So all in all, Godzilla was an interesting viewing experience for me. Jerky transitions, dated effects and bad acting aside (Emiko always looked like she was happy whilst crying/screaming and it threw me considering most of her scenes included her in some level of distress) I was surprised that the movie was something other than what I expected and passed my (somewhat low) expectations.

What I found most interesting, and hadn’t anticipated was the political comments that the film made. The original Godzilla was released in 1954, a time when people were still recovering from the horrific events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t have extensive knowledge of WWII Japan, asides from what is depicted in other popular movies; most of which are American and portray the Japanese as the enemy. However, early last year I read a short novel titled Hiroshima, a literary journalism piece that recounts the experiences of several Japanese citizens who survived the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima. These personal accounts, as relayed by John Heresy, really confronted me and gave me a whole new insight to what happened in Japan during WWII as a result of nuclear weapons. (A really good read that you can find in the New Yorker if you’re interested). This text gave me a background to the theme of nuclear war that runs throughout Godzilla. I noticed throughout the film they would show the individuals affected, humanising the numbers affected by such disasters. For example, the people in Tokyo on the train discussing the horror of Godzilla and even mentioning having avoided Nagasaki, only later to show the same people on a boat attacked by Godzilla. The focus on WWII and nuclear weapons isn’t something I expected of the film. The anti-nuclear storyline and connection to WWII that ran throughout the film are probably what captured my attention and interest most, seeing the way in which the film expressed the fears at the time through an action flick involving a giant prehistoric creature.

My main reflection is that the film ended up being a lot deeper than I though it would have been. I entirely expected some kind of monster and public panic (which there was) but what I didn’t expect were the underlying messages reflective of the time and events.

via Godzilla — Jarrah Bowley

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.

 

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, 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.