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Gojira â€“ First of the Japanese KaijÃ» Movies
In this series on monster movies, the previous film we watched was King Kong (1933) â€“ we explored the common elements of a monster movie, asking the bullet point questions. This week we will see the Japanese pioneering monster (kaijÃ») movie Gojira (Honda Ishiro, 1954) and compare it with King Kong, allowing for differences in all different contexts.
King Kong could be seen as an implicit response to the Depression, the rise of the Nazis, gender roles, the effect of loveâ€”any number of things. Gojira (or Godzilla) is an explicit response to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945) and hydrogen-bomb testing (1950s) out in the South Pacific. Plus any number of other things!
If King Kong ushered in the monster movie genre in the US, Gojira ushered in the kaijÃ» eiga (monster movie) genre in Japan â€“ many sequels were produced, in Japan as well as in other countries. An American version came out in May 2014 by Gareth Edwards, the Japanese Shin-Gojira (2016), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), starring Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown, was released in May 2019 and got poor reviews.
Why am I calling the 1954 version Gojira? I’m not doing it to be pretentiousâ€”I’m doing it to distinguish it from the 1954 American version of the same film, called Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (included in DVD on reserve in Pleasant Hill campus library). Gojira is strictly Japanese, while Godzilla is an American retooling with the insertion of journalist character Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) and his voiceover narration. It’s an awkward, clunky patchworkâ€”Steve gets injured in a building collapse caused by the monster and â€œtalksâ€ to the Japanese characters in reshot scenes with their backs turned to the camera (using different actors). This is the version that most Americans have seen and laughed at. You could compare the two versions for your 5-page essayâ€”there are huge differences in tone and subtext.
The opening scene of the 1954 Gojira is based on a specific historical incident â€“ a huge American H-bomb test (Operation Castle Bravo) on Bikini Atoll near the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954. The fishing vessel Lucky Dragon No. 5 was too close to the blast and exposed to nuclear fallout. One crewmember died and several others suffered radiation sickness, turning Japanese society off to H-bomb tests and hardening the attitude that they were the world’s people most exposed to nuclear danger.
Watch Gojira with English subtitles. (The library’s copy has a valuable commentary track) Again, as you watch Gojira you might jot these down:
- pre-appearance mentions
- initial glimpses
- sounds monster makes
- monster’s attention paid to specific people
- gender orientation of monster (if any)
- possible motivation
- methods of destruction
- geographical path monster takes
- people involved in monster’s discovery
- people who track monster down
- people who destroy monster (if they do)
- human relationships around monster
- the meaning (the takeaway message) of the monster
Choose 5 of these questions and answer them with 2-3 full sentences:
1. What constitutes a hero in this film? Whom do you nominate for hero(es) in Gojira and why?
2. What statement is the film making about H-bomb testing?
3. Compare the island origins of King Kong and Gojira, or at least where they first show up in the films. Address the relationships between the natives and the monsters. Compare the two sets of natives. (I know this is a big questionâ€”you could do a 5-page essay on it)
4. Analyze a major difference between King Kong and Gojira, the monsters.
5. How does this film refer to war? What characters bear the marks of war?
6. There are three scientists in this film, while King Kong had none. Monster movies usually have one. What are the narrative and symbolic roles of the three scientists in Gojira? Name them and their specialties. Who’s the most important scientist?
7. Right after the Toho logo, we’re told the film was “made with the support of the Japan Coast Guard.” Which scenes show such support? What’s the film’s attitude toward the Coast Guard and the Self-Defense Force (Japan agreed not to have a military under the 1945 WWII surrender terms)?
8. How is Gojira’s roar different from King Kong’s? Analyze other aspects of the sound design if you like, including female screams and singing, the sounds of destruction and the musical soundtrack.
9. Comment on scenes of public anger and legislative disagreementâ€”what’s their significance?
10. Compare Kong and Gojira’s appearance as monsters. What’s the effect of Kong being a stop-motion miniature and Gojira being a man in a rubber suit?
