Gojira: A Window Into Post War Japan

What initially struck me about Gojira is that the film feels tied in many ways to the context of when it was made in 1954 and the tragedies of World War II. Gojira seems to be a symbol of the wrongs done to and by the Japanese during this period of time, and as such has an almost strange sense of emotionality towards the creature that undercuts the film.

In the book “In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons On The Global Stage”, William S. Tsutsui (2006 p. 30), contemplates that potentially why Gojira isn’t seen as a strictly “evil” aberration is because the Japanese are sympathetic towards him as he is an outcome of the horrors of nuclear war. This makes sense to me, as during the film, archeologist Yamane Kyohei, shows real concern for Gojira and tries to save his life. This is spawned from the urge to study the creature and figure out where its immunity to radiation has came from, something which to Japan during this period would be monumentally important, but also feels like it may have something to do with unbridled empathy.

Japanese war films have always been highly critiqued by domestic and international media as there is a history of home grown media trying to cover up some of the war atrocities the nation committed (Bowen). As such it is interesting to note that many of the people involved with the making of Gojira had a part in making Japanese films with the intention of mobilising citizens in the war effort, which were sanctioned by the state (Tsutsui 2006, p.23). With this in mind the links between wartime Japan and Gojira seem to make more sense, as the people behind the camera must have had experience with depicting the emotions and consequences of war. As such Merchant (2013), argues that Gojira is “arguably the best window into post-war attitudes towards nuclear power we’ve got – as seen from the perspective of its greatest victims.”. Tsutsui (2006, p. 122) similarly backs this up and believes that Gojira is an acutely real representation of Japanese citizens living in the shadow of World War II.

A large part of why 1998’s Godzilla remake was deemed hollow was because it forgoes any sort of larger thought about atomics and war, and instead relied on the spectacle of seeing a monster destroy New York city. Its terror comes not from man but rather “a freak of nature” which is almost a complete betrayal of what the original Gojira stands for.

There is a lot that can be read from Gojira as a film that gives evidence towards the attitudes of post war Japan. Even from subtle attitudes of citizens to a reliance on government regulation can be gleaned from smaller offsets of scenes contained within. But ultimately the most extraordinary part is that much of Japan’s views during this time can be symbolised now in one ginormous iconic creature, Gojira.

References:

Bowen J, Japanese War Crimes, viewed 21st Augusty, http://www.pacificwar.org.au/WarCrimeIntro.html.

Merchant, B. 2013, A Brief History of Godzilla, Our Walking Nuclear Nightmare,MOTHERBOARD, 23rd August, viewed 21st August, http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/godzilla-is-our-never-ending-nuclear-nightmare.

Tsutsui, W.S. 2006, “In Godzilla’s Footsteps”, Palgrave Macmillan, U.S.

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