Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Remembering Gojira: Civilization Destroying Monsters

If you are like me you can't help but get caught up in the hoopla surrounding the rebooted edition of Godzilla set to premiere this month. But amidst the hysteria surrounding this film- new monsters, an ensemble cast, previews dropping almost daily -I can't help but wonder if many are missing the larger picture here with regards to the significance of a Godzilla movie dropping in this day and age.

Godzilla 2014 is said to hearken back to the original 1954 Toho feature Gojira- a film actually very different from the other 30 odd Godzilla films. Most folks here in the states know this movie as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! which is actually a bastardized cut of Gojira complete with an anglo actor cut into the original film. More significantly King of Monsters! diminishes the strong anti-nuclear sentiment of the original Gojira. Gojira was catharsis for the Japanese people. The brutal devastation of Godzilla a mirror to the hell on earth they suffered less than a decade before. While Japanese audience openly wept at the austere scenes of children suffering radiation sickness caused by an atomic monster American audiences lapped up the larger than life Kaiju monsters in the version that they saw of the film.

Gojira 1954. radiation sickness
radiation damage Sumiteru Taniguchi January 1946
Fukushima 2011
That the thematic intent of Godzilla as a parable to the horrors of the nuclear age was glossed over in the American version should not be so surprising. It was after all the US that dropped the bomb 2x on Japan. And it was again the US that tested the H-bomb and poisoned Japanese tuna fishermen that strayed near near Bikini Atoll in the 1954 incident of Daigo Fukuryū Maru (第五福竜丸?Lucky Dragon 5.

Castle Bravo. H-Bomb Mar 1 1954
And it is in this context, a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and less than a year after the Lucky Dragon H-bomb incident, that the film Gojira is best understood.

Now fast-forward 60 years and Japan is still facing down monsters that come from the ocean. But this particular monster is not human wrought, it is the tsunami of 2011. But the subsequent failing of the nuclear reactor Fukushima is human wrought and every bit as scary as Godzilla. In addition to the situation in Japan we have America poking the Russian bear in the Ukraine, Pakistan and India, and several other nations chomping at the bit to get theirs all the while America trying to impose it's will for them not to have nuclear... It is in this context, 60 years after the most effective anti-nuclear film of all time that Godzilla is relaunched. And if you ask me the most interesting question about how this new roll-out of Godzilla is gonna go down it is not how big the monster is or what it fights but it is how this film treats and deals with the obvious and straining themes that the original Gojira highlighted.

A Brief History of Godzilla, Our Walking Nuclear Nightmare

Japan, Godzilla and the Atomic Bomb

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