WWII

Gojira (1954) Through the Eyes of an Ethnic Australian

Gojira (1954) is the film that kickstarted the never-ending production of narratives and reimaginings of Godzilla. In viewing the film in this week’s seminar with the aim of exploring not the film itself but the way in which I make sense of the film.

In viewing the film I was able to deduce that the narrative of the film in itself was a metaphor for the impact of nuclear warfare upon the Japanese people. I was able to interpret that through my knowledge of the events of WWII and the year the film was released, seemingly at a time when Japan was still immediately grappling with the immediate aftermath of the hydrogen bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the firebombing of Tokyo. Godzilla can be seen as the superpower of the United States. 

While as stated above I am able to understand the nature of the film through looking at the historical perspective and the Japanese zeitgeist at the time of production I more closely understand the film through my personal identity. As a second-generation Australian whom has often struggled to navigate mainstream Australian culture with a “strong” ethnic name and has constantly searched for something to belong to I found myself empathising with Godzilla character. Godzilla is portrayed as blindly destroying buildings and infrastructure, only becoming violent when agitated by gunfire and electric attacks, and if intercepted and integrated onto the mainland in a manner that suited both Godzilla and the Japanese people a much more peaceful outcome could have been reached. Throughout the film I felt that the Japanese officials did not spend enough time trying to understand the supposed monster; turning to violence far too soon, not giving any thought to the nonviolent means which could be used to resolve and de-escalate the situation. 

Upon reflection I feel that at the time of production and release, Japanese culture was in a state xenophobia, whether that was the case or not, as an ethnic Australian whom grew up at the time of and in close proximity to the Cronulla Race Riots I cannot interpret the film or Japanese culture in 1954 any other way. While I know that these postwar attitudes are not at all carried in 2017 Japan through personal interactions and consumption of Japanese media Gojira provides a snapshot of the attitudes of Japanese peoples in 1954.

Understanding the ‘Enemy’ through Gojira

When I was eighteen years old I visited the Vietnamese war museum with my mother. We saw actual traps the Viet Cong had used to kill members of the ‘enemy’, including Australians. We heard stories, absolutely barbaric tales of what ‘American’ (which, in this context, was defined to be everyone fighting against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War) soldiers had done to Vietnamese forces. Inside the museum, graphic images of mutilated and dead children were displayed like art. We left the building after only fifteen minutes; it was too confronting to stay.

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Brutal images such as this one were displayed at the Vietnamese War Museum. In my school education of the Vietnam War, I wasn’t given the opportunity to consider that the other side suffered too, and maybe soldiers fighting for us were brutal also (image: AWS).

 

The way in which we partake in any attempt at research on a group we are a part of holds a necessary bias known as reflexivity. This week in DIGC330: Digital Asia, we became familiar with this idea through making sense of the film Gojira (1954). This film is the original Godzilla. It’s Japanese, black and white, and extremely different in content and structure to the Hollywood blockbusters we see today.@Although I did not realise this at the commencement of the film, Gojira was heavily influenced by the events surrounding World War II. Prior to this realisation, I was pretty confused at the story of the film. This is probably more due to my trying to live-tweet the film as I viewed it; the attention economy is apparently one where I struggle to function. I wasn’t alone, much of the class seemed fairly light-hearted and the resulting Twitter conversation was rather humorous. It contained a variety of memes, puns and literary reference, some of which were clever and others downright cringy.

Once it became apparent that the film carried a darker message, conversations about the second World War and the artistic relevance of the film were established. What resonated with me was the power of human emotion, the brutality of war and how my school experience provided me with a very one-sided education on World War II. It’s also interesting to note that the Japanese school curriculum contains very little 20th century history, with a particular absence of Japan’s role in not only World War II, but other notable conflicts in Asia and beyond.

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Source: Twitter @c_lair_e_96

 

I always learned that Japan fought amongst the enemy and with brutal force. The Australian soldiers, I was told, fought bravely protect our country. Maybe this is true, but there’s so much more to the story. Viewing this film showed the passion, patriotism and agony of the War as part of the Japanese story. We forget that our side fought with brutality too; US forces dropped nuclear weapons on two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. 129 000 people were killed. It is argued by some that without this action, the war may have ended with worse destruction, but we will never know. Nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare again (thus far).