11. Monsters tear down recognizable urban landmarks. Compare the roles of the Empire State Building in New York City (in Kong) and famous locations in Tokyo (in Gojira).
12. How is the love subplot handled in Gojira? Compare it to the love affair in Kong.
B. Read â€œThe Horror Filmâ€ chapter in Introduction to Film Genres. Also read the Peters article, https://catapult.co/stories/evolving-the-monster-a-history-of-godzilla (Links to an external site.)
Comment on something in either of these writings that would pertain to an interesting discussion of Gojira.
C. Respond to at least one other student’s post with polite agreement or disagreement, giving evidence for your point of view.
peer’s post:( should reply to this )
3. On Skull island the natives fear Kong and offer up a woman sacrifice for him consistently to keep him appeased. This is different from the people of Odo island, although they still fear Gojira they do not follow their old traditions as much. Similarly to the Skull island natives those on Odo also used to sacrifice a young girl to Gojira, but no longer do and instead simply perform a dance in hopes it will keep Gojira away. Itâ€™s interesting how in King Kong the natives were considered primitive, but in Gojira the natives are seen as traditional (two words that have similar meanings, but one has a much more negative context).
4. A major difference between Kong and Gojira is that Kong was made to look more humanistic with human qualities (as a racial stereotyping move) whereas Gojira was purposefully kept from looking anything like a human. They also are symbols of two totally different ideas: Kong was the racial stereotype of a black man, while Gojira is a reaction to how war terrorizes the Japanese people.
6. The first scientist that is met is paleontologist Kyohei Yamane, who believes that by studying Gojira they can figure out how he survived the H-bomb and possibly find a way for the humans to survive it as well. Without Yamane classifying what Gojira was and where it likely came from would have been difficult if not impossible. Second was Serizawa, a research scientist who eventually finds the solution to killing Gojira. Dr. Tanabe was the third scientologist, who seems to specialize in radiation. Yamane symbolizes mans willingness to do something dangerous for the sake of discovery, Tanabe symbolizes a man who just wants things to end quickly and safely, and Serizawa is a symbol for those who have power but choose not to use it as evil, itâ€™s because of this that Serizawa is the most important scientist.
7. The scenes that show support from the Japan Coast Guard are the ones that include the helicopter as well as when the military looking ships are being dispatched to where Gojira is. Itâ€™s also likely the Coast Guard helped with the footage of the depth cover bombings that were supposed to kill Gojira. The filmâ€™s attitude towards the Coast Guard and the Self-Defense force is positive, showing the two groups as willing to help keep Japan safe from attack.
8. Kongâ€™s roar sounded more like a lion, while Gojiraâ€™s roar was much more mechanical and less animalistic. Personally, I feel like this made Gojiraâ€™s roar much more terrifying, at least Kong sounded like something I could identify compared to Gojira. I did a little research and found that at first animal sounds were used for Gojira but were scrapped as they sounded too familiar, and instead a double bass (like one used in an orchestra) was used with itâ€™s deeper pitched strings loosened and a leather glove was rubbed through the strings to produce a deep sound. The sound was then quickened until the final roar was created. It should also be noted that between Annâ€™s and Emikoâ€™s screaming that Emikoâ€™s was much less shrill.
B. Clinton Peters asks in his article, “What bright flame has drawn our imaginations toward a creature that destroys lives on the other side of the sea?” I think this is an interesting point to be made of Gojira in that as Americans, we’re interested in seeing Gojira destroy foreign lands, while the original intent was for Gojira to be a warning of nuclear warfare and what it does to people and the Earth. Could it be that the bright flame drawing our imaginations isnâ€™t the consequences of us destructing the Earth, but rather us being fascinated with watching other people suffer?
D. Write a 300-word paragraph (300B) that expands on one of these topics/questions or on a different topic of your choice. Instead of any description, it should be packed with analysis and critical thinking about some aspect of Gojira.