In the 1930s, the USA government launched Manhattan Plan in response to the spread of the anti-fascist war; in 1945, the atomic bombs exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two cities in Japan.
The destructive power of nuclear weapons shocked the whole world and forced the Japanese government to sign on the truce agreement. For most people in the world, a nuclear weapon is a powerful tool to sustain peace even if numerous people had lost their lives in the explosion; while for the people in Japan, they must live in the shadow of nuclear radiation in the past decades. Also, it is a trauma in the hearts of scientists who got involved in developing nuclear weapons. Seven decades later, World War II has become a hazy memory, and new generations have almost forgotten the impact of atomic bombs, but people have never stopped imagining the damage of nuclear weapons and monsters created by atomic bombs. Godzilla, a giant lizard-like monster created by Japanese artists, would be indispensable if scholars want to know more about people’s complicated attitudes toward nuclear energy. In this paper, the concern of keeping the balance of the nature and potential threat of over-utilizing nuclear energy embodied in Godzilla (2014) would be discussed.
In the trailer of Godzilla (2014), audiences would view a story similar to superhero movies: Godzilla, a giant ancient monster living in the ocean, was awakened by atomic bombs thrown in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The radiation did not kill it but endowed it with more unbelievable power, like spitting nuclear laser from its mouth. Scientists want to learn more about monsters, but woke Godzilla’s destined enemy, M.U.T.O, by accident. The protagonist, Ford, lost his mother in that accident and his father had lived in sorrow for years. When Ford grew up, he knows the story of his mother’s death and decided to find the truth with his father, but M.U.T.O woke again at the same time, unfortunately. Beyond expectation, Godzilla was on the side of human beings and fought with M.U.T.O intensively. Ford was also involved in the fight and helped Godzilla to defeat its enemy. Last, Godzilla killed M.U.T.O successfully and went back to the ocean in people’s gaze like a winner.
Follow the convention of a horrible scientific movie, the Godzilla (2014) adopted dark and cold colors in most scenarios. At the beginning of the movie, the protagonist, Ford, was still a child. Generally, the director would choose delight scenarios and bright colors to exemplify the nature of the child: purity, innocence, and naïve. However, it can be viewed in the trailer that the background was pale even if it was sunny, and smog came from the chimneys were implying that something shady was happening underground, which paved the tone of nervous and a little kind of uncanniness.
Also, the location of the final battle between Godzilla and M.U.T.O was set at Honolulu, which is famous for shiny weather. So, there is a smart compromise in this movie: the battle was in the night, so audiences would only see fire, explosion, and light of a supernatural attack of Godzilla and M.U.T.O. This strategy made audiences feel like they are in the real environment and enhanced the intensity of the movie to a great extent. Also, the director used the first perspective in this movie wisely. In some scenarios, the audience can view the monsters from the goggle of a pilot who was assigned to attack M.U.T.O, even hear a deep breath of him. Obviously, this pilot was trying to calm down and focus on shooting M.U.T.O, but it was the first time for him to face such a giant monster. This detail boosted the experience of admiring movie and make it a live show instead of an old-fashioned fairytale. Plus, there are some black and white scenarios in this trailer, which implied that Godzilla has been awake for a long time. Also, it can be viewed that there was a sketch of a monster on a bomb, which indicates that people had already been aware of the existence of Godzilla. This is also a hidden question: why the government did not kill monsters but leave them alive? This would be answered in this film later.
Before discussing Godzilla in detail, audiences are supposed to understand the source of the innate obsession of monsters in people’s minds. Leo Braudy, a writer and professor expert in English literature and movie criticism, explained people’s unique obsession with monsters. In Leo’s opinion, monsters are an embodiment of fear, disorder, and abnormality. On the one hand, people are afraid of monsters since the ancient time due to the limitation of knowledge and fear of nature; on the other hand, this kind of fear has never ceased even if with the development of science and technology since it is a reflection of paranoid and irrationality rooted in human’s minds. People can always reject rationality and get indulged in unrealistic imaginations when admiring monsters.
