Okay, I’ll be honest.
When I say I’m interested in Asian culture, I mean I’m interested in the Asian culture that has been presented to me through Western media. More specifically, cinema.
In the case of Japan – the first country that comes to mind when I think of the term “Asia” – most of my exposure has come specifically from a Western viewpoint. Films like Lost in Translation (2003), The Last Samurai (2003) and even Kill Bill Vol. 1&2 (2003-2004) have all evoked a sense of unrequited nostalgia and sentimentality within me for a country and culture I’ve never experienced.
This sense of the exotic “other” has only been emphasised by my cultural context. Growing up in Australia, the product of English and Scottish ancestry – a heritage of which I often joke makes me “the whitest guy ever” – I leap at any glimpse of a different culture.
In this sense Ishiro Honda’s cult classic Gojira (1954) is both an intriguing revelation and stark reminder of my unawareness of Eastern film. First and foremost, despite being an avid film fan who would choose to take their stack of Blu-Ray’s to a deserted island over food and water, this was my first complete experience with an Asian film. I make no secret of the fact that my previous attempts to power through Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) have been less than successful, and my promise to explore the catalogue of Hayao Miyazaki has gone unfulfilled.
My predetermined assumptions that I’d feel like an outsider, desperately attempting to piece together intertextual references to a culture I’d never experienced went unfounded when watching Gojira. The film is not only an allegorical masterpiece, using Godzilla as a big and scaly metaphor for nuclear war, but the characters and themes are universally relevant today. If anything, this film felt more like a reflection of the world I am acquainted with than the spandex-wearing demigods of modern Hollywood.
Even from a filmmaking perspective Gojira rejected my assumption that 1950s science-fiction films were all low-budget B-grade schlock. While Godzilla is somewhat ridiculous in appearance, and the acting is occasionally a little over-the top, the film also represents some cinematic breakthroughs. The set design for one is jaw-dropping for the 1950s. My mind jumps to the climax of the film where Godzilla is crashing through the streets of the city. When you realise this wide scope of carnage and destruction is actually small-scale models mixed with footage of the actors, a technique which is still adopted by Western filmmakers today (i.e. Batman Begins), you realise that the tropes and techniques we are acquainted with all owe a great debt to this film and it’s ilk.
Gojira is a mere drop in the ocean of the Asian media I am yet to explore, but thanks to the film the floodgate is now well and truly open.