A few weeks after Godzilla (1954) was unleashed on Japanese audiences, Iwao Mori, who was pleased by the box-office results, asked Tomoyuki Tanaka to quickly produce a sequel. As Ishiro Honda was busy with directing another film, they choose Motoyoshi Oda, who was happy to accept B-movie assignments, to direct this profit-motivated sequel. Eiji Tsuburaya, of course, returned as the director of special effects.
Can this sequel, quickly made to exploit the success of Honda’s film, deliver enough kaiju thrills and provide some thematical depth? Let us find out in our analysis.
One day, while directing a vessel towards a school of bonito fish, Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) hears from his fiancée Hidemi Yamaji (Setsuko Wakayama) at the headquarters of Kaiyo Fishing that Koji Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki), due to engine problems, needs to make an emergency landing at Iwato Island. He immediately sets course to the island to rescue his colleague.
Yet, some time later, when both are seated around a campfire, their peaceful chatting is disturbed by a fight between Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) and an ankylosaurus-like creature. At the Osaka police headquarters they identify the second creature as being Anguirus (Katsumi Tezuka) and ask Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) on how to deal with Godzilla. Yamane informs them that there is, at this moment, no means to this terrifying radiation containing Godzilla and proposes, to minimize the damage, to predict the landing area of the two battling Kaiju and begin evacuation.
Any thematical exploration of Godzilla Raids Again needs to start from the same question that underpinned the analysis of Godzilla (1954): what does Godzilla represent? One cannot, due to finale of Godzilla (1954), assume that the iconic beast once again visualizes the atomic terror. Dr. Serizawa’s sacrifice, beyond functioning as a powerful warning against the inherent vile phallic impulses of the human subject to gain power over the other, offered the spectator a chance to gain some closure over the traumatic event of atomic destruction. Yet, the death of the monstrous nuclear beast did not merely grant the spectator a chance to undo the traumatic quality of the ravishing atom-bomb from its haunting quality but gave him the right to leave the atomic trauma behind and to gain some closure or mastery over that tragedy.
The ending of the first Godzilla movie thus underlines that the re-appearance of Godzilla in Godzilla Raids Again cannot be interpreted as the resurfacing of the trauma of the past atomic horror (Narra-note 1). This Godzilla is not a symbol of the atomic bomb and does not visualize and narrativize the annihilation that ravished Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yamane indirectly echoes this shift by saying, at the meeting at the Osaka Police Headquarters, that Japan is now under a greater threat than nuclear weapons. So, what does this Godzilla symbolize, what does this monstrous appearance represent?
As the narrative unfolds, there are various narrative elements that imply that what this Godzilla represents is Japan as ravished by its imperialistic thirst and the nuclear devastation. Godzilla’s monstrous body visualizes a post-war society that is traumatized by its past and struggles to shed off its war-time injures – e.g. material, social, economical, and so on.
Yet, if Godzilla symbolizes the traumatized post-war Japan, how can we then understand the desire to destroy this monstrous appearance? The desire to destroy this radioactive kaiju should, in our view, be read as a wish to repress the truth of the pacific war that reverberates within post-war Japan. Yet, as Yamane’s signifiers so beautifully evokes, this historical and national truth can not be vanquished nor can it be avoided. This is also visually emphasized by the destruction of the Osaka Castle. What Godzilla and Anguirus destroy, as their struggle with each other continues, is not merely the castle as a material object, but as a symbol of Japan’s pre-war past. In other words, the destruction of this wonderful traditional building underlines that the historical event of the atomic ravage renders Japan’s pre-war past as forever lost. The Japanese subject is condemned to endure, at least for a while, the societal and economical injuries inflicted by the war in order to create a different national future.
The fact that the vicious struggle between Godzilla and Anguirus can either be seen as a visualization of the war-time conflict or the representation of Japan’s post-war struggle. To be able to decide what this conflict ultimately stages we need to know what the carnivorous dinosaur Anguirus represents. Some spectators might argue that this monster represents the USA, yet such reading does not fit within the coordinates of the narrative. What the vicious Anguirus symbolizes is nothing other than the phallic thirst for power that thrives within a nationalistic discourse, a thirst that, as Anguirus’ ultrasonic blast reveals, endangers the cultural traditions of Japan.
Godzilla and Anguirus thus each represent a facet of post-war Japan. Godzilla represents the traumatic truth that lingers within the post-war society – Japan as victim of the atomic bomb, the phallic thirst for power, and the war-time ravage – while Anguirus represents the lingering nationalistic tendences within this post-war society – the aggression that resides in nationalistic and imperialistic discourses. The conflict that culminates in the destruction of Osaka castle thus visualizes Japan’s post-war struggle as such (Narra-note 2).
The spectator will notice that this depiction of post-war struggle is marked by a peculiar positive atmosphere. After Godzilla destroyed their most important fishery factory, Koehi Yamaji (Yukio Kasama), the boss of Kaiyo Fishing, is positively determinate to