Culture Magazine

The New Inquiry on Gojira, Almost Gets It

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Patrick Harrison has an essay about the original Gojira in The New Inquiry. He almost gets it. Yes, he notices that the film is very good, that the spare score is excellent, and the images well crafted. He understands it's about more than nukes, though it is about them, that it's about modernity:
Fuck the traditional Gaia interpretation of Godzilla—“By creating nuclear weapons, we have disturbed the natural order and disrespected traditional life, and Godzilla is our just punishment.” It’s more complicated than that. Godzilla is a metaphor for nuclear weapons, duh. The film is very didactic on this point. He’s radioactive, his rampage was brought on by H-bomb tests, and one character, complaining about having to endure “yet another evacuation,” even says, “What did I survive Nagasaki for?” But nuclear weapons are themselves a metonym for technological and social modernity, and that’s what Godzilla is really about.
And he knows that the love triangle is important:
Godzilla also provided a catharsis by making the relief of defeating Godzilla coincide with the symbolic purging of the war in the resolution of the film’s love triangle subplot. The subplot goes like this: At the start of the film, Takashi Shimura’s daughter, played by Momoko Kochi, is betrothed to Akihito Hirata’s mad scientist World War II veteran but is in love with a humble ship salvager played by Akira Takarada. Hirata wears an eye patch because, we are told, of a war injury. He is scarred by the war, and he is a scar of the war. There is something intense, even crazed about him, a painful excess of affect. He is a social scar. His very existence prevents the happiness of the young couple and unnerves the world. So the war veteran removes himself from it and goes out kamikaze-style, staying behind to detonate the super-weapon that destroys Godzilla so that no one can learn the weapon’s secret.
So close, yet so far. He doesn't understand that the love triangle is a conflict between two forms of marriage – traditional arranged marriage and modern marriage through the couple's choice – and that that conflict would have been very real for a Japanese audience (which I discuss in a number of posts, including this one). Shimura (the actor who played the professor) would have been the one who arranged the marriage. His desire to keep Gojira alive (for study purposes) is equivalent to his support for traditional marriage (the one he arranged for his daughter). And the death of Gojira is also the death of that traditional marriage when Akihito Hirata commits suicide in the process.
It's not just about technology and the means of production. It's also about family, self, and close relations.

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