Japan and Gojira

Gojira is an interesting film in that portrays tropes and ideas associated with Japanese media texts even though the film itself is one of if not the most recognisable Japanese stories to western audiences. This 1954 film is the birthplace of modern day kaiju films which have been associated with Japan for as long as the west has had an interest in Japanese culture. These films have become increasingly popular with western audiences as Godzilla remakes and Pacific Rim have infiltrated our screens. These films served as context to my experience with Gojira as a film and informed my expectations going forward.

Something I heard about Gojira but wasn’t entirely prepared for is how excellent the production is, as I had previously heard about it before but wasn’t exactly prepared. Beautifully shot and atmospheric with rather believable performances, there are a smattering of scenes that I found to be wonderfully effective. A scene early on depicts a burning boat sailing across open ocean and while it is very most likely a miniature creation it is wonderfully deceptive and has a sense of cinematic grandeur. It is moments like this that make me believe that Gojira isn’t just a movie that was good in its day but is also good now.

Part of what I find culturally interesting about Gojira is that the films depicts a reliance on military might that, while is present in the western remakes, takes on a certain context in this film. The attitudes towards Gojira in the film seem to be influenced in part by Japan’s history in World War II and seem in many ways to be a response to the atomics that had been inflicted upon them in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After those events the consequences of radiation became heavily apparent and become part of the unfolding horror that was these nuclear explosions. One scientist tries to plead with the military to study Gojira in order to learn how it is impervious to radiation, which reads to me as a reaction to radiational after effects suffered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film also depicts Japanese society reliance on regulation and displeasurement of lost control and calamity.

What struck me about western adaptations of Gojira was that it was heavily militarized, but upon watching the original it is clear that the context of World War II was a heavy influence. The film, for me at least, is wonderfully realised and surprisingly emotional. It’s artistic worth is at least to me intact as the film has aged almost unbelievably well. My experience with Gojira came from knowing rather a large amount kaiju films and Japanese culture and as such the parts I picked up on most were very obviously the parts that I felt to be more subtly and unexpectedly “Japanese”.

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