Saturday, December 21, 2013

Some Informal Thoughts about Romance, Monsters, and Myth Logic in Gojira

This is a long note I sent to my friend and colleague, Tim Perper, who brought Gojira to my attention a few years ago.
* * * * *

I’ve now been thinking through the plot of Gojira from the point of view of the romance plot, looking at the monster plot as supporting it. That turns out to be rather interesting.

When we first see Emiko she’s in Ogata’s office and he’s on the phone, just having gotten out of the shower. Business has come up and he’s got to break their date. Stuff happens.

There’s an investigative expedition to Odo Island. Emiko accompanies her father, a paleontologist who’s been consulted on this monster business. Ogata goes, presumably, because he’s been involved in salvage operations. Emiko helps her father take measurements and collect samples. The monster appears, everyone’s frightened. Emiko stumbles, Ogato helps her. The almost embrace. But then her father comes. They get up.

Where’s this going? Simple. It took a national emergency – Gojira’s all but destroyed Tokyo and who knows what he’ll do next – for this young woman to betray her fiancé, defy her father, and flout tradition in order to reveal the secret that will save the nation. That secret was entrusted to her by Serizawa, her fiancé, just before Gojira rampaged through Tokyo, including destroying the Diet building. Then and only then did she reveal Serizawa’s secret.

Why did he show her the Oxygen Destroyer? Well, he had to tell someone, keeping it a secret was just too hard. And she is someone he’s known for a long time. Moreover, as they are betrothed, they are practically family. He can trust her.

Who did she tell? Ogata, naturally, her beloved. And together they convince Serizawa that he’s got to reveal his research, for the good of the country. He’s worried that, if he reveals the secret, that politicians might put it to evil ends. “Even if I burn my notes the secret will still be in my head. Until I die, how can I be sure I won’t be forced by someone to make the device again? …What am I going to do?”

National Sentiment

And they had some rhetorical help with this. [1:20:10] While Serizawa is grappling with this we hear a children’s choir on the TV. The voiceover announcer: “’Oh Peace, Oh Light, Return,’ the prayer for peace that took place all over the country today. Here we wee the Tokyo chapter of this event. Listen to the young voices as they put the strength of their lives into their song.” While the announcer is saying this we see Ogata and Emiko watching the TV and Serizawa turning toward it and then sitting down facing the TV. He’s fully seated by the time the announcer finishes.

The camera now zooms in on the TV screen, which is showing scenes of destruction [1:20:37]. The singing: “May we live without destruction. May we look to tomorrow with hope. May peace and light return to us.” With those lost words we see people kneeling around a radio in prayer. And then [1:21:25] we get a shot of hundreds of girls in school uniforms singing the hymn.

l girls singing.jpg

Then a close-up on three of them. And then a pan across the rows. Another shot of the whole room. And then we cut to Serizawa as he watches and listens [1:22:29]. He gets up, moves to the TV, and turns it off [1:22:44]. The camera cuts to Ogata and Emiko as they watch him. He carries his notes toward a fire and says [1:23:00]: “Ogata, you are right. But this will be the first and last time that I will ever allow the Oxygen Destroyer to be used.”

He then continues to the fire and places his notes into it [1:23:21]. Emiko is overcome and breaks down in tears [1:27:47]. Ogata assures her that this is the only thing that can be done. [1:23:54] “Don’t cry, Emiko. This is the only way to be sure that it won’t fall into the wrong hands.” The camera is now on the burning fire, which fades to black.

o burning papers

o at sea

We cut to the ocean, with a view of a ship [1:24:14]. There’s martial music on the sound track. And then the camera cuts to a view of the deck, which is crowded with people, as a broadcaster tells about the upcoming moment when they’ll attempt to kill Gojira. We’re now into the last sequence of the film, where Serizawa places the Oxygen Destroyer and then commits suicide by cutting the air line of his diving suit.

So, Emiko is moved to betray Serizawa’s secret when she sees the destruction Gojira has wrought on Tokyo. Serizawa is moved to use the Oxygen Destroyer while listen to a nationwide performance of a hymn for peace. From the point of view of the romance plot, THAT’s what it took to get Emiko to free herself from her traditional ties to father and fiancé so that she’ll be free to marry Ogata. What were Serizawa’s last words before he cut the line? [1:31:51] “Ogata, it worked! Both of you, be happy. Good-bye . . . farewell!”

From the point of view of the romance plot, all that destruction and national ceremony is ridiculous overkill. But then, the movie isn’t told from the point of view of the romance plot. It’s the monster plot that takes the lead. Which means that we’ve got to ask: How does the romance plot serve the monster plot? Why is it needed?

I don’t know quite how to answer those questions. I don’t have the proper terms. The monster plot is, in some sense, symbolic. This is not a realistic story about a big dangerous animal. No real animal is that big and that dangerous. It’s at this point that I invoke something I call myth-logic. There is a rigorous order there, but its workings are still obscure.

Myth Logic Recruits Biology

This is a story about science, our use of science, and war. It’s also about the nation, Japan. Japan had lost a war not ten years ago, and only been free of foreign occupation a couple of years before this film was made and released. The scenes of devastation would certainly resonate with memories of the war. And the radioactivity theme would resonate with the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. None of that is directly present in the film, though there are allusions to World War II, but the film would call those things up in the minds of its audience.

The romance plot serves to bind all that together into a coherent form with the result that the final destruction of Gojira has the feel and sense of ritual, a ritual of national transformation and renewal. The romance plot calls on our “innate” biological equipment for human relationships, there’s sexual attraction, attachment, and hierarchical subordination (e.g. of children to parents). But we don’t have any “innate” biological equipment for dealing with nationhood, which is an abstract thing, nor even, I believe, for war. Yes, we have biological equipment for dealing with conflict, aggression, and fighting. But, while that all happens in war, it’s not war itself. War itself is abstract too, like nations.

And of course science deals in the abstract, and the notion that Gojira’s aggression somehow represents an upset in “the balance of nation” – something never actually said in the film, though there is talk of destroying Gojira’s niche through atomic testing – that too is abstract. And that’s certainly conjured up by this film.

So the romance plot serves the monster plot by framing all that abstract stuff and binding it together. And, at the same time, it is important in itself. For these is not a mere romantic triangle. No, it’s a conflict between two ways of marriage, arranged marriage and personal choice. One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Romeo and Juliet, is about that one. That’s a conflict that still appears in anime and manga. Even as the romance plot binds the monster plot into emotional coherence, the monster plot amplifies or extends, if you will, that plot into a conflict between Old Japan, traditional marriage, and New Japan, marriage by personal choice.

So, when Emiko decides to betray Serizawa’s confidence, she’s breaking with Old Japan in favor of New Japan. When Serizawa decides to commit suicide, that too is a decision in favor of New Japan. And a very tricky decision too. For it is atomic science, new modern stuff, that aroused this ancient monster. It is new modern science that’s going to kill him, while Old Japan, in the person of Serizawa as fiancé, dies.

Strange are the ways of myth logic.

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