I didn’t discover that the ‘original’ Godzilla, which I knew as a child was actually a remake for US audiences of the original 1954 Gojira, until quite recently. It is minor ‘epiphany’ of sorts that serves as my starting point for the seminars in DIGC 330 Digital Asia this week. Following on from the lecture on field studies, ethnography and the autoethnographic research method that we will be using to investigate the production and consumption of ‘asian’ media in an Australian context this session, I introduced two student seminar groups to two very different texts that have informed my media ‘experience’ of Japan and Japanese culture. The first group got to experience Godzilla, while the second were treated to Ghost in the Shell.
Autoethnography is not a research method that is commonly encountered by undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Media and Communication Studies and there is often a degree of hesitancy and confusion regarding ethnography, let alone accepting the idea of allowing the researcher to directly and overtly account for their own subjectivity through autoethnographic narrative in their analytical, critical and cultural research. The following is meant to serve as a guide for students still wrestling with the concepts, and is a simple start towards some autoethnographic observations on the experience.
My first encounter with Godzilla was a chance discovery made while flipping TV channels on a school holiday afternoon, when I was 8 or 9. The cultural shock and sheer strangeness of the movie was confronting and intoxicating; the characters, plot, structure, and the monster were like nothing I’d encountered previously. Finding the movie well into its run time and heavily punctuated with advertising, it was a difficult text to make sense of, but a season of lazy afternoon monster movies, science fiction classics, and black and white war movies had prepared me to make a kind of meaning out of the movie that went well beyond interest in the obviously rubber suited monster.
The extensive use of practical and special effects, cemented a deep and lifelong interest in cinema’s use of models and perspective, and the scenes of various Japenese people and cities would later feed into an obsession with Blade Runner. Rewatching the movie now three decades on from my first viewing I am remembering those early lessons, including the importance of Japan’s fishing industry, that fear and terror of the unknown were universal, and that despite clearly delineated social, political and cultural roles, gender relations are a predictable force in practically any narrative. Growing up on a diet of science fiction themed politics of 1970s Doctor Who, I’m confident that I registered that Godzilla was a critique of unrestrained scientific inquiry and the propensity for humanity to turn amazing discoveries into terrifying weapons.
Encountering Godzilla anew this week in the context of the subject, I’m curious as to what the students will make of the text. As @jawgbear noted we are watching 70 years on from Hiroshima bombing, more than 50 since the movie’s first release, and only four years on from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. I’m looking forward to the discussions next week to see how the students have accounted for their own experiences. I’m sure many will have encountered Godzilla in some capacity in the past and making sense of it anew will hopefully pose questions about gender roles, cultural politics and the assumptions that we bring to the text as an outside audience.
One interesting framing element I did notice this time around was an early scene making use of a map of Japan, titled with the japan sea. The island nation is pictured rotated 90 degrees on the map, so the islands play out in a long elongated horizontal stretch, bordered by the Japan sea at the ‘top’. I’m very interested in this self-presentation of a very differently visually aligned Japan, although I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, which is a clear signal that I need to do some research on this visual representation of the Japan as a nation state.