There was never any pretence.
As I was researching Japanese filmmaking in the 1950s, I found Philip Brophy’s postcolonial article on the Godzilla franchise. He makes the argument, “As puppet, doll and prop on a stage of special effects, his theatricalised unreality is never hidden.” As silly as it sounds, during my whole time watching Gojira it never occurred to me they never meant the monster to be realistic. The reality of a human-in-a-suit is in fact meant to be indicative of the cultural story that Gojira represents. Since humans meddling with nuclear testing caused the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, why would a 50 foot nuclear lizard destroying Tokyo be any different?
For some reason, discovering the monster is intentionally false legitimises Gojira in my mind. I suppose the experience is like trying to analyse literature and realising the metaphor was never meant to be believed in its entirety.
Brophy’s realisations about Godzilla stem from the experience of visiting the Toho pool that acted as the shrunken down version of Tokyo Bay in the films. Comprehending the scale of the falsehoods lead to his further understanding about Japan on a cultural level and the inherent vulnerability that comes with being an island nation. Brophy observes Japan as having a “technologically compensated concept of fortification”. This is reflected in the Toho pool’s edges being lined with “giant gas tanks” and “electrical power stations”, as though cocooning themselves in a shell of technology will protect them from the forthcoming threat of Gojira. The irony inherent in that technology will protect from other technology boils down to the fear of human against human. This is something I can relate much better to than a giant lizard monster.
By breaking down the film to a metaphor about postcolonial struggle, Gojira makes a lot more sense to me. I suppose in this instance, the technological limitations of the time were a benefit in order to have the discussion about the regret of human intrigue and inquiry into technology we do not understand. If the monster were believe to be a simple monster this discussion would never take place.
I’m just kicking myself because this should have been common knowledge after all the anime I watch. Japanese story-telling has always been symbolic.
Brophy, P 2000 ‘Monster Island: Godzilla and Japanese sci-fi/horror/fantasy’ in Postcolonial Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 39-42.