As a monster movie, Godzilla (2014) includes various essential elements like any other typical horror movie, like giant monsters, intense fights, and supernatural powers. These elements would arouse people’s most original emotions and stimulate audiences to know the ending. Just as Leo Braudy mentioned, Godzilla should be ascribed to “monsters from nature” since it was born in ancient times but had slept for a long time until the atomic bombs woke it up.
Generally, these kinds of monsters are on behalf of the strength of nature, and their actions are difficult to be predicted. However, Godzilla is more than a natural monster for Japanese, at least Japanese people in the 1950s and 1960s since it was wakened by atomic bombs, and people had not stepped from the shadow of nuclear weapons in that period.
Therefore, the attitude of Japanese people towards Godzilla is quite controversial, and Godzilla’s cultural connotation is more abundant than people expected. In the following, the changes in attitudes toward Godzilla and the reasons for these changes will be discussed.
Doubtlessly, Godzilla owns almost all properties that a natural monster should have giant size, unmatchable strength, and supernatural power. But it also has some unique properties, the most important one is Godzilla is a metaphor of nuclear as mentioned before, according to Nancy Anisfield. (1995). First of all, Godzilla was created in 1954 by a Japanese artist inspired by King Kong. At that time, World War II just finished, people all around the world had suffered a lot, but Japan was the only country that suffered from nuclear weapons. Therefore, nuclear energy was almost equal to the devil in Japanese people’s minds, and a giant monster waken by atomic bombs was enough to incite people’s fear. That’s why Godzilla was a giant atrocious monster and would destroy buildings and many as it could in the beginning. In a nutshell, military scientists woke/made some incredible monsters, the monsters would revenge on human beings, human beings would triumph and live in sorrow for a long time. This loop is what the original creator of Godzilla wanted to describe, which is known as a “nuclear metaphor”.
Also, the characteristics of Godzilla has a lot to do with Japanese geography, according to Philip Brophy. In the paper, “Monster Island: Godzilla and Japanese sci-fi/horror/fantasy,” Philip denoted that “this marriage of psyche and technology resides so deeply in the Japanese consciousness that how images and narratives of the city are generated constitutes a kind of ‘psycho-islanding.’” As known to all, Japan is a combination of multiple islands that are isolated from the outside world and located in the junction of Asia-Europe Plate and Pacific Plate, which is quite an unstable area. Dating back to ancient times, Japanese people had to fight against a harsh environment and deal with scanty natural resources. Therefore, Japanese people have developed the mindset that Japan has the ability to overcome all difficulties, and Tokyo, the capital of Japan, would be impenetrable and omnipotent to influence the whole world. According to the plots of previous Godzilla movies, monsters would always land from Tokyo Bay and then attack Tokyo. In this case, Tokyo Bay would be a natural cyclorama, and Tokyo would be a miniature of the whole country. But Japanese people would always defeat or control monsters successfully in the end in spite of how powerful they are.
So, the image of Godzilla may reflect the Japanese people’s willingness to overcome difficulties.
What’s more, Godzilla was wakened up by atomic bombs and endowed with supernatural power by nuclear energy in the comics, so Japanese people may also want to express the eagerness of controlling nuclear energy by controlling Godzilla.
Nevertheless, in recent years, the local properties of Godzilla are diminishing according to the comparison of Godzilla that appeared in films since 1954.
The first Godzilla was ruthless and stranded for destruction and carnage. While in the following films, it became larger and larger while behaved in a more humanistic way. For example, it would help human beings to defeat monsters as a defender. In one film, Godzilla even had a son, which could change its size and make friends with children. This may indicate that Japanese people would abandon the stereotype of nuclear energy and hope it would become a human’s friend someday. Another disputable reason is the business consideration of the Toho Film Studio. Godzilla is an icon of nuclear wars, but if Toho Film Studio wants to open its overseas market, it must create a character that caters to both Japanese and Americans instead of a monster that would remind American audiences of guilty experiences.
Plus, although it was the American army that threw atomic bombs toward Japan, the Japanese still accepted the help of the USA and even initialized “Americanization” after the war. Consequently, the Japanese did not consider Americans as enemies but regard them as friends in the long run. As a result, Godzilla is still a monster, but it is an invulnerable, powerful, and humanistic monster, and this process might reflect the changes in the relationship between Japan and the USA.
