Like many children of the 1990’s I started my mornings with a healthy diet of Pokémon, Sailor Moon and Hamtaro. Never did it occur to my five-year-old self that this simple morning ritual was the beginning of my life-long love for not only anime and manga, but the Japanese language and its culture.
My adoration of Japanese popular culture made watching Godzilla an interesting experience. Viewing this cult-classic made me reflect on how I, a white, Australian female view and understand Japan.
First and foremost, I initially found Godzilla (the actual monster) to be a bit of a joke. Now I’m pretty accepting when it comes to mythical creatures. I’d give my right arm for Pokémon to be real. But honestly, how the heck was I meant to take that lumpy cross-eyed lizard seriously? I knew Godzilla was a pop-culture phenomenon – I’ve even stayed in a hotel in Shinjuku where Godzilla is literally climbing out of the roof.
But what I didn’t realise was that Godzilla was so much more than just an ugly puppet – it was actually a parable for the horrific Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings that devastated Japan in 1945. In fact, a character in Godzilla explicitly states that “Godzilla [is] a product of the atomic bomb that still haunts many of us Japanese.”
This shocking realisation not only heightened my interest in the film’s storyline, but also caused me to sympathise with both the Japanese people and Godzilla itself. The heartbreaking visual of the inconsolable little girl screaming for her deceased mother made me contemplate the horrendous and very real impact of the atomic bombings that devastated Japan. Simultaneously however, I felt sympathy for Godzilla. The monster was misunderstood from the very beginning and was brutalised by the terrified citizens. The scene where Godzilla was being shot at whilst walking through the ocean caused me particular distress, as I realised that this scene had been referenced in Pokémon. The enormous dragon Pokémon, Dragonite, is a direct reference to Godzilla, and is described as “the biggest Pokémon ever…[who has]…travelled the world looking for friends…because it is alone.” Just like Godzilla, Dragonite is violently shot at and returns to its ocean home, friendless and misunderstood.
Watching Godzilla has truly opened my eyes to the importance of this monster in its Japanese context – it is an enduring symbol of the horrors of WWII. I also learnt how our culture influences the way in which we interpret and understand texts from cultures different to our own. So Godzilla, if you are out there, hit me up for coffee. I’d love to get to know you better and hey, maybe we can invite Dragonite too?
Hornyak n.d. Hotel Gracery, Shinjuku, image, Shinjuku Station, viewed 27 July 2017, <https://www.shinjukustation.com/hotel-gracery-shinjuku/>
Godzilla n.d. image, Den of Geek, viewed 27 July 2017, <http://www.denofgeek.com/uk/books-comics/pok-mon/46416/pokemon-the-ray-bradbury-homage-hidden-in-a-classic-episode>
Dragonite n.d., image, Pikachu made me do it!, viewed 27 July 2017, <http://pokemon-made-me-do-it.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/13-mystery-at-lighthouse.html>