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.
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.