Godzilla Movie

Shin Godzilla vs. GMK: The Battle Over Japanese Nationalism

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In the wake of Shin Godzilla's Best Picture win at the Japanese Academy Awards, and the quickly approaching Japanese home video release, it feels more than appropriate to look back on why the film is deemed so important. Not merely satisfied with straight examinations, Shin Godzilla is ripe for comparison, but decidedly not with Hollywood's recent 2014 flick—As many tend to do. The observations between Gareth Edward's Godzilla and Hideaki Anno's film are not without merit, but often misguided—Normally spiraling into irrelevant discussions that confirm the two movies have very little worth comparing. Rather, Shin Godzilla should find its themes truly challenged in a less likely, but equally significant companion piece. Together, the 2016 Japanese Best Picture and Shusuke Kaneko's Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (GMK) paint what is likely the most relevant socio-political conflict stirring in Japan today—Making them the most important modern Godzilla films of the series.

The political basis for both GMK and Shin Godzilla started several years before either film was remotely conceived. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan had been in power for nearly four decades until the short lived Nihon Shinto (Japan New Party) took over from 1992 to 1994. [1] The LDP's inability to maintain power led to the formation of the Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference)—A group of right-wing nationalists some have compared to The Tea Party. [2] Nippon Kaigi is best known for wanting changes made to the Japanese Constitution, specifically Article 9 which reads:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”[4]

Any favorable revision by Nippon Kaigi members would include the implementation of a standing army, building their military might and the rejection of a pacifistic nation. [3]

Moreover, Nippon Kaigi hopes to restore, “patriotism and morality in Japanese schoolchildren by revising [their] 'masochistic' history curriculum and 'the rampant spread of gender-free [gender equality] education.'” [2][5] What started as a grassroots group in 1997 has become Japan's leading political force twenty years later. The party has over 38,000 members, making up nearly 40% of parliament and 80% of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet. [6][2]

“Abe embraces a revisionist view of Japanese history that rejects the narrative of imperial Japanese aggression,” reads a U.S. Congressional report, revealing denials of the Nanjing Massacre—The mass murder and rape of thousands of Chinese residents during World War II. [7][6] Abe was also instrumental in downplaying the existence of 'comfort women'. [8] The ladies forced to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese Imperial Army were issued a formal apology from Japan in 1993. However, under Abe's administration, the apology (dubbed the Kono Statement) has faced scrutiny for, “insufficient objective evidence supporting the testimony of the women that the Japanese military forced them to provide sex.” [9]

In 2001, the rise of Nippon Kaigi's revisionism, particularly concerning Japan's role in the Pacific War, was Shusuke Kaneko's inspiration for Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. [10][12] The film's primary theme is based on George Santayana's famous adage, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” [11][12]

GMK introduces a Godzilla that attacks Japan because the spirits of soldiers who died during the Pacific War – American, Chinese and Japanese – harbor animosity toward the nation's forgetful antics. Contrary to popular belief the concept dates back to Godzilla's inception in 1954. “The terror of the times was such that people thought Godzilla might be the symbol of the spirits of the departed soldiers at sea,” said composer Akira Ifukube. [12] Professor Norio Akasaka echoes Ifukube's observations, calling Godzilla a, “representation of the spirits of soldiers who died in the South Pacific during the Second World War … coming to destroy the Ginza and the Diet building.” [26][12] Akasaka implies that Godzilla is a vessel of judgment come to punish Japan for its moral decadence. In GMK the spirits of war dead once again call on Godzilla to be an arbiter over Japan's ethical decline.

