My in-class experience with the seminal Japanese ‘monster’ film Gojira (1954) is not one likely shared by many of my cohort. Having previously studied this film at an HSC level I already possessed some thoughts and facts surrounding the text from my prior viewings and research which revealed the text’s societal, contextual meaning in Japan both at the time of its premiere and today, many years in the future. My interest in the film led to a passive interest in the later ‘Godzilla’ films. Indeed, hours prior to re-watching Gojira with my peers I was watching a group of Canadians view the… decidedly goofier, Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).
So, I went into the film with a preexisting appreciation for it and its legacy, perhaps not ideal for testing the autoethnographic approach to research. However, I tried to disassociate some of my experience and take notes regardless and freely remark on what I thought at any given time.
- While my peers noted that some scenes and shots lingered too long to maintain the interest of modern viewers, I was taken aback at how some scenes that focused on interpersonal drama needlessly transitioned camera angles quite rapidly. This was a fresh observation and, from what I am familiar with, it’s typical for older films to be comfortable with irregularly changing camera angles so this detail stood out for me.
- I reacted a bit defensively when we first saw the character of ‘Gojira’, although it was admittedly hard to avoid laughing with other people about how ‘unrealistic’ the suit looks, but I was actually impressed with how convincing it and in particular the miniatures that made up the fictional Japanese ‘Odo Island’ and it’s town of Toba are. There was clearly a very passionate and painstaking creative process involved with the props; the recreation of the Tokyo bay area in particular and the assimilation between it and real footage is quite impressive and manages to create an engrossing and somber atmosphere.
Ultimately, the reliance on physical props rather than CG (not that it
was an option at the time) has its own merits. James Rolfe makes the argument that “rubber suits can look fake, but when done right, they look really good because there’s something actually there”. He mentions that, the same way you can tell a rubber suit is “fake”, so you can too with CG, “…so what’s more fake, really?” I think that’s a particularly interesting viewpoint; and a comparison you don’t see often today unless comparing older films with newer films that feature CG heavily.
- I made note that this didn’t appear to be your average soulless ‘summer blockbuster’ film, and from my understanding that wasn’t it’s goal anyway. Sure, there’s a whole lot of ‘destruction porn’ and a giant monster, but this is supported by a surprisingly personal story with characters that feel genuine and don’t just revolve around the giant lizard rampaging through Tokyo.
- Despite being a character driven story with the Gojira creature as arguably a secondary focus, many of the dramatic human scenes feature no orchestral score whatsoever which I felt really stuck out. The movies I watch, as a young Western male all tend to have grandiose scores that bluntly tell me what to feel at any point, regardless of what film or even genre I might be watching. Curiously, Gojira does have some orchestration but it’s uneven and unpredictably applied to scenes. Use of music overall is sporadic, with a very imperial marching theme rearing its head frequently.
- The final monologue stuck with me, as it has in the past, due to its sincerity and pleading subtext to be wary of the power of nuclear weapons and more importantly, the dangers involved with nuclear testing on our environment.
Here’s a Storify of the tweets that I shot off in real time while watching!