Godzilla As A Metaphor For Japan's Tragic History Of Nuclear Technology

The movie Godzilla directed by Ishiro Honda and written by Takeo Muraka in 1954, depicts a monster created by the devastating effects of nuclear weaponry. In the movie, Japan is thrown into panic after the mysterious exploding and sinking of several ships. One night on an island, a storm hits devastating a number of homes as well as ending multiple lives. Professor Kyohei Yamane suggests that a task force should investigate the mysterious incident on the Island. This team detects radiation and discovers gigantic foot-prints. Later that night, the legend of the enormous reptilian monster named Gojira (Godzilla) emerges in front of the villagers and disappears into the vast ocean. Professor Yamene announces that the monster is from the age of dinosaurs and has awoken due to recent hydrogen bomb tests. Serizawa invents a weapon that could destroy Godzilla, however in the wrong hands this weapon could be used to destroy mankind. Due to the monsters great power of destruction, Serizawa eventually decides to use his weapon. After the death of Godzilla, Professor Yammi theorizes that there may be other monsters out there waiting to be awoken by mankind's experimentation with atomic weaponry. The monster Godzilla represents society’s fear of nuclear weaponry and the emerging risk of the United States nuclear power.

The film Godzilla represents a complex metaphor for Japan's tragic history of nuclear technology. In August of 1954 The United States bombed the Japnese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the first blast, around 70,000 people died instantly followed by the deaths of thousands exposed to radiation. The second atomic bomb dropped immediately killed around 80,000 people. To this day there is still background radiation in these cities. The writer of the film Isirō Honda visited Hiroshima a year after the tragedy and became captivated by the idea of humans capable of such monstrous destruction. Due to censorship laws in Japan, Honda was not able to directly create a movie about the Cold War. However, Honda applied his experiences during the war and the characteristics of the atomic bomb to the film. Much like nuclear weapons, Godzilla causes destruction and chaos. When the monster enters Tokyo he is electrocuted by power lines and uses his radioactive breath out of anger. Instantly, buildings catch fire and victims of the monster disintegrate within seconds. These scenes depicting burning and chaos mirrors the devastation of buildings and victims in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In March of 1954 the Lucky Dragon, a tuna fishing vessel ran into trouble when the ships lines snagged on coral reefs. In the hope of finding more rewarding fishing ground the ship moved towards the Marshall Islands. However, the United States was conducting nuclear tests near the vessel yet, the Lucky Dragon was outside the exclusive zone. The weapon nicknamed “Castle Bravo” was the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Due to an error, the explosion occurred two and a half times more powerful than intended and a thousand times more powerful than the bomb launched at Hiroshima previously. Radioactive dust rained down on the boat. After the incident, the Ministry of Health and Welfare stated that over twenty-thousand crew members had been exposed to radiation causing numerous health issues and deaths. While tuna consumption plummeted, fish and other seafood were not the only consequences of this radiation. Transported by air and ocean currents, radiation reached the soil and infiltrated rice, vegetables, and other produce. Just eight months after the incident at the peak of fear and panic Gojira was released. The film opens up to a fishing boat being attacked by the nuclear monster Godzilla. This is a clear reference to the tragedy of the Lucky Dragon Fishing boat. The monster was a distinct symbol of nuclear power, as well as a victim. The writer Honda illustrated that the monsters skin textured was designed specifically to resembled Keloid scars that survivors of the Hiroshima bombing received. Honda additionally gave the monster atomic heat breath generated by nuclear energy inside of it. Honda incorporated his experience of atomic devastation through images in order to bring a sense of realism to the destruction of the monster.

The diabolical actions of the terrifying monster Godzilla can be interpreted to symbolize a monsters quest to punish mankind for destroying its habitat and the danger of nuclear power. The monster of the film seeks to demolish all symbols of civilization as if it is seeking revenge on mankind for creating the technology that produced the monster. An elder living on Odo Island describes the balance between the villagers and the seamonster. He explains that during sparse years the villagers will sacrifice a young girl to the ocean in exchange for seafood. The elder suggests that this balance was disrupted by atomic testing in the ocean. Godzilla takes its revenge on mankind as well as technology. When the monster emerges on land, it bites into the radio transmission tower terminating the cities ability to communicate. The monster serves as a symbol of nuclear apocalypse as well as a warning to civilization of the dangers of war and nuclear weaponry. At the end of the film, Professor Yammi warns his colleagues that there could be more monsters in the vast sea waiting to be awoken by nuclear technology. This statement provides the viewers with a final thought and illuminates Godzilla as a token of anti-nuclear power.

In the article “Why We Crave Horror Movies” by Stephen King, King contributes his insight on why people enjoy horror. As a movie heavily influenced by real world events Godzilla greatly attracted and shocked it’s viewers. King suggests that horror movies feed society's fear and allow people to “[dare] the nightmare”. Honda’s film supplied Japan’s society in 1950 the ability to recuperate from tragedy as well as “provide psychic relief” from devastation. Viewing Tokyo being burned to the ground was inconceivable during this time. The film challenges society’s fear and displays a shocking horror grown out of real life tragedy. The film presents a way for a society crushed by the terror of war to recuperate and “reestablish [one’s] feelings of essential normality”. In the article “Reconsidering the Horror Genre” by Joyce Staricks, Stariks describes that “the key to horror is the pleasure we take in experiencing fear generated by the unknown”. This film greatly utilizes society's fear of the unknown implications of nuclear technology.

Overall, the film illustrates the tragedy of World War 2 and nuclear testing as well as the emerging threat of nuclear power. The monster represents a Japanese societies overwhelming fear of the unknown threat of atomic technology and the dangerous repercussions of disrupting nature.  

16 December 2021
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