Saturday, 17 May 2014

GODZILLA: The Embodiment of a Living Atomic Bomb

by Christopher Barr

The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control... and not the other way around.”
- Dr. Ichiro Serizawa

……….Let them fight.

Godzilla ゴジラ is back in theatres and for the most part, it was a pretty decent version of the Japanese icon.  There were some wooden characters, the only character that was three dimensional and had potential was killed off less than half way through the film.  But aside from some minor plot holes and a little silly dialogue, Godzilla was a thrilling ride at the movie theatre.  The special effects were top notch, realizing the mammoth creature in all his potential.  I enjoyed the tension that was created, especially in the first act of the film.

Godzilla's visceral roar vibrated through the city buildings the way we lovingly expected it to, like the god we portray him to be, a deity figure for us all.  The film dealt with its unrealistic narrative with a mature form of pacing, allowing its audience to properly suspend their disbelief long enough to relish is the magnificent battle of the monsters at the end of the movie, and what a great time that was.  But it still wasn’t on par with Jaws and Alien, both films effectively concealed their creatures until the end, but the difference with them was the human characters were so worth watching.  Chief Brody and Ripley were interesting, fleshed-out people that you cared about, especially when they were on their own, in their respective films, at the end and faced their nightmare head-on.  Side note; it is clear the family’s last name Brody, in Godzilla was a nod to Jaws.

Poseidon’s behemoth slumbered for eons before being woken up to fight a battle that ends up destroying cities.  Godzilla is covered in tumorous-looking scars intended to resemble those experienced by victims of radiation.  He is truly a massive creature clocking in at 350 feet.  He is a wrath of nature that has come to punish those that have abused it; this is certainly odd when you look at it literally within the sense of the movie.  Godzilla is an environmentalist?  No, Godzilla is and will always remain a metaphor against the misuse of radiation technology to benefit greed and power.

This American version brought the monster out of the culture of Japan and onto the streets of San Francisco.   There is a somewhat disturbing irony found here, Godzilla is a Japanese creation to help disseminate the atrocities that the country underwent in WW2 to their Japanese viewers.  Now the very nation responsible for these atrocities in the first place has co-opted the Asian beast and made it their own.

In the above quote, Dr. Serizawa in the film talks about the arrogance of man thinking nature is in their control.  I would take that one step further and state; the arrogance of an American movie studio to take a Japanese icon, that's genesis was the result of the United States fire-bombing and dropping two atomic bombs on their soil, and then turning him into an American hero.  Only in this day in age is this not laughable if not disrespectful to a nation that suffered plenty at the hands of the American military industrial complex.  I would note that the Japanese military was not innocent during WW2, in fact quite literally the contrary.  The Japanese army was out of control and did have to be stopped for the atrocities that they were unleashing on the Chinese.  It’s known now that the United States government was well aware of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour prior to December 7, 1941, but at the time the American people and the average fighting soldiers were unaware of that fact and rightfully wanted revenge.  That being said, the citizens of the Island of Japan did nothing wrong to anyone and certainly didn’t deserve their hellish fate.

The 1954 original Japanese version of the film Gojira (Godzilla) helped lift the Japanese out of their past World War 2 depression, by restoring a portion of their national pride and began a healing process from the festering wound sewn into the fabric of their society.  The film was obviously bad, save the spectacular score, but that was fine because it ended up becoming an instant cult classic as a result.  It was also unflinchingly bleak, dark and deceptively powerful, it was a film by a wounded filmmaker living in a wounded country that could still feel the pain of hell on earth.  The film portrayed the first mass media character that warned us of the horrors unchecked by atomic weapons.  The opening scenes of the film show the monumental force of such a holocaust.  An American reworked version of the film called Godzilla: King of the Monsters was released in the states in 1956.  Their version removed a lot of the blatant atomic connections to the beast simply because they were responsible for that connection in reality a decade earlier.        

On August 6th 1945, the American Military Forces dropped “Littleboy” a uranium atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  Three days later on August 9th they dropped “Fat Man” a plutonium implosion-type atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  Within the next couple of months of the blasts, upwards to 166,000 people were killed in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki; half of which were annihilated on the first day and the remaining victims suffered agonizing deaths as the months passed by while the effects of burns, radiation sickness and other such injuries slowly claimed the rest of them.

