Nine years after the U.S. nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the film Gojira was officially released. The period in between these events was filled with seven years of American military occupation of Japan, testing of Hydrogen bombs by both the Americans and Soviets off the coast of Japan and a reshaping of Japanese culture. One of the most influential changes by the United States was the remaking of Japanese society. Chon Noriega wrote in his article “Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When ‘Them!’ is U.S.” that: “An essentially American military occupation force dismantled and rebuilt the Japanese family and society in such a way as to ensure that Japan could never again become a military threat to the Allies…the purpose was more to undermine the patriarchal base of Japanese society than to reform it.” (Noriega 65)
The military occupation ended in 1952. However, the United States began a series of nuclear tests off the coast off the coast of Japan for the next several years. These tests included the Castle Bravo nuclear test on March 1, 1954 when the U.S. detonated a Hydrogen bomb at Bikini atoll. The resulting radioactive fallout covered thousands of miles; among those affected were local island villagers and a fishing vessel named “Lucky Dragon”. The entire crew suffered from the radioactivity with one member dying. These events not only influenced direct scenes in Gojira but also were used in the construction of the monster as a metaphor for the effects of nuclear weapons. The director, Ishiro Honda said years after making Gojira, “I wanted to make radiation visible” (Brothers 36). And so the nuclear bomb used by the United States became a walking monster that leveled cities and infected innocent people with radiation sickness.
This was a very risky film to make as it was only a few years removed from the pain of many of these events. It could have easily been seen as exploiting the suffering of the Japanese people during an attempted period of healing. However, “as it happened, Godzilla drew in nearly ten million Japanese viewers who were now able to deal with images that were indelibly integrated into their national psyche. Indeed the cathartic effect the film apparently had was quite possibly the main reason for Godzilla’s success” (Brothers 40). Made on a budget of $1,500,000, the box office earnings in Japan are estimated to be $2,250,000. The film was nominated for two Japanese Movie Association awards for Best Special Effects and Best Picture. Gojira won for Special Effects, losing Best Picture to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
The film Gojira begins with ships sinking mysteriously off the coast of Japan and the Japanese government recruiting a number of academics and scientists to examine the destruction that has been caused. Evidence such as radioactive footprints and remains from the Jurassic Period lead Paleontologist Kyohei Yamane to theorize that a dinosaur is responsible. Yamane believes that the use of atomic bombs by the United States during World War II awakened a monster that had been dormant for centuries.
Privately, Yamane wants to keep the monster alive for research purposes. He sees this as a great opportunity. Emiko, Yamane’s daughter, is in the process of ending her relationship with Daisuke Serizawa, a scientist who is working on a secret project. He gives Emiko a demonstration but swears her to secrecy.
Godzilla attack on Tokyo is one of the clearest examples of Godzilla as a metaphor for U.S. military action in Japan is his attack on Tokyo. “On the night of March 9, 1945, American B-29s laid down tons of incendiaries on the city of Tokyo, destroying 250,000 homes, burning out ten square miles of the city, leaving one million homeless and 100,000 dead” (Brothers 37). Brothers claims that this is identical to “the ‘sea of fire’ engulfing Tokyo during Godzilla’s rampage” (Brothers 37). The destructive consequences of Western involvement are seen in this monster tormenting and killing the Japanese people.
A key scene in Gojira is Yamane’s speaking right after the death of Godzilla. Thematically, this scene shows the danger of nuclear weapons despite the fact that Godzilla is now dead. Even though Serizawa sacrificed his life to end this threat that was awakened by the use of nuclear weapons, Yamane remarks that “if we keep conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear”. He does not believe that Godzilla is the only one of his species left alive. This scene is not about celebrating victory but rather a sad event, both to mourn Serizawa and because of the realization that the root of the problem has not been addressed. Ogata and Emiko are crying and the people on the boat remove their hats out of respect. Yamane sits down to say these lines and keeps his eyes trained towards the floor to create a despondent feeling and Takashi Shimura delivers this message in a manner of concern and sadness bordering on dread. Gojira presents the view that certain weapons, like the atomic bomb, should not exist because of the damage they could cause. Serizawa died honorably to keep his experiment away from people while nuclear weapons have become a part of reality. This scene clarifies the already obvious metaphor about nuclear weapons and is framed to show the continuous danger that threatens the world instead of a great victory over the monster.
Brothers, Peter H. “Japan’s Nuclear Nightmare: How the Bomb Became a Beast Called Godzilla. Cineaste 2011: 36. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.
Hoffman, Michael. “Forgotten Atrocity of the Atomic Age.” The Japan Times 28 Aug. 2011: n. pag. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.
Noriega, Chon. “Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When “Them!” Is U.S.”Cinema Journal 27.1 (1987): 63-77. JSTOR. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.