Scenes including the one where a woman clung to her small children, promising they would be reunited with their (presumably dead) father, were absolutely heartbreaking to watch. This was never an image I would have conjured in my mind when thinking about the Japanese WWII experience.

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Human suffering is universal. Why is this not represented in history books? (Image: Shenanitims)

I have ancestors who fought in wars such as these; this affects my attitude towards the conflict portrayed and my experience of watching the ‘enemy’ suffer. Viewing this film reinforced to me that, aside from political differences, the human experiences of love, pain, suffering and loyalty are very much coherent across different cultures. Even viewing this piece through poorly-translated subtitles, black and white film and almost comically inept special effects gave me this valuable insight, despite being some fifty years and 7902 kilometres away from the intended Japanese audience.

-Claire

GOJIRA Revisited: the Impact of WWII and the changing role of Japanese Women

One of the main assumptions I made in relation to Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film, Gojira that I researched was in relation to the oxygen destroyer and Godzilla himself being metaphorical concepts related to nuclear warfare. As Umphrey (2009) highlights, “Gojira is a not just a monster laying waste to a city, but a commentary on environmental and nuclear politics.” This is an important concept considering that World War II had only just recently ended prior to the release of Gojira.

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Miniature sets were used in Gojira

Wilson (2013) outlines that in the 1950s, Second World War films were very popular. Such films often relied upon either original footage from US sources or specially built models and miniatures as was seen in Gojira. It is also interesting to note that Ishiro Honda directed other war related films prior to Gojira such as ‘Taiheiyo no washi’, which translates to Eagle of the Pacific and ‘Saraba Rabauru’ (Farewall Rabaul). Wilson further outlines that the popularity of war films in Japan were due to the nostalgia inflicted in viewers which provided great cash flow and commercial gain for the films. Interestingly though, war films during this time seemed to appeal to men more so than women (Wilson, 2013), so perhaps this explains Honda’s decision to incorporate a love triangle in Gojira in the hope to attract the female Japanese population.

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Ishiro Honda’s films around the 1950s were heavily influenced by the nuclear warfare issues of World War II

Godjira also represents the inconceivable destructiveness of the new atomic age (Brougher, 2013). Similarly also does the oxygen destroyer. Hence my assumption that Dr. Serizawa’s hesitation was due to the terrible implications that could have been far reaching if his creation was found to be in the hands of the wrong person. It was essentially a metaphor for power and nuclear war. Further to this, Gojira represents the destruction of Japan caused by the awakening of the American “monster’ of war and nuclear weapons during World War II. Hence the movie is trying to outline that nuclear war cannot be ended or solved by further experimental and atomic bomb material (the oxygen destroyer). However in the end Dr. Serizawa has to use the oxygen destroyer to help Japan, which ultimately results in his death to prevent the wrongful use of his creation.

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The Love Triangle

Lastly, as Shapiro (2002) highlights, Emiko struggles with the interest of two rival men chasing her. There was great emphasis during the 1950s on the importance of family, often with arranged marriages still taking place (Friedman, 1992). However the evolving role of women is most apparent in Emiko’s attitudes toward marriage and the family system. Multiple sources that I visited suggested that Emiko was actually engaged to Dr. Serizawa, until she broke off her engagement with him when she went to visit him at his lab, in order to be with Hideto Ogata. Research has allowed me to understand that the role of the Japanese woman was changing around the 1950s towards giving women a voice whereas previously they were perceived as the subservient gender.

Following my research, I have come to really appreciate the influence World War II had on the film as well as the depicted changing roles of women around that time. I now understand that the movie is an important part of Japanese history, rather than simply a confusing movie about a giant looking dinosaur and a highly emotional woman in a love triangle.

References:

  • Brougher, K 2013, ‘Art and Nuclear Culture’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 69, no. 6, pp. 11-18.
  • Friedman, S 1992, Women In Japanese Society: Their Changing Roles, viewed 19 August 2016 <http://www2.gol.com/users/friedman/writings/p1.html>.
  • Shapiro, J 2002, ‘1945 to 2001: Japan’s atomic bomb cinema’, in J Shapiro (ed.), Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film, Routledge, New York, pp. 283.
  • Wilson, S 2013, ‘Film and Solider: Japanese War Movies in the 1950s’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 537-555.
  • Umphrey, O 2009, ‘From Screen to Page: Japanese Film AS a Historic Document’, PhD thesis, Boise State University.