Everything about my life is a product of western culture.
Objectively, this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise given my Australian upbringing.
Now it gets a little concerning when my only engagement with varying cultures, specifically Asian culture, has come from a completely Western viewpoint. Films like The Last Samurai and Lost in Translation, although presenting themselves as thinly veiled avatars of Asian culture, are still predominantly constructed with the western gaze in mind.
This exposure, or lack thereof, has been profoundly influenced by my cultural context. Growing up on an Australian farm during the early part of the 21st century isn’t exactly an ideal scenario for contact with culturally diverse images and messages. This not only affected the frequency with which I came into contact with these varying modes of media, but also the way in which I interacted with them when I finally did so.
(director Ishirô Honda on the set of 1954’s Godzilla)
Take for instance Ishiro Honda’s cult classic Gojira (1954). Western audiences have spent more than half a century interacting with Godzilla as no more than a comical, far cry from the horror films constructed in Hollywood lots and locations. The monolith of Godzilla is viewed, still by many, as a joke dinosaur in a rubber suit. The overly histrionic sound effects and visuals all play into a highly-constructed camp backdrop that has western audiences viewing the film as no more than a bit of Japanese ‘trash-culture’. Even my years as a communications student did not make me immune to the comical scrutiny that I placed upon the film, commanded by my own cultural frameworks.
— Kurtis Hughes (@KurtisLogan) July 26, 2017
But constructing Godzilla as the harbinger of a man-made apocalypse isn’t just another attempt at securing audiences who are drawn to high-impact scenes like moths to a flame. The film is a sober allegory intended to shock and horrify an adult audience. The use of startling images – cities in flames, crowds in panic, helpless armed forces – would have unfortunately been all too familiar to the cinemagoers who less than a decade before would have experienced the key themes of survival and death depicted within the film. This is further developed through the highly poignant script which posed deliberately provocative questions about the use of nuclear power, and post-war power struggles.
My own cultural upbringing in the 21st century unfortunately created an initial disconnect between myself and the film. Like many blockbuster hits that I am accustomed to, I viewed Godzilla as no more than a fictive construction deployed to entertain audiences. But as the film continued on, and focuses narrowed in, it became hard to ignore the reality of the tragic story of nuclear paranoia presented before me.