Natural Scenery

Godzilla film aims to ‘pacify’ vengeful symbol of war, disaster

Set in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat in World War II, the latest Godzilla film pays sincere homage to the 1954 original.

In “Godzilla Minus One,” Ryunosuke Kamiki plays Shikishima, a former kamikaze pilot who joins other ex-military personnel to confront Godzilla stomping through Japan.

In a discussion arranged by The Asahi Shimbun, Takeshi Yoro, an anatomist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, and director Takashi Yamazaki talked about the true nature of Godzilla.

Yoro, 86, general producer of the commemorative “Godzilla the Art” event series, said the King of Monsters is a symbol of disaster that comes out of nowhere, like a ghost.

Yamazaki, 59, who also wrote the screenplay and handled the visual effects for the latest film, said creating the movie felt like making “kagura” (sacred music and dancing dedicated to Shinto gods) to pacify a vengeful spirit that brings war, disaster and other calamities.

Excerpts from the discussion follow:

* * *

Takeshi Yoro: I watched the movie with great enthusiasm. Seeing the ruins (of war), black markets and makeshift houses built with debris, I was reminded of how things were back then. My older brother’s generation joined the kamikaze corps.

Takashi Yamazaki: For me, Godzilla is a symbol of war and nuclear destruction, so I thought I must incorporate the suicide missions into the story because they were a large aspect of the war.

Yoro: Godzilla runs amok in the Ginza district, destroying the Hattori Clock Shop and the Nichigeki theater. As I watched the scene, I could not help thinking that he was still not done until he destroyed the buildings that survived the war.

Yamazaki: Both buildings are symbolic, so we carefully re-created every detail of them using computer graphics, and then destroyed them.

Yoro: What I remember about the first “Godzilla” that came out in 1954 is that it was such a no-nonsense movie. It’s a monster movie, and yet it is serious in tone, and there are no funny moments at all.

Yamazaki: I like the flavor of the 1954 film.

Yoro: For me, Godzilla symbolizes disasters, both natural and human-made ones. The unreasonable manifestation of violence attacks humanity out of the blue.

Yamazaki (to Yoro): In your message for the art project, you said Godzilla is close to a ghost from traditional Noh theater, and it made sense to me. It appears out of nowhere, shows its resentment and disappears–although Godzilla destroys instead of speaks.

After I finished shooting the movie, I thought it was just like a kagura meant to pacify a vengeful spirit.

Yoro: We have no idea why Godzilla appears or disappears. And that’s what makes it different from Western films. It comes out of nowhere and disappears in a similar fashion. It’s quite natural for us Japanese.

Yamazaki: It is possible we are making something very domestic. When it comes to writing a screenplay with Hollywood-style techniques, it’s no good to leave Godzilla’s motivation unclear.

Yoro: Godzilla is similar to a concept, so artists can use it to symbolize many things, whether it is in film or art. That’s why a wide variety of works continue to be created.

* * *

Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the birth of Godzilla in 2024, “Godzilla the Art” is a project in which artists from Japan and abroad use the monster as the theme of their works.

Many events will be held as part of the project, including a special exhibition at the Shibuya Parco shopping complex in Tokyo’s Shibuya district from Dec. 28 through Jan. 9 in cooperation with The Asahi Shimbun.

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