Saturday, November 25, 2006

There are other differences in the original—especially the evocative sound of Gojira's footsteps and more use of the Ifkube’s great theme, which has since become the signature Godzilla music. But these are the major ones: the human stories that reveal much about Japanese culture and the postwar period, and especially the theme of the Bomb and the role of science. These are what makes this science fiction of consciousness. It responded to current issues of great importance, of life and death for civilizations and for the future. It did so both in a science fiction adventure and with metaphor and symbolism. It represented the thinking and feeling of its own time. In this case, the complex feelings of postwar Japan, which had depended on military conquest and technology, seen millions of its people killed and its cities destroyed, become the only country so far to suffer nuclear devastation and its long-term effects, only to be victimized by continued nuclear weapons testing.

And after the war, in the years of U.S. occupation, the Japanese saw its governmental institutions, its economy and its relationship to the world all change, largely beyond its control. A recent article I chanced to come across as I wrote this maintains that the Japanese have still not fully come to terms with the transformations of the occupation period.In a piece in the American Prospect called “Goodbye Godzilla, Hello Kitty,” Norihiro Kato writes about the sorrow and the guilt of World War II destruction unleashed by the images in Gojira. He speculates then on why Godzilla became such a popular figure, leading to so many sequels, and a transformation from destructive monster to defender to a kind of cute superpet. He concludes that it was part of a long process of “sanitizing” the war dead. For him, it seems, the “cutifying” of Japanese popular culture as it creates worldwide symbols such as Hello Kitty, is part of a process of displacement and denial by means of consumer culture rather than really confronting the meanings of the war or the Occupation.

But that is not true of the original Gojira film—it does express the feelings and confronts the issues, using the distancing and symbolisms of science fiction, the mythology of the technological age.

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