GOJIRA! Andy Brownson
Rising from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, he stands 50 meters tall. Blanketing Japan with his thermonuclear breath, he destroys Tokyo in a matter of hours. Who is this diabolical creature? No, it’s not George Bush. Although both are reptilian, it is Gojira, or as most Americans know him, Godzilla. Gojira was a tremendously popular Japanese horror movie that also became popular in the U.S. What makes the monster Gojira really interesting is that he implies a great deal about Japanese culture and attitudes after World War II. While first seen in the 1954 Japanese film version titled Gojira, the movie would become known to American audiences as Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Although adapted from the Japanese version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters underwent some small but important editorial changes to better suit it to American audiences (Parkosewich), but the movie Gojira is reflective of Japanese culture. The physical attributes of Gojira are the direct manifestations of the fears held be the Japanese people. Gojira tells us much about Japanese culture and also the post-war attitudes held by the society.
Gojira is a Japanese monster and therefore reflects what their particular fears and feelings are. Many of these fears are represented by his physical attributes. The most obvious of these is his enormous size. Gojira is huge! He is able to inflict tremendous damage by crushing anything in his path. To make things worse, he is able to disappear into the ocean whenever he wishes. Being an island nation, the sea is the main staple of life. When Gojira destroys all of those ships in the early stages of the movie, he is representing a real threat to the Japanese way of life. He is threatening both their ability to trade and to catch food. The fact that they live on an island and are surrounded by 360 degrees of water only makes it worse. Gojira could come from any direction. They could never know where he might appear next, which is a horrifying thought. Accompanying his huge size, and amphibious maneuverability is his thermonuclear breath. His ability to breathe this flame is closely related to the notion of having a nuclear arsenal at ones disposal (Parkosewich). Because nuclear testing on “Odo Island” incites Gojira, it shows that nuclear weaponry has awoken a monster. “The Monster” can be taken literally in the form of Gojira, or can be taken as a social criticism on the use of nuclear weapons. This second interpretation would stand to reason since Japan had been privy to two nuclear attacks. Is Gojira the Hiroshima bomb? No. He is the backlash of it.
This fear of Atomic energy is an obvious and important aspect of Gojira, but it is not the only one. Because Gojira is a loner, he represents the antithesis of a collectivist culture. It makes sense that that Gojira stands alone, seeing as the Japanese are an extremely collective culture. Because Gojira is a loner he fulfills a cultural taboo. In a society that depends heavily on one another and downplays the role of the individual, Gojira represents a loose cannon that rebelled against the group. This idea of isolation is furthered by the fact that he has no family. His cultural heritage and the identity that goes along with that are unknown. Because Japanese collectivism is largely dominated by the family structure, this lack of a family makes him even more monstrous.
Another characteristic that makes Gojira so scary is the fact that he is so hard to destroy. Conventional weaponry doesn’t seem to work against him; only the air force is able to send him packing :”He cuts a mean swath of destruction until the Japanese Air Force drives him off” (Gojira). Eventually it is a scientific breakthrough (the oxygen destroyer) that allows for his demise. It actually appears that the entire oxygen destroyer plotline is a reflection of the Manhattan project (Gojira). However, the film shows a desire to use the oxygen destroyer for good, instead of as a weapon, and goes to great lengths to push the idea of waiting to use the destroyer until the technology could be used for the benefit of all mankind. It is a not so strange twist of fate that the American version Godzilla King of the Monsters cuts a large part of this plot line out, portraying the inventor of the oxygen destroyer as a mad scientist, rather than the wary self-sacrificing genius portrayed in Gojira. This shows a Japanese film that highlights a need for caution in science, as compared to an American version that is adapted to better appeal to American audiences. Gojira was not made to shy away from the past, it was made to confront it by make a statement about WWII and the ensuing occupation of Japan.
In 1945 the United States sailed into Japan and began an occupation that would last for 7 years. It wasn’t until 1952 that the United States left, but not without leaving Japan dramatically changed: “America wholly occupied the Japanese Home Islands, in a government that was secretly completely controlled by MacArthur” (The Post War World). Gojira is a Japanese representation of America during and after WWII. For instance, the bombing of Pearl Harbor is comparable to the nuclear testing that awakens Gojira. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamoto best articulates this when describing his apprehensions after the Pearl Harbor attacks: “I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” This famous quotation is perfect because it portrays the United States as a sleeping monster. The image of Gojira being awoken is an exact match. Another point of comparison is in Gojira’s thermonuclear breath. It could be comparable to America’s atomic arsenal. Even the fact that the U.S. made an amphibious landing lends itself to Gojira. The only part that strays from the history books is when Gojira (America) gets defeated. The defeat of Gojira could be construed as an attack on American intrusion into Japanese affairs. Because the production was released only two years after occupation, all of these negative feelings and misgivings would have still been fresh in the minds of both filmmaker and audience. What is ironic is that the film had considerable success in America as well. What most Americans fail to recognize is it is more than a horror movie; it also is a social criticism. The monster is destroyed, but all is not well. People are still suffering. Perhaps the most haunting image in the entire movie is the scenes of the city in ruins. They appear to be war zones with smoking, and broken buildings, and people running for cover. These scenes are indicative of what the war-ravaged country must have looked like. The reality of what Gojira represents is what makes him so scary.
Although it is a work of fiction, in many instances Gojira is based in reality. This reality gives the movie both credibility and importance. Not only is it scary, it depicts the postwar sentiments of an entire nation. Gojira’s popularity is proof to the success of the film. Numerous sequels have been made in both Japan and in America. The monster Gojira is a product of the time period in which it was made. It is telling of the fears of the Japanese people, and shows resentment to all things nuclear. Is Gojira scary simply because he is huge, and has that nasty morning breath? Yes. But he is also scary because he represents the feelings of an entire nation. If the Japanese are saying that the United States is a monster, we as a country might want to rethink our global self-image for a minute. If this country, which we considered our ally, considered us to be monsters, one can only imagine what our enemies must have thought.
Gojira. Bad Movie Planet. 20 October 2002.
Parkosewich, Gary. Gary’s Godzilla Zone. 15 October 2002.
“The Post War World.” World War II Multimedia Database. 20 October 2002.