Go, go, Godzilla!
One of my more recent ‘dealings’ with Godzilla just happened to be with this song on Guitar Hero. Those solos were hard!
I have probably had this song stuck in my head since yesterday’s viewing of the original Japanese 1954 classic film, Godzilla (or Gojira, as some have come to know it by).
Unfortunately I have yet to enjoy the absolute pleasure that will be reading through Autoethnography: An Overview – so this preliminary review will be based on a few observations and questions I had through the initial viewing of yesterday’s text.
Prior to this viewing, the only experience I’d had with Godzilla was 18 years ago. I was (probably) an adorable 7 year old, who at the time absolutely loved anything to do with science and nature. I’d seen the trailers for the movie on TV and begged my dad to take me. Needless to say, I came out of the theatre absolutely terrified. To this day I still have nightmares where I feel like I am being hunted by the 1998 Godzilla. Looking back over the scene highlights, the movie was terrible. But for a 7 year old, the feeling of not being able to run away from something so large that just wanted to kill you was pretty damn scary.
One of the trailers which had delivered great expectations to a nerdier mini-me.
The 1954 Godzilla/Gojira was quite different to the Hollywood reboot. I feel like we need to put a ban on Hollywood rebooting cult classic films. I’m looking at you, King Kong – whatever happened to if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Profits are why we can’t have nice things. I feel the only correct course of action to cleanse myself now would be to go through this list and watch every single original film in order to purge the filth my eyes have been contaminated with. I’m glad to have started with Godzilla in particular, I feel the burden lifting as I think about it. By this point in the blog entry I feel like my anecdote quota has been surpassed; so let’s talk about my experience with the real deal.
If for a moment we forget the politically charged motivations behind the film, I would have to say that for it’s time, the film is still pretty damn cool – and by that I mean I enjoyed watching it. As a student who has heavily studied the processes behind making films, it was somewhat of a delight to think about the technical effects of the film. While the practical effects were quite telling for a modern viewer, it doesn’t make the methods used any less ingenious.
As an animation enthusiast, I have a soft spot for mind-blowing CGI visuals; however, they are only as good as the most powerful computer at the time can produce. So for early CGI adopters, 20 years into the future, the effects look dated and even cringe-worthy. I did not find this was the case with the 1954 film as the effects were practical. They were used only when needed, which was a refreshing and welcome change from being bombarded with mindless action.
For instance, the miniature landscapes which had great attention to detail in order to make them seem passable as full-sized landscapes. On the contrary to that, however – the model of Godzilla himself, I felt, left a little to be desired. In a black and white film it was a little hard to distinguish a clear image of him; however that may simply be due to my predisposition to the fancy CGI renderings of the monsterous giant. Call me silly all you like, I still feel like it can be hard to take Gojira seriously with such an adorably creepy goofball grin.
Now to jump straight back into the message of the film (because elaborate segueways are for people who are good at journalistic writing).
Holy politics, Batman!
Yes, there was quite a strong political undertone to this film. It was released 9 years after the US had dropped the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they are not shy about incorporating messages about the fallout and environmental impact into their media; books, TV shows, radio, manga and films such as Godzilla made sure the messages were being heard loud and clear.
The basic gist is as follows. There have been Hydrogen bomb tests off the coast of Japan which have disturbed a now irradiated ancient giant sea monster, hell bent on destruction after being woken up from his very long nap. A major theme of this film is the residual effect of the radiation from the H-bomb tests, as well as scientific advancement, responsibilities, and dilemmas (for example – whether or not to play God).
So Godzilla, this radioactive ancient sea monster, is not a morning person. He wakes up and wreaks havoc first upon the (fictional) tiny fishing island of Edo, and unable to get back to sleep, decides to get revenge upon Tokyo. Scenes of terror and mass destruction take place, many people die. There is a definite parallel to be drawn between these scenes, and those of the destruction that the atomic bombs brought about in 1945. Where the Americans seem to glorify this kind of violence and trivialise the issue (Man of Steel, anyone?), the Japanese highlight the seriousness of them as a direct effect of being the victims of it in the past.
Related: What Godzilla would look like if he were a whale. Music appropriately by band Gojira.
Meanwhile, the protagonists just happen the be conveniently linked enough to all be involved in the plot. Emiko, the main female, is the daughter of a respected paleontologist (Dr. Kyohei Yamahei) who is involved in the emergency meetings about how they are to deal with the Godzilla threat. She also happens to be involved in a love-triangle of sorts with her partner, Hideto, who is a captain for the Nankai Sea Company, who were the first to be affected as the monster sank their ships. And then there is Daisuke; a secretive scientist who has eyes for Emiko, but has essentially been brother-zoned. This is all very convenient, but it does make the plot rather easy to follow. In my opinion, the story here is way better than the senseless Hollywood action that was the remake (shudder).
There were 2 things that piqued my curiosity about formality in Japan itself. First of all, I had noticed that the map was sideways, which I thought was interesting. I couldn’t really find any reason as to why that was, but I would hypothesize that it would be efficiency based; by flipping the map on it’s side, you could fit it on the wall at effectively double the size. I am unsure if this is something they actually did or whether it was just for the film. It would be interesting to find out, purely as an anecdote if nothing else. Secondly, I was taken aback by how formal everyone was. I know that the Japanese are very formal regardless, but I found myself somewhat taken aback with how formal the scientific briefings were. I know that if a scientist had started spouting facts to a committee that were unwilling to believe them in let’s say, Australian parliament, they would not be receiving a polite and uniformed applause at the end of their presentation – much less the actual civilised discussion to follow. I digress.
The film ends with Daisuke sacrificing himself to ensure his reclusively developed Oxygen Destroyer (essentially a WMD) plans are never revealed to fall into the wrong hands, as he believes that he has played God enough and would rather not have it trouble anybody else; but not before giving Emiko what is essentially a T-800 thumbs up and letting her know that he approves of her (poorly kept secret of a) relationship with Hideto.
Daisuke sacrifices himself while a devastated Emiko and Hideto look on.
While this goes on, Dr. Kyohei Yamahei watches on, crying internally for the lost opportunity that was to study Godzilla. You know, for science.