The Curation of Kaiju

Godzilla (1954) isn’t something I usually watch on a Thursday morning. As the longest running franchise, it is uncanny how little knowledge I had on a film that still influences pop culture today. Growing up, I viewed the monster genre at face value.

giphy
Megashark vs. Giant Octopus (GIPHY)

The idea of someone dressing up as a large lizard like monster and destroying a city always seemed quite comical to me. This physical creature of fiction was something I viewed quite literally and never understood what it was supposed to represent. This experience was influenced by films such as Mega Shark vs., Sharknado or even later remakes of Godzilla. Which are often over-dramatic and created purely for entertainment value.

Due to my Western up-bringing, Asian media is largely categorised as strange and out of the ordinary. Even after guidance from Wikipedia, it is almost possible that any interpretation could be legitimate. As I watched the film, characteristics of the Japanese culture I had already been exposed to from anime and manga were normalised in my subconscious. This made it easier to understand the themes without the cultural barrier. It is understandable that terms such as ‘culture shock’ would be used to describe the film. All characters are Japanese, those who are commonly whitewashed in Hollywood productions. These characters who are usually recognised as comedic relief or bad guys, were taken seriously and sympathised with. As a previous Japanese student who finds pleasure in watching subbed anime, it was only when Tweeting was added to the equation that made it more difficult to grasp what was going on during the film.

Katakana is the Japanese alphabet used to transcribe foreign words. This means that Godzilla is a portmanteau for ‘gorilla’ and ‘whale’. Rather than a large salamander, Godzilla alludes more to it’s size, power and aquatic origin. Due to it’s context, Ishirō Honda plays on the nuclear paranoia of post-Hiroshima Japan. As a person who grew up post-9/11, strong comparisons are explored with block busters showing New York under attack. Whether it be the crying of young children and their mothers or the destruction and evacuation of homes – these themes were comparatively used to convey the devastation and create an empathetic response from the audience. I was also interested how the most unsettling scenes were filmed by the beach or even underwater. This is a motif that I couldn’t help respond to, due to my phobia of deep water. As a country without borders, Godzilla uses the feeling of being trapped to play on that fear.

 

 

4 comments

  1. Really like your style of self reflection and overall a great read 🙂 Would have been cool to see some links in your writing to supporting sources to further your explanations. Loved the way you pointed out the western comparison with the idea of post 9/11 destruction and whitewashing in Hollywood. I think no matter the country or language pop culture references play off real world situations, as is the case here. In regards to Hollywood whitewashing, I think this is a serious issue across genres, I remember viewing the 2014 remake of Godzilla and how limited the ‘Asian characters’ were, and as you say there are often just there for supporting background roles, rarely ever as lead character in the West. I also really like how you integrated one of your tweets into this post to add further context to your writing. Great work! 🙂

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  2. Hello,
    I thought it was very interesting that you made reference to 9-11 in terms of Godzilla. Godzilla is metaphor of Hiroshima and post-war Japan which we are now familiar with. So the importance of this metaphor stems from the destruction from the war which is why there was such an emotional engagement from the audience and why people felt sympathetic. It dealt with the wound why it was still fresh in my opinion. The civilians were still getting over the attacks. More information can be found on this here https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/05/why-you-should-watch-the-actual-original-godzilla/371389/
    But going back to the reference to 9-11, this was event that changed how everyone saw the world. It was internationally broadcaster and caused fear across the globe. This struck a memory of watching a trailer for ‘Patriots Day’. I have not seen the movie but it is reference to the ‘Boston Bombings’.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJXqh2rDehg This also looks at an event that happens similar but not as extreme to 9-11, and a film is made about it not long after it happens. If this ok to do,, playing with the emotions of people? This is essentially what Godzilla was at the time. A reflection from a traumatic experience through the medium of a ‘monster’

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  3. Actually sitting down and actively critiquing the origins and causes of a self-experience is a lot harder than we anticipated. We often take our actions for granted, acting on them out of instinct without thinking of the implicit motivations occurring behind the scenes. But i think you have done a great job. The initial comparisons drawn between Godzilla and other films that draw on monster tropes is a great way to explain how your initial interaction with the film was affected by these media experiences, albeit in a comical sense. What I did find interesting was your reference to 9/11. It is no surprise now that Godzilla is an allegorical response to the post-war effects and fears of the Hiroshima bombings. The immediate and long-lasting effects that this event had on the general public is evident in both their interactions with the film, as well even it’s need to be constructed in a fictional framework. However, it is interesting how your experiences of growing up in a post 9/11 world has also affected the way in which you interpreted and interacted with particular images within the film. This phenomenon interestingly reveals that particular themes which were intended for specific audiences are also able to affect audiences within completely different scenarios. It shows how the intensity, and pervasive nature of particular themes are able to resonate among varying audiences, irrespective of their cultural upbringing.

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