To me Godzilla, or Gojira is anything but the typical big bad monster “blockbuster” movie of its time. Although at this point I am sure it is pretty much quasi-common knowledge that the monster itself is a direct metaphor for the devastating power of nuclear weapons and the terrors it had brought to Japanese people: its origin as a being that thrived by absorbing nucleus energy, awaken to the impact of the bombs, its scales glowing with radiation and its melting, corrosive breath. The thing is a walking, havoc-wreaking atom bomb in the form of a dinosaur.
However, for me, such obvious implications about the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the mesmerising things about the movie. Personally, Gojira feels more like a confession made by people of the former war-ravaged Japan about their confusions, their doubts and their despair upon losing and at the same time, gaining new identities. In other words, their desperate S.O.S call in the midst of an identity crisis.
“It was often suggested after World War II that Japan’s future lay in becoming a cultural nation, and a great number of people agreed that Japan should become a pacifist cultural country even if it meant being a poor and small one (similar to the “small but brightly shining country” – Masayoshi Takemura (Shin’inchi 1999).
Indeed, Japan did become a nation that yearn for harmony and economic development after the war, but for its people who were very much accustomed to, and held pride in, being the citizens of an Imperialist nation, such changes might have been too much to handle. The war-time virtues suddenly became outdated, unnecessary and might even be perceived as extremists’ ideologies in the post-war society. Yet, people who have experienced the devastation of war would still cling onto them despite knowing all to well about their incompatibility. These virtues are clearly depicted in the film, like the characters’ abnormal willingness to sacrifice their lives for the greater good, their unyielding beliefs in military supremacy, their tendency to reach quick and decisive measures and even their traditional gender roles. However, the movie did go on to prove that stubbornly holding on to these outdated values would do the nation no goods by showing how the physical manifestations of said values are useless under the might of the Godzilla and how the key to overcome such adversary is actually innovation, scientific breakthrough and the yearning for peace.
This phenomenon of a nation yelling out-loud the question of “who are we?” feels all too familiar to me because after all, I was born in Vietnam in a period where its people were also struggling to adapt to the newly created national identity. The war with the Americans ended in 1979 with “glorious victory” to our side despite suffering from ten times the amount of casualties and we preserved our right to remain a communist nation. Now while I know that talking about the choice of remaining a communist nation in a blog submitted as part of the curriculum of an Australian university might seems abit weird but such was choice made by the people and as such, no other nations have any rights to take it away, regardless of their ulterior motive. That being said, post-war Vietnam quickly found its communist identity to be rather troublesome in the process of gaining global communities’ recognition and thus, the fact that it was forced to shred away parts after parts of the identity it had tried and sacrificed so much to protect caused the nation to undergo a massive identity crisis. I can vividly recall seeing the sights of communist propaganda posters being placed side by side with the promotional materials for popular American cinematography throughout my childhood. Hence, I felt a deep sense of sympathy for the Japanese people after this viewing of Gojiro.
Shin’ichi 1999, Japan’s identity: Neither East or West, Japan Forum on International Relations, Nationalism, University of California Press, California.
Great article, especially in your interpretation of the film as a confession by the Japanese following WWII. Your personal insight and recognition of a country trying to discover itself is very interesting and I enjoyed to hear from a perspective that can relate to the struggles of Japan during the filming of Gojira.