JAPAN: Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ, 2016)

Shin Godzilla: A Nation Declawed

by Jack Madore

At the conclusion of WWII, the American government came to a defeated Japan and gave it an ultimatum: ‘submit to our democracy or die’. Thus, the Japanese relinquished their power in favor of an American-drafted doctrine, which effaced Japan’s self determination entirely. This essay seeks to display the descent of Japan, and how Shin Gozilla fights for change for a government that cannot fight for itself.

Within the coming decade, a series of legislative scandals would occur, primarily at the hands of the U.S. The most egregious of these transgressions by the United States was the poisoning of the Lucky Dragon fishing boat and its crew. In 1954, the boat “…strayed into waters where the US was conducting thermonuclear tests…” (Brophy), and was contaminated with high amounts of radiation. “despite being outside the designated area suggested by the United States”, the crew of the boat experienced deadly levels of nuclear contamination, since “the detonation was far more powerful than the scientists had anticipated, and resulted in the “ashes of death,” or nuclear fallout, falling on the crew of the Lucky Dragon, (Miyamoto). Since the crew obeyed

U.S. guidelines, and strayed far from the stipulated fallout zone, the blame was on America for the catastrophe. The grizzly footage of the incident’s aftermath and footage of the Bikini Atoll explosions drive home the severity of this disaster. Beyond a meager post-mortem reparations fund, America did nothing to take responsibility for their mistakes, and as the precedent determined, Japan’s government did nothing to demand it.

It is from this morbid history that film maker Ishiro Honda is inspired to create Godzilla (1956), to forewarn Japan of the dangers of nuclear weapons. The movie tells of a giant lizard monster powered by nuclear refuse, who sought to wreak havoc on Tokyo and its metropolitan cityscape. “Originally released in November 1954, eight months afterthe Lucky Dragon incident, in which the crew of the Japanese tuna shing boat Dai-go Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5) suffered from the effects of a hydrogen bomb” (Miyamoto), Godzilla was an obvious parallel to America and Japan’s nuclear interference, and the many dangers it represented. Upon its release, the film was critically acclaimed, becoming a well established franchise all across the globe. Despite its success, Japan itself has not heeded the film’s advice in the coming years, retaining all the flaws of democracy, while still nursing half-century scars of nuclear disaster. Knowing this, it was in 2016 that top Japanese creator Hideaki Anno chose to reboot the film.

Titled as Shin (new) Godzilla, Anno’s movie told the same monster story the last dozen films had, but with a twist. While in most monster movies the situation lies outside of humanity’s hands, in Shin Godzilla the humans can kill Godzilla in the first few minutes of his discovery, but due to bureaucratic squabbling, and officials being too scared to tarnish their reputations, Japan’s legislation does nothing to handle the crisis as the monster reaches its final form. While the original film is a callback to the Lucky Dragon 5 incident, Shin Godzilla is a reference to the 3/11 Great North East Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which precipitated the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear disaster. According to geophysical research, “the practical instruction for evacuation of buildings stated in the guideline is to evacuate to higher than the third or fourth oor if the expected tsunami inundation depth is 2 or 3 m, respectively. However, the 2011 tsunami shows that this guideline may not always be correct.” (Suppasri, Shuto, Imamura, Koshimura, Mas, Yalciner). Since “the guideline for tsunami evacuation buildings was established in 2005” (Suppasri, Shuto, Imamura, Koshimura, Mas, Yalciner), and the research conducted was not congruent with the results of the 2011 tsunami, this means that anything that went wrong in the evacuation are the fault of the Japanese government, which failed to review the guidelines.

Furthermore, every line of bureaucratic-based dialogue in the film “…references actual events which occurred in the aftermath” (Brophy) of the 3/11 tsunami. If Shin Godzilla’s inter-agency scuffling and mid-disaster policy debates are callbacks to said events, then Japan’s de-centralized authority is doubtlessly what allowed nuclear catastrophe to occur, both in reality and in fiction.

Many take on the interpretation that Shin Godzilla is a piece of radical right wing propaganda, viewing its criticisms of America, the current national diet, and visual fixation on military weaponry, as Anno harkening back to a fascist WWII japan as the nation’s halcyon days. People who make this assertion end up missing the film’s point.

In fact, Anno has a reputation of taking anti fascist stances in his previous works, like his critically acclaimed anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even pointing out Anno’s enthusiasm for weaponry and military hardware comes off as baseless; in Evangelion Anno uses tanks and missiles solely as an aesthetic choice. Anno is an anime director, and big explosions are common in his body of work. Even with issues like military autonomy and government corruption aside, Shin Godzilla exists to patronize a Japan that can’t even conduct basic evacuation procedures during natural disasters. Shin Godzilla is not a rejection of democracy, but a criticism of a Japanese government that cannot help its people. It is important to understand that Anno is not calling back to fascist Japan, as if the march into Manchuria marked its glory days, but instead believes that Japan’s youth needs to rise and reclaim the basic ability to choose their path, or even save themselves from disasters. To Anno, Japan’s glory days never existed, and never will, unless Japan’s citizens take destiny, and democracy, into their own hands.

Works Cited

  • Brophy, Philip. “Review: Shin Godzilla Sees Monster Return to Japan in Parable of Urban Destruction: Western Audiences Laugh at Godzilla, but in Japan, the Monster Was First and Foremost a Symbol. It’s No Different in 2016’s Shin Godzilla.” ABC Premium News, 20 Oct. 2016.
  • Martin, Alex. “The University of Tokyo Riots of 1968-69: A Photographer Remembers the Final Days of Resistance.” TCA Regional News, 20 Jan. 2019. ProQuest Central,
  • Miyamoto, Y. (2016). Gendered bodies in tokusatsu: Monsters and aliens as the atomic bomb victims. Journal of Popular Culture, 49(5), Oct 2016, 1086-1106.
  • Suppasri, A., Shuto, N., Imamura, F., Koshimura, S., Mas, E., & Yalciner, A. C. (2013). Lessons learned from the 2011 great east japan tsunami: Performance of tsunami countermeasures, coastal buildings, and tsunami evacuation in japan. Pure & Applied Geophysics, 170(6-8), 993-1018

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