Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Japan, Godzilla and the atomic bomb

 Image from

This is an excerpt from a very interesting essay by professor John Rocco Roberto (1962-2007): JAPAN, GODZILLA AND THE ATOMIC BOMB. A Study into the Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Japanese Pop Culture. It can be read completely on line. Here, where he explains the origin of Godzilla:
“On the plane ride back to Tokyo, I was desperate,” Tanaka recalled.“ I was sweating the whole time.” The year was 1954, and the film he intended to make was to have been In the Shadow of Glory, co-produced in cooperation with the Indonesian government. The plans for the film, however, fell through when Tanaka could not get work permits for the film’s stars. Having a budget for a war film, but having no film to shoot, Tanaka agonized at the prospect of losing face in the eyes of his company. But it was during that plane ride that, as Guy Tucker argues, “desperation became his friend ... and would lend him an idea that would develop into something far larger and more enduring than the project he left behind.” That “larger and more enduring” something was the film Godzilla, released by Toho in 1954.(...)

Tokyo bomb. Picture from Rocco´s essay on line.

Other events beyond the confines of the film industry also shaped the making of Gojira and Gojira no Gyakushu. In March of 1954, Japan suffered from another nuclear disaster, though far smaller in scale than the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the early morning hours on March 1, the twenty-three-man crew of the fishing ship, Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon) inadvertently sailed into the range of an American hydrogen bomb test site. The "Bravo" hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll was about 85 miles away from the Fukuryu Maru. The blast, equivalent to about twelve million tons of TNT, was 750 to 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It was also twice as powerful as U.S. scientists had led the world to expect. “The sky in the west suddenly lit up and the sea became brighter than day,” Fukuryu Maru crew member Yoshio Misaki recalled. “We watched the dazzling light, which felt heavy. Seven or eight minutes later there was a terrific sound; like an avalanche. Then a visible multi-colored ball of fire appeared on the horizon.” For several hours after the test, white ash began falling onto the decks of the Fukuryu Maru and crew members began collecting bags of it as souvenirs. Before nightfall that day, everyone on board the fishing boat was ill.
The crew of the Fukuryu Maru is believed to be among the first civilians ever confirmed to have been accidentally exposed to fallout from a nuclear weapon. All twenty-three people on board the boat were hospitalized after returning to Japan, and one of them, radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama, died seven months later of kidney failure reported to be caused by radiation (although it was later revealed that he had in fact died of an unrelated case of hepatitis). Several hundred inhabitants of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, as well as nearly thirty U.S. personnel connected with the tests, also became ill from the nuclear fallout. The Fukuryu Maru incident triggered a crisis in relations between the United States and Japan, in part because of Washington’s attempted to maintain secrecy over its nuclear tests. The debate centered on whether the ship’s crew was at fault or whether the radius affected by the test far exceeded the estimated range and had in fact caught the ship in supposedly safe waters. The incident was dubbed “The Second Atomic Bombing of Mankind” by the Japanese press. Eventually the U.S. government issued an apology and paid $2 million in compensation to the Japanese Government, but the incident continued to generate controversy. Fearing nuclear contamination, the Japanese destroyed tons of fish caught in the affected area of the Pacific. As a nation, the Japanese avoided fish for months after the Fukuryu Maru incident, resulting in millions of dollars in losses for the country's fishing industry and related businesses.
It was this situation that inspired the Toho Company to make its first movie monster a radiation-mutated sea creature terrorizing mankind, and planted the seed in Tanaka’s mind as to how to replace his aborted war film, In The Shadow of Glory. Tanaka had impressed Mori with his idea to replace In The Shadow of Glory with his idea about “a monster that invades Tokyo the way King Kong attacked New York,” and without Mori’s support it is doubtful that the project would have ever have gotten off the ground. But Mori liked the project and the go ahead was given. Now the task of producing Tanaka's "radiation monster" film (which would be Gojira) was in the hands of director Ishiro Honda and special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya.¨

Godzilla. Google images
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