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The Lonely Scientist as Hero – Dr. Serizawa in Gojira (1954)

Dr. Daisuke Serizawa is my lonely scientist of choice, from the original film Gojira. What attracted me to the character was how differently he is portrayed, for a lonely scientist, that is. Most lonely scientists inadvertently cause destruction…or at least their own downfall. But in Gojira, Serizawa’s loneliness is actually a sign of his heroism and humanitarian integrity, rather than instability or pride.

The original Japanese film was released in 1954 and launched one of the most famous – perhaps the most famous – movie monsters in history. His only competition is King Kong. What makes the original Japanese film so good, however, is not the special effects or even the monster, but what the monster evokes. It is a beautiful evocation of the trauma of war, evacuation and dislocation, and nuclear warfare.

The monster, Godzilla (or Gojira) actually looks rather unimpressive today. Whenever he rises from the sea, he sways woozily, like he’s had too much to drink the night before. He’s also a bit pudgy and ponderous. It does lend him an aura of unstoppability, though. Slow-moving, but invincible and inevitable.

But when he rises from Tokyo Bay and begins to lay waste to Tokyo, the burned out city he leaves in his wake is a painfully accurate image of how many cities in Japan (and around the world) did look after bombing. While the monster is stalking through Tokyo, a woman hugs her three children tightly and tells them that they are going to see their father soon, who no doubt died during the previous war.

The film surprisingly does not flinch from showing what must have been nightmare memories for many people. Children crying in hospitals, cities on fire, military machines ineffectually firing as the monster keeps coming. The monster represents not just the war, but also nuclear warfare. In the film, he  is a prehistoric dinosaur released by the testing of atomic weapons.

The only one who can save Japan is the lonely hero of the film: Dr. Serizawa. Serizawa himself is a living reminder of the war, having lost an eye while fighting during WWII. He is engaged to the daughter of a colleague, zoologist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura). The daughter, however, is in love with a ship’s captain

But Serizawa spends all his time in the lab and everyone wonders what he’s working on. The only person he shows is his fiance, Emiko (Momoko Kochi). Oddly enough, I think that was his way of telling her that he loved her. He’s a more reserved man, but after her shows her what he’s experimenting on – which horrifies her – he tells her that she is the only person he would show that to.

What he’s working on, however, turns out to be an inadvertent weapon of mass destruction. It’s an Oxygen Destroyer, which he discovered accidentally and deprives all living things in an area of water of its oxygen. He’s afraid of sharing it with the world for fear it would only add to the already lengthy lists of ways people can kill each other. Hence his isolation and refusal to see others.

The dilemma for Serizawa is to decide whether or not to use it to destroy Godzilla. If he uses it, then the world will know and he fears will want him to create a weapon for them. If he doesn’t use it, then Godzilla will go on destroying cities.

(Spoilers) His solution is to destroy his research, use his Oxygen Destroyer to kill Godzilla, and end his life in the process so that not even the knowledge in his mind can be used for ill. This only works because his research is entirely in his control, because he works alone. The lonely, principled hero standing up for right.

I can’t help but think, however, that once it is even known that such a thing as an Oxygen Destroyer exists, then it will be invented again by somebody. No one ever really does have a monopoly on scientific knowledge and scientists never can ultimately be alone – it’s there for everyone to find. As was pointed out to me recently, the knowledge is out there on how to create a nuclear bomb; the hard (and expensive) part is actually building one.

This is my contribution to The Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Ruth of Silverscreenings, and myself. Be sure to check out all the other posts, which can be found here for Days 1, 2, and 3.

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Posted by on September 10, 2017 in Movies

 

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Reality in Movies and Rules of the Genre

When La La Land came out, I must have read a half-dozen reviews that began with something akin to “I don’t usually like musicals, but…”. I confess, this actually scared me away from the film (perhaps unjustly), because I usually do like musicals (I love them!). But there was so much talk about the resistance people normally feel towards musicals that it started me thinking.

What is the usual charge against a musical? That it is not realistic. That people cannot buy the transition between normal talking to that moment when a character suddenly bursts into song. Some say they simply cannot take that level of artifice.

Which really struck me, because I had honestly never thought of musicals as being especially artificial. I thought that is what movies were all about: artifice. There is no such thing as true realism. It reminds me of a story I heard, about a man talking to Picasso on a train and complaining about how unrealistic his paintings were. Picasso asked the man what he considered to be realistic and the man showed him a picture of his wife. To which Picasso responded by asking if the man’s wife was really three inches tall and two-dimensional (I’ve paraphrased, because I do not remember the exact details of the story).

I think the point is that there are many ways of portraying reality. Reality has many layers. There is physical reality, emotional reality. And there are many ways to tell a story, convey emotion, reveal truth, and explore concepts. If all one did was watch real people go by, you would miss a lot. You would see what they look like, what they do, hear what they say, but you would not necessarily know what is inside of them. They would have to reveal that to you (and often mere words are not adequate). You would not necessarily grasp overarching ideas, feelings, philosophies and beliefs. That comes with expression…through mediums that are not always “real.”

Another thing that puzzled me about the reaction to musicals is that it seems to ignore the fact that every movie genre has its own set of rules and musicals are not unique in this way. I recently saw Pacific Rim. What’s the point of Pacific Rim? To watch machines punch giant sea monsters. If you don’t like that sort of thing, you probably won’t like Pacific Rim. It’s the same with a melodrama. A Bette Davis melodrama has specific rules. A horror film? Screwball comedy? A superhero movie? Fantasy? Every genre has certain rules, boundaries, expectations. A monster movie is criticized, not for its lack of plot, but for its lack of monsters.

Original Godzilla

So I guess my question is, why is the musical singled out? People don’t usually complain about ballet. Or silent films (well, there can be complaint about that). Opera? Stage plays? Poetry? Is Singin’ In The Rain really less realistic than X-MenShades of GreyMetropolisDark Victory, Hunger GamesLord of the RingsTerminator, or King Kong?

Though often a film can transcend its genre and rules, like Godzilla (or Gojira). I like the example of Godzilla, because on the surface it may just be a monster movie, a guy walking around in a rubber suit, but it is also so much more. An exploration of the horror of nuclear holocaust, trauma, and science.

Perhaps people feel that the musical is inherently inferior because musicals tend to be (though certainly are not always) upbeat and happy. But I think joy (which is perhaps best expressed through dance and song) is just as worthy of exploration as nuclear holocaust.

This topic has been a pet peeve of mine, so I apologize for the ranting tone of the post. 🙂 But I would like to know what you think? Do you find musicals unrealistic? Are there certain genres whose roles you have more trouble accepting? Do you love it all?

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2017 in Movies

 

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