Go back to the Godzilla (2014) itself, its uniqueness is it was directed by Gareth Edwards, an English film director rather than a Japanese director. Admittedly, Edward did a great job. He not only followed the background setting of Godzilla but also added some western elements successfully. For example, Godzilla is the central character in any film in most cases, but Ford, a human being, shared more scenes in this movie. When Ford was a child, he did not understand his father’s emotions. But when he grew up and had his own family, he began to understand his father’s willingness to save his mother. Therefore, he would be his father’s companion and fight against M.U.T.O later. In the end, Godzilla defeated M.U.T.O in the end, and the sunshine just broke through clouds in the morning, this may foretell a bright and happy future of human beings. Taking all the properties into consideration, Godzilla (2014) is different from horror movies which are made for terrifying audiences, it is an adventurous movie that inspires people to overcome difficulties.
Conversely, the future of human beings may not be as bright as described in this movie. One ironic fact is, Japan does not refuse to use nuclear energy as a country that suffers from atomic bombs and there are 54 nuclear power units in Japan up to 2011. It would benefit people a lot since nuclear energy is both efficient but and cleaner than fossil fuel. Nevertheless, the Fukushima Nuclear Leak event is a painful lesson for people all around the world: on March 11, 2011, the most significant nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan stopped working due to natural disasters and caused significant nuclear radiation which has influenced the whole world. Nowadays, there are still some children born to be disabled, and more people died as the result of being exposed to nuclear radiation for an extended period in the Fukushima area. This might be the answer to the question “why people don’t kill monsters but let them alive” came up before: perhaps nuclear energy is just like Godzilla, people always think it can be tamed easily, but it would hurt people without any hint. In other words, it is not appropriate to conclude “people have stepped from the shadow of war and are ready to embrace the new world”. People can forget trauma so easily that we can never be too cautious.
In conclusion, the fear of nuclear energy and concerning keeping the equilibrium of nature have never ceased in people’s hearts. As a combination of a giant monster and nuclear energy, Godzilla has exemplified the deep fear of them. Godzilla (2014) followed the background setting of the Godzilla series and combined the story of Ford’s reconciliation with his families. This film also expressed the worry about exploiting nuclear energy but suggested a bright future in the ending. From the creation of Godzilla to the film, six decades have passed, the past icon of “destruction” and “revenge” has become a savior of human beings. According to scholars, Godzilla’s change is a metaphor for social change. When people are not afraid of this monster anymore, perhaps people have healed the trauma of warfare, overcome the difficulties of reconstruction and get ready to embrace an enlightening future. Nonetheless, audiences should be aware that there are still some problems unsolved in the real world. The future of human beings may not be as cheerful as this film if people keep being overconfident and turning a blind eye on these issues.
Braudy, Leo. “Why We’ll Always be Obsessed with — and Afraid of- Monsters.” The Conversation. October 28, 2016. https://theconversation.com/why-well-always-be-obsessed-with-and-afraid-of-monsters-65080. Accessed July 10, 2019
Brophy, Philip. “Monster Island: Godzilla and Japanese sci-fi/horror/fantasy.” Postcolonial Studies: Culture, Politics, Economy 3.1 (2000): 39–42. Google Scholar. Accessed July 10, 2019
Anisfield, Nancy. “Godzilla/Gojiro: Evolution of the nuclear metaphor.” Journal of popular culture 29.3 (1995): 53. Google Scholar. Accessed July 10, 2019
Bishop, Bryan. “‘Godzilla’ Review: Meet Your New Favorite Superhero.” The Verge. May 12, 2014. https://www.theverge.com/2014/5/12/5700716/godzilla-review. Accessed July 10, 2019
Murphy, Bryan “Monster Movies: They Came From Beneath the Fifties,” Journal of Popular Film, Apr 14, 2013. 1:1, 31–44, DOI: 10.1080/00472719.1972.10661638. Accessed July 10, 2019
Kermode, Mark. “Godzilla Review — 2014 Reboot Shows an Appreciation of Honda’s Original”. The Guardian. May 18, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/may/18/godzilla-review-gareth-edwards-reboot-mark-kermode. Accessed July 10, 2019