Gojira’s Nuclear Anxieties

Earlier this month I wrote an autoethnographic account of my experience watching the original 1954 Japanese film ‘Gojira’. My account included several themes that I peeked my curiosity during the initial viewing, and since watching the film I have spent some time researching Gojira in an attempt to better understand my observations.

My initial observation was the antiquated cinematographic techniques on display. This observation was hardly surprising given the film was released in 1954, at a time when colour movies had been invented, but were not yet mainstream.

My second and perhaps more interesting observation is the apparent nuclear paranoia on display in the film. I detailed this observation in my previous post by stating the following: “I found the repeated references to nuclear energy surprising given the film was produced less than a decade after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during world war two, in 1945. Gojira’s thematic preoccupation with nuclear energy shows that the filmmakers still harboured anxieties and curiosities about nuclear energy, and the popularity of the film amongst a Japanese audience tells me that the county’s media consumers could relate to the concept.” This “nuclear paranoia”, as I put it, was worthy of further study. I was initially unsure of whether I would be able to find any scholarly sources relating to my observation so I basically just typed the terms ‘Gojira’ and ‘Nuclear’ into Google Scholar. Success! To my surprise, I watched as a plethora of relevant search results appearing before my eyes. Maybe I’m on to something here?

 

google scholar screen shot.png
Screenshot from Google Scholar

 

Nancy Anisfield, writing in the 1995 ‘Journal of Popular Culture’, appeared as the most relevant source of information. Ainsfield uses the opening page of her article to acknowledge the nuclear themes present in the Gojira film. The author states “Godzilla films equate the monster with the atomic bomb” and that the Japanese versions, (including Gojira, 1954) symbolically repeat the trauma of Hiroshima, establish the monster as an archetype of Japanese horror. These paragraphs by Ainsfield serve as an explanation of my observations about Gojira. The film is directly tied to the fears and anxieties of the Japanese people following the 1945 U.S nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

Godzilla and the Japanese after World War II
Gojira’s ‘mushroom cloud’ semiotics.  Image credit: Gojira (1954)

 

Anisfield’s claims regarding Gojira are echoed in a research paper titled Godzilla and the Japanese after World War II: From a scapegoat of the Americans to a saviour of the Japanese by Yoshiko Ikeda, associate professor from Ritsumeikan University in Japan. Ikeda claims fears and anxieties of atomic bombs are depicted in many scenes of the Gojira story. The author exemplifies the films nuclear anxieties by highlighting the scene in which a fisherman’s boat is attacked by Godzilla, showing complete devastation. In the scene, a strip of paper at a seafood store advertises: ‘We don’t sell atomic bomb damaged tuna’. Ikeda then states Godzilla’s “violent destruction of the city is designed to provoke a series of war memories in the minds of the audience.” This sentence, in particular, confirmed my initial suspicion that the film included nuclear paranoia because the theme would have been easily relatable to Japanese media audiences.

By researching Gojira I confirmed my initial assumption that the film deliberately included themes relating to nuclear catastrophe. The filmmakers used the tragedies of World War 2 to produce scenes that were relatable to the audience. I found this surprising at first but this particular line by Nancy Anisfield helped me to see the silver lining in a seemingly dark plot:
“Humans made the bombs. The bombs created the monsters. The monsters punish the humans. After enough punishment, the humans are left in peace. For me, this sentence by Anisfield’s also explains Gojira’s standing as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema.

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