Prior to these Atomic bomb drops, United States’ Operation Meetinghouse saw the firebombing of the city of Tokyo along with a number of other cities being napalmed, releasing a scourge of disaster across the island of Japan.  There never has been a city in the history of warfare where as many bombs on Tokyo were dropped.  But after all this devastation it wasn’t until March 1st of 1954, when the United States’ Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test at Bikini Atoll, near the Marshall Islands, that a lonely tuna fish ship called Daigo Fukuryū Maru, otherwise known as the Lucky Dragon 5, got hit with the fallout of a nuclear blast.  The ship, with its 23 seamen aboard, was inside the danger zone which the U.S. government had declared in advance, that being said, the test ended being twice as powerful as expected and the fallout, in the form of fine ash went outside the danger zone.  The following months after the blast the men started to die one by one of radiation poisoning.

This incident, along with the last decade of devastation to their country, showed the Japanese that man has gone too far, man can now willfully tear apart and destroy the fundamental particles of the universe.  It showed them that ‘the bomb’ was still very much alive and that the atomic nightmare, they have been just through, wasn’t relegated to World Wars but was an omnipresent threat to their nation.  This tragedy galvanized an emerging movement in Japan against the future use of these potential global killers, eradicating them for good.  This movement was a symbolic protest against the proliferation of weapons that are capable of annihilating all life from the surface of the Earth.

Japan was occupied by the U.S. Army up until September, 1952.  Before their departure the American forces banned any information about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs and their aftermaths, namely the radioactivity-induced diseases, from getting out.  It was to remain quiet that millions of civilians that weren’t directly connected to the war were the bulk of the massive casualties.  The metaphor for this disparaging scientific revolution was in the form of a daikaiju, a massive green monster named Godzilla, a catharsis for a limping nation.

Godzilla, in 1954, is awoken from his underwater sleep by a nuclear detonation and travels to the city of Tokyo and unleashes his fury just as the atomic bombs did, crumbling Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   He was to become the first major expression in pop culture of the unspeakable tragedy Japan suffered during the war.

Today the threat of annihilation hasn’t gone away with the disaster of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011.  Radiation at the restricted site to this day is pouring underground water that has been mixed with contaminated material into the Pacific Ocean by the millions of gallons.

The city is like a post-apocalyptic landscape frozen in time, a place where the radiation is deadly and land uninhabitable, the Janjira disaster in the new film has clearly drawn comparisons to the real life Fukushima meltdown.  Radioactive isotopes are spilling into the ocean and having a drastic effect on the sea life as it travels with currents across the ocean to Canada, the US and as far as Mexico.  All the Japanese have been able to do to slow the radioactive flow of water into the ocean, is to pump it into leaking, monstrous holding tanks.  These tanks are quickly built and filled within a day and half leaving the remaining overflow into the sea.  This is only an inadequate immediate solution to a long term problem that, as far as experts are concerned, is unfixable, it is also believed that the technology required to fix the problem is years away from being realized.

The threat seen by the Japanese at the end of World War 2 still exists here today and still on their soil no less.  Godzilla over the years has thus possessed a bit of a schizophrenic attitude toward atomic power.  Nuclear bombs are destructive, but yet atomic power can also produce electricity; radiation from the bombs killed more people than the actual blasts but radiation therapy can save lives by killing cancer cells.  I suppose the obvious question which outweighs the other?

The problem here is as a society; we are messing with the forces of nature and increasingly confronting the unfathomable consequences of that power.  Godzilla is a manifestation of that global killer, that if unchecked, if unleashed could devastate the very world we inhabit.  Godzilla is the hellfire that man let out of Pandora’s Box and as an allegory he cannot be killed.  Maybe that’s why he appears in just under 30 sequels or maybe he doesn’t die because of our ambitions for power, literally and figuratively, are unflinching.  Maybe we are the very Godzilla that we all wish to stop, unless another towering beast comes along in the movie ‘arms race’ for the biggest monstrosity, then we’ll need Godzilla to kill it for us.  I’m not sure if that is poetic or madness but like the spectacle of life; we all want to stick around and see what monster wins at the end of the day, even if that may mean that we all lose in the long run, because we can’t win this fight.  Nature will always win that battle and that is the heart of these movies, Godzilla is the punishment we all deserve.

Power does not corrupt.  Fear corrupts….perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”
 - John Steinbeck


  1. Hmm. I wonder. I've always saw Mr. Godzilla as a externalization for capital gone a muck. In two senses; the mount of money tossed at the movie to make it, and the sense that it destroys everything in its path. But, from the Japanese point of view I could see how Godzilla could be used to re-narrate the events of the Atomic bombs dropped in their back hard. And ugly space-alien-dinosaur up to no good.