In the new movie “Shin Godzilla,” on screens everywhere in Japan this week, Godzilla makes his usual destructive entrance, emerging from Tokyo Bay to crush homes and people beneath waves of debris. What is new in this 29th installment of the 62-year-old movie series is the portrayal of the officials who stand up to the radiation-breathing beast.
In the past, the Japanese government was usually relegated to a low-profile role, and its feeble efforts were rebuffed by the monster. In the current film, public officials emerge as heroes, brave defenders of the homeland who are ready to assert Japan’s strength and set aside postwar constraints on the military. The government’s response to Godzilla’s attack, after plenty of legal introspection, turns out to rely heavily on attack helicopters, battle tanks and F-2 fighters. It is a clear indicator of a change in the national mood.
Godzilla has long mirrored public thinking in Japan. The monster’s origin as the mutant product of nuclear tests reflected Japan’s trauma from the atomic bombings of World War II and its anxieties over postwar American H-bomb testing in the Pacific. In the 1970s, as Japan choked with industrial pollution, Godzilla fought the Smog Monster. In the early 1990s, when U.S.-Japanese trade frictions intensified, Godzilla fought King Ghidorah, a three-headed monster sent by a foreign-looking group called the Futurians to prevent Japan from developing into an economic superpower.
We’ve speculated that, despite significant criticism of Abe’s remilitarization, the national mood might indeed be changing. The new “Godzilla” isn’t proof of anything, but it suggests that Japanese citizens are thinking about the use of force differently than they have in many years.
The rest of Tsuneoka’s essay is excellent and important. Read the whole thing.