Because Godzilla and the spirits represent each other they become a symbiotic reminder of Japan's past—A warning that ignoring history has bloody repercussions. Like the revisionism of Japan's wartime actions, Godzilla's history is taken lightly. Many characters in GMK have forgotten the terror he instilled in the country while others question his existence altogether. Although it may seem unlikely the events of a giant monster attack are forgettable the same argument could be made for the rape of 20,000 Chinese women. [10]

To accrue public support for the military, the history of Godzilla's defeat in 1954 was altered by bureaucrats—A story was concocted to paint the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) as heroes, alleviating them of the embarrassing failure against Godzilla. Secretary Masato Hinogaki (Kunio Murai) is one of the few aware of a scientist's “chemical compound” (Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer) which ultimately defeated the monster. The lie inspires misdirected confidence in modern military personnel, leading to one blunder after another against the King of the Monsters. This blind credence is comparable to Japan's declaration of war against the United States where the nation quickly found itself depleted of resources during World War II. It's a direction artists like Shusuke Kaneko and Hayao Miyazaki hope the country avoids. [12][13][14]

Ironically, the character forewarning the consequences of forgotten atrocities and blind military support is none other than a naval officer. Admiral Taizo Tachibana (Ryudo Uzaki) anchors the film's anti-nationalistic themes with moderatism. Although he criticizes decades of peace for making the country ill prepared against Godzilla, he also admits it is a soldier's greatest honor to have never seen battle. By Kaneko's estimation a defensive military makes sense for Japan, as it would for any nation. However, he feels that the pride in which Nippon Kaigi longs to inculcate is best found in the lack of conflict the JSDF has enjoyed.

These very warnings against revisionism and unchecked militarism are conveniently ignored in Shin Godzilla, which some believe to be the most right-winged film in the entire series. Where as GMK depicts Japan imploding under chauvinism, Shin Godzilla proposes the country should become stronger to defend itself from foreign threats and national crises—Not unlike the Fukushima disaster of 2011.

On March 11th, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake launched a tsunami at the Fukushima Prefecture disabling the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. [15] The earthquake happened at 2:46 p.m. and although the resulting tsunami hit the nuclear plant in the next hour a state of emergency was not issued until 8:15 p.m. An evacuation order wasn't given until 9:00 p.m. [16][17] The reason for the delayed government response was chalked up to abysmal crisis management. Records recall, “harried officials incapable of making decisions to stem radiation leaks as the situation at the coastal plant worsened.” [18] Disaster response was issued from the fifth floor of Prime Minister Naoto Kan's residence (known as the Kantei), “which is not prescribed under law,” resulting in poor communication with other emergency teams. [19] The situation is played like a black comedy in the first act of Shin Godzilla.

In the film, the Prime Minister, cabinet members, secretaries and other executives shift from one meeting room to another, attempting to avoid confusion while Godzilla makes landfall. Images evocative of a tsunami tearing through streets are cut with the frustrating decision-making process of a Japanese government incapable of acting quickly. In Shin Godzilla it takes two hours for the government to respond to the monster's surprise attack—A relatively more optimistic time frame than the five-to-six hours it took to act in 2011. [16][17]

The entire scenario is a jumping point for Shin Godzilla's true dialog. Many fans seem to view the film as an allegory to Fukushima, but that's not quite the goal. While Godzilla is certainly a representation of the 2011 disaster, they are both merely inciting incidents for the film's objective: The push for a stronger Japan. Director Hideaki Anno suggests that if changes to Japanese procedures and law were made perhaps it would be easier to manage a crisis like that of Fukushima—Or Godzilla.

Taking it a step further, Godzilla evolves (literally) from a natural disaster to a foreign threat. Because there is no active procedure that involves engaging a giant monster, bureaucrats are left scratching their heads as to whether or not deploying the JSDF is legal. The uncertainty takes aim at Article 9's restrictions of Japan's military force, criticizing the ambiguity of how the nation is to defend itself. In 2014 Prime Minister Abe challenged that ambiguity by reinterpreting the constitution—Protecting the nation now included defending its allies, allowing Japan to partake in United Nations operations. The move was considered unconstitutional due to Abe circumventing amendment procedures. [20]

While a majority believe the constitution should be honored, Abe and Nippon Kaigi feel it's illegitimate for being influenced and “imposed” by an American agenda. [24][21] Post-war Japan was encouraged to write a new constitution, but their attempts were constantly rejected by the United States. To help modernize the laws, Army officers Milo Rowell and Courtney Witney were tasked with penning and revising the new constitution. [22] Rowell studied Japan's previous Meiji Constitution, likely in an attempt to ensure a smooth transition. [23] However, a post-war, American influenced constitution is difficult to apply today, especially with North Korea's ballistic missile tests splashing down in Japanese waters. The Japan Times reports, “Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party will amplify the North Korea threat narrative ... to highlight the importance of U.S.-Japan security cooperation, and the need to expand Japan’s missile defense program.” [25] As a result, the JSDF will likely continue to grow in power.

Like in all Godzilla movies, Shin Godzilla's JSDF is ineffective against the monster, but Ishiro Honda's 1950s-to-60s depiction of demoralized tanks retreating from a lost battle is nowhere to be found. Here the military is portrayed with a certain pride for their work. Although they lost against Godzilla, they're still motivated to help in other ways, such as evacuating civilians. Whereas GMK's Admiral Tachibana found honor in peace, the JSDF in Shin Godzilla is proud to be deployed for their country.

Voicing Abe's ambitions and hopes of a stronger, prouder Japan is lead character Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), a mid-level bureaucrat tasked with stopping Godzilla. As the country continues to be devastated by the monster he pushes ever harder to bypass political norms and create a sturdier foundation for his nation to succeed. He recruits lower tier professionals and younger minds to be Japan's heroes—A story point designed to put faith in a new generation ambivalent toward the government's failures. Yaguchi's trust in the underdog works to his advantage as he and his team solve Godzilla's genetic secrets.

Fittingly enough, the theme of unity is one in which Shin Godzilla and GMK can almost agree. While it's Yaguchi's faith in countrymen working together that unveils Godzilla's weakness, the implementation of Godzilla's defeat could not be achieved without additional help – German computer technicians – French ambassadors – US military – And although the support is to emphasize the confidence others have in a more self-sufficient Japan, parallels to nations working together in Ishiro Honda's Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965) or The Mysterians (1957) can easily be drawn.

In GMK a particularly effective moment of cross-cultural harmony is emphasized during the military mobilization in Yokohama. A young Chinese man wishes the JSDF troops good luck in his native tongue while a Japanese woman translates for him. Although it's a brief shot, the scene abandons historical hatred between two nationalities and portrays them as kin. (The dub and subtitles on Sony's North American DVD/Blu-ray release of GMK displace this moment with a tasteless comedic beat. The characters mockingly wave at the soldiers and tell them, “you're all going to die.” The Chinese man is played off as Japanese and the wisdom of the entire scene is lost on American viewers.)

Though it appears the similarities end there, both GMK and Shin Godzilla are ultimately concerned with the same thing: Japan's future. Changes to the allegorical beast in both films have led to criticisms from vocal minorities more interested in a standard Godzilla brawl. Godzilla's warning of nuclear proliferation and radioactive hazards will always be present in the character, as observed with the mushroom cloud in GMK and the radioactive waste in Shin Godzilla. However, the liberties both Kaneko and Anno took with the King of the Monsters shows that the character can and will continue to be adapted for present day issues—And it's important that Godzilla stay relevant. The monster was born of the post-war's socio-political climate and he continues to embody ideological shifts in Japanese culture. GMK and Shin Godzilla represent the most important facet of the character's career—The ability to encapsulate cultural anxiety and compel the Japanese people to engage it. The question is, which image should the Japanese people heed? There's a beating heart at the bottom of Tokyo Bay warning Japan to take responsibility for their past and a tail-splitting amalgam of frozen, humanoid beasts inspiring them to become a stronger, independent nation. It should go without saying, but whichever path Japan takes Godzilla will be waiting.

[1] The New York Times - Conversations/Morihiro Hosokawa; Profile in Political Descent: Japan's Once-Rising Star - Sanger, David E.
[2] The New York Times - Tea Party Politics in Japan, Japan's Rising Nationalism - Kato, Nihori.
[3] The Diplomat - The Quest to Revise Japan's Constitution - Sonoda, Koji.
[4] National Diet Library - Birth of the Constitution of Japan, The Constitution of Japan.
[5] The Japan Times - 'Gender-Free' hard to define, harder to sell - Arita, Eriko.
[6] ABC.net - Nippon Kaigi: The ultra-nationalisic group trying to restore the might of the Japanese Empire - Carney, Matthew.
[7] Congressional Research Service - Japan-US Relations: Issues for Congress - Abe and History Issues, pg. 8 - Avery, Emma Chanlett-Avery; Cooper, William H.; Manyin, Mark E.; Rinehart, Ian E.
[8] BBC News - What Japanese History Lessons Leave Out - Oi, Mariko.
[9] The New York Times - Japan to Revisit Apology to Wartime Sex Slaves - Fackler, Martin.
[10] University of California, Santa Barbara; Department of History - Denial of the Holocaust and Raping of Nanking Massacre - Denial of the Rape of Nanking - Chapel, Joseph.
[11] Gutenberg.org – Reason in Common Sense, Volume One of "The Life of Reason", Chapter XII-Flux and Constancy in Human Nature - Santayana, George.
[12] SciFi Japan's Keith Aiken, via Toho Kingdom Forum, 'GMK: Why so much love?', pg. 8 - KPA.
[13] The Diplomat - Miyazaki's Kaze Tachinu: Winds of History Fan Japan's Political Debate - DeHart, Jonathan.
[14] South China Morning Post - Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki under attack in Japan for anti-war film - Blum, Jeremy
[15] Standford University, Environmental Science & Technology, 'The Fukushima Disaster and Japan's Nuclear Plant Vulnerability in Comparative Perspective', pg. 6082 - Lipscy, Phillip Y.; Kushida, Kenji E.; Incerti, Trevor.
[16] CNN - Timeline: How Japan's nuclear crisis unfolded - Jones, Bryony.
[17] Fukushima.com - Fukushima: A Timeline of Significant Events.
[18] Los Angeles Times - Report: Japan, utility at fault for response to nuclear disaster - Glionna, John M.
[19] The Sasakawa Peace Foundation, 'The Fukushima Nuclear Accident and Crisis Management', pg. 20 - Akiyama, Nobumasa; Sato, Heigo; Naito, Kaoru; Naoi, Yosuke; Katsuta, Tadahiro.
[20] The Japan Times - 'Reinterpreting' Article 9 endangers Japan's rule of law - Martin, Craig.
[21] The Japan Times - For Abe, it will always be about the Constitution - Arudou, Debito.
[22] Google Books - The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, Kurt Campbell - Campell, Kurt.
[23] National Diet Library - Birth of the Constitution of Japan, Historical Figures.
[24] The Japan Times - Japan rallies call for protection of war-renouncing Constitution - Jiji.
[25] The Japan Times - Abe says latest North Korean missile launch represents 'new level of threat' - Mie, Ayako.
[26] A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, Second Edition, pg. 23 - Kalat, David.

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Written by G. H. (Gman)Published on 2017-03-09 12:40:19

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MemberTitanosaurusMar-09-2017 2:19 PM

Man that was deep


AdminSpaceGodzillaMar-09-2017 2:44 PM

What a profound way to look at things. One of your best pieces, I would say GMan. I love how you tied it all together at the end, well done! 

Now on the topic, which direction do you think or see Japan taking? 


MemberMothra LarvaeMar-10-2017 5:36 PM

A very well-written, thought-provoking article. It helps to underline that Godzilla is not just a 'monster-on-the-loose' character. It's the symbolism that adds a lot of meaning to these films, this great series.

I love both of these films even more now.

Thank you.


MemberMothra LarvaeMar-10-2017 10:29 PM

Well, so strange to have a right wing party called "The Liberal Party" lol. As a diehard liberal myself (the leftist kind lol) not real happy with Abe. However, I do understand that Japan would like to have more control over the ability to defend itself. Still, some of the inhuman ideas of Abe are just horrible.


MemberRodanJun-05-2019 5:26 PM

Wow, that was deep. And people laugh when I say that Godzilla is more than an action flick.... Which is still one of the main reasons I love it, but this is another...

Godzilla fan#1

MemberMothra LarvaeJun-05-2019 8:09 PM

Jeez well both are them are some of the most deadliest incarnations of Godzilla. 

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