Gojira

Gojira from the perspective of a foreign film convert

I have never been a lover of foreign films. I find myself easily frustrated by subtitles and my inability to understand the language being spoken.

This is altogether surprising to me as I come from a home where another language is spoken. While my linguistic talent is somewhat limited, despite an exchange, French or more accurately creole has been spoken both around me and to me for my whole life.

My mother’s side of the family are from Mauritius. Mauritius is a small island with a population of just over a million, that sits on the East coast of Africa. Mum was born in the capital Port Louis and moved here when she was seven. My grandmother, whom we call mémé, speaks only limited English and so for love (and our sanity) creole is the dominant language. Subsequently out of habit, mum and her siblings often slip unknowingly in and out of English and creole.

So in regards to my dislike of foreign films and especially subtitles, upon reflection, this truly is dumbfounding.

But when I think about it, creole has become familiar to me and my way of understanding the world. The Japanese language and the film Gojira however, were not. So, when Chris first told us that we were going to watch to watch Gojira which is obviously in Japanese I thought, “oh my god how? This is going to be a long two hours!”

By the end of the film I was hooked. I was personally invested in the characters and the emotional and ethical issues that the film presented. I found this surprising because my supposed dislike for foreign films assumed that I couldn’t relate because of the language barrier.

Because that’s why we all watch movies, right? Well I do. Like any story I hear, I search for what is relatable to my life.

Gojira presented so many tangents that I could think about such as historical references, romance, ethics, nationalism and so many more. There are so many different ways to access the film, which made me realise that films are layered with so many human elements that will stretch across any language barrier.

Perhaps I do like foreign films after all.

 

 

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.

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

Tokyo Terror: an Ethno-Australian Perspective on Gojira (1954)

As a child, my father raised me on 80s metal and action movies, whether it be listening to Queen or watching Arnold Schwarzenegger star in the Terminator, I grew to having an understanding and an appreciation for music and film at a young age. The first real interaction I had with any form of Asian media was watching animes such as Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, as well as, watching Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films.

Before watching Gojira, I had never actually seen a Godzilla film before, so I was intrigued to see how the film would be presented, and how much film had changed in the past 60 years. I understood that the film would look campy and very low budget, but in 1954, it was revolutionary and ground-breaking.

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Modern film-making tries to make a movie flow seamlessly, utilising today’s technology to splice scenes together to create this flow. It was obvious in this film how jarring each scene was spliced together, continuously hard cutting from one scene to another. However, there is certainly an appreciation for the attempt to make the story of Gojira flow, especially how they actually had to physically cut the film and put scenes together. Something that I really enjoyed was the synchronisation of the soundtrack with the film, something I did not expect from a film made in the 1950s.

The actual story itself is very intriguing, especially using Godzilla as a metaphor for the atomic weapons used by the US in World War II. In my opinion, the set design was fantastic, and created a realistic representation of Tokyo, and was especially impressive how accurate it was without the use of modern day CGI. The Godzilla costume design was another aspect of the film I was impressed with, and the way Haruo Nakajima moved in the costume, really made the character of Godzilla realistic at the time. There was one scene in particular that annoyed me, when we see Godzilla under water for the first time, Nakajima is walking in the suit instead of swimming. I know it was a small detail, but it just annoyed me a little.

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Gojira was a great way to be introduced with Asian film making and Asian media in general, and is just the beginning into the discovery of the world of Digital Asia.

Godzilla – a story that never gets old

This is not so related but please tell me if I’m wrong. The few things pop up in my head when a Westerner mentions Asia media are Kpop and anime. Godzilla the original, for me, was a blast. Growing up, Japanese film in my mind were purely about Pokemon, Doraemon, Inuyasha, Ghibli anime and teen romance. Most of them are around very personal stories, around thoughts and emotions of a single person or a small group of people. In shorts, they’re more of drama, and they strongly reflect Japanese culture.

Hardly could I think such a blockbuster came from Japan. I’m not a huge fan of monster movies, because you can always tell the plot without watching the whole movie. The last monster movie I saw was Jaws, which was truly entertaining, but nothing much in the message. But don’t get me wrong, it has always been a nice movie for me.

Watching Godzilla for the first time yesterday (I haven’t seen any Godzilla movie before), I expected something dramatic but still kawaii. It turned out to be really Western. The theme music strongly reminded me of Jaws, the old kind of music used in old thriller movies that still causing rapid heartbeat. The monster, which is said to has traditionally been portrayed by an actor wearing latex costume, look more like a metallic dinosaur to me, since its moves looked so much like the shark in Jaws. Besides, watching an old school blockbuster without CGI is such a fresh feeling. Though it looked like children toy, the film was strangely gravitative. However, it was the message that most audiences were interested in, or at least in DIGC310 class. It was not a message like “With great power comes great responsibility” or a metaphor for a country’s or the power of human, it related directly to war and consequences of it, specifically, the nuclear tragedy happened to Japanese people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost 10 years ago. More interestingly, the strongest reference to the WWII in my opinion is, the skin texture of the reptilian was inspired by the keloid scars seen on survivors in Hiroshima.

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Those images suddenly brings me back to thousands of kids who are the victims of Agent Orange released during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War has become history for over 40 years, toxic legacy of Agent Orange lives on. Many of them weren’t born during the war, but they are the descendants of the veterans, or worse, born and raised in the contaminated land. War may be over, but the fear and the scars it left, stays, and it doesn’t only hurt those who eye-witnessed it but also the younger generations.

Lastly, guys, sorry for the disturbing images.