Mar 16 2011 4:42pm

Nukes and Waves: Godzilla and the Vulnerability of Japan


Peter Wynn Kirby at the New York Times Opinionator blog compares tragedies past and present in Japan with monster movies of the 1950s.

As the great saurian beast emerges from Tokyo Bay to lay waste to the capital in 1954’s ‘Gojira’ (‘Godzilla’), the resulting explosions, dead bodies and flood of refugees evoked dire scenes from the final days of the war, images still seared in the memories of Japanese viewers. Far from the heavily edited and jingoistic, shoot’em-up, stomp’em-down flick that moviegoers saw in the United States, Japanese audiences reportedly watched ‘Gojira’ in somber silence, broken by periodic weeping.

It’s heartbreaking stuff, especially with the shocking images of tsunami devastation so fresh in our minds. Japanese artists have long turned tragedy into great art, from Kurosawa’s Ikiru to anime classics Barefoot Gen (contains disturbing images) and Grave of the Fireflies, drawing some comfort out of unthinkable horror.

Perhaps this sentiment offers little solace when so many have lost their lives, their homes, and so many more are still missing, but artists challenge their fellow citizens to face their fears and reach catharsis.

Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, as well as a columnist for, Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. His fiction is out right this second in the anthology The Living Dead 2. Follow him on Twitter.

1. Laughingrat
A restored, subtitled version of the original "Gojira" (not the Americanized version) has been available in the US for a few years now. It's powerful stuff.
2. SKM
Agreed, Laughingrat. I saw the restored version you mention on the big screen at an arthouse theater about seven years ago.

One of the images that has really stayed with me is a brief scene of a doctor scanning children who survived Gojira's attack on Tokyo with a Geiger counter. The Geiger counter immediately begins clicking.

If an identical scene were put in an American movie, the filmmakers would have stuck in some dialogue explaining what a Geiger counter is and why the result of the scan was tragic. But in Gojira, the scene is completely wordless. Nobody needed an explanation. They knew.

Absolutely haunting.
3. DarrenJL
WTF. The gall of Americans. I can only imagine if this place had run a Steven Spielberg's Twister appreciation thread the week after Katrina. The f**k is wrong with you, Matt London?
James Whitehead
4. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Seems to be more a commentary on how Japanese artists helped their nation deal with the tragedy of the end of WWII. Fun movies entertain you; good movies enthrall you; great movies move you. The Japanese filmakers obviously felt it was important to make such a film so short a time after the war so as to help their nation recover.

Twister ws not made with the same mindset. It was simply attempting to be the next blockbuster.

We have, as a nation (if not the world as well) become too overly sensitive when it comes to what other people say. We are ready to take offense at whatever someone else says without trying to see what the person was attempting to say or engaging that person in civil discourse to debate his/her points to gain a greater understanding of what was being said.

5. tbob
Heh. I love how one person puts up one blog post and the commenter trashes the entire U.S.

I'm thinking DarrenJL has some issues he needs to work out.
Bill Spangler
6. Bspangler
@Darren JL: I think this sort of article is entirely appropriate. It doesn't try to diminish the nature of the current situation in Japan; it's about how pop culture interacts with current events, which is absolutely a valid topic.
7. Gerald D. Swick
I agree. I saw the original Godzilla a few years ago. Knowing it was released when Japanese memories of firebombings and A-bombs were still immediate, it had an emotional impact no other "creature feature" ever had on me. I've been thinking about that movie since the quake and tsunami and wondering if a new take on Godzilla may come out of Japan as a result.

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