Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Marriage in Japan (Gojira)

I’ve been doing a bit of checking on Japanese marriage customs in order to get a better sense of how the Japanese audience for Gojira would have perceived the romance plot. I’ve gotten the impression that the relationship between Emiko Yamane and Hideto Ogata would have seemed quite modern, perhaps daringly so. And the form of arrangement between Emiko Yamane and Daisuke Serizawa might well have seemed particularly traditional. The situation seems complex.

The most prevalent form of arranged marriage involves a third party consultation who finds suitable young adults and arranges a meeting. Such a go-between may be retained by someone who wishes to get married or by parents seeking a spouse for their child. It’s hard to tell, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case with Emiko Yamane and Daisuke Serizawa; that arrangement seems to have been made when Emiko, at least, was still a child.

In any event, some form of arranged marriage prevailed up through World War II. A recent (2012) news article in The Telegraph begins:
Until 1945 [arranged marriages] were almost universal. They started to decline during the post war American occupation, but as late as 1960 it is estimated that 70 per cent of weddings were arranged.

Westernisation and the increasing independence of women led to a marked decline. By 1990 the proportion of arranged marriages is thought to have fallen to around 30 per cent of the total.
The article goes on to assert that arranged marriages are “up to 40 percent.”

During the war period, for example, approximately 70 percent of all marriages in Japan were arranged by the parents. Today, on the other hand, marriage is based on mutual consent, and the couple’s wishes are given priority over those of the parents. Love marriages now constitute as many as 83 percent of all marriages in Japan and are especially pronounced in urban areas.
I don’t know what to make of that, for it is entirely possible that the couple’s wishes will be given priority in an arrangement. An arrangement, or possibly several, will be made by a third party at the parents behest, but once an initial meeting has been held, the couple’s wishes may prevail, though those wishes may not necessarily be decided on a romantic basis.

So, things are subtle and complex. And to that we must add the conventions of fictional representation, which aren’t necessarily congruent with “on the ground” practice. How do the arrangements in Gojira read against other fictional relationships? I don’t know. How usual is it, for example, to depict a young woman as being in the private office of a man she is dating just after he’s gotten out of the shower? That’s what we saw in the very first scene between Emiko Yamane and Hideto Ogata.

So, this quick look at Japanese marriage practice is not at all conclusive. There IS an issue there, but I don’t really know how to calibrate it.

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Addendum: Here's a good article on marriage in Japan. It's consistent with what I reported above, but has more historical information and more recent statistics.


  1. Someone just sent me this, on 'experience-taking' its in regard to first person reading. I have no idea but wondered if this aspect could be playing out in the film?

    "Psychologists also found that it was critical for the story to reveal characteristics shared by the reader earlier rather than later for ‘experience-taking’ to take effect."

    The early revelation of the group membership seemed to highlight the difference between readers and the character, and made it more difficult for readers to step into the character's shoes,” researchers wrote in the report."

    On a separate note I was reading up on animal brides and chanced across the virgin sacrifice motif (used in the film). It would appear to be traditional in China at least, associated with a monkey god.

    Wonder if its the case that the traditional motifs belonging to both marriage and the monster are deployed early?

  2. The monster doesn't actually appear until 20 or so minutes into the the film, but we see tracks before then. Somewhere around 10 minutes or so into the film we go out to Odo Island, which is a small island in Tokyo Bay where there's a small fishing village. That's where we first hear about Gojira and about sacrificing virgins to this Gojira creature, whatever it is. By this time several boats have disappeared mysteriously, but we still don't have any direct physical evidence of Gojira. We see an anti-Gojira ritual and an old man delivers some of the lore. It's after this that Gojira first appears. And then, of course, we know.


    The very first scene is at sea, where a ship is mysteriously attacked. That's two or three minutes. Then we cut to an office where handsome young Ogata takes a phone call about this mysterious disappearance and beautiful young Emike appears in his office while he's on the phone. Business calls, so he's got to break a date with her. So, we know they're in some stage of romantic involvement. Then this that and the other, Odo Island, then Gojira. It isn't until after that that we learn the Emiko has been betrothed to another man since childhood.

    I'm sure that the ordering of these things is important. Of course, given the title of the film and the publicity we know from the outset what happened to that ship. What we don't know is just when the monster will finally appear. That's Hitchcock's distinction between surprise and suspense. The final appearance of the monster may come as a bit of surprise, but the surprise is only in the moment we finally see it. We've been waiting and looking for it from the beginning - suspense. Learning that Emiko is betrothed, that, it seems to me, is more or less pure surprise. We didn't know it was coming. Once it does, well, now we've got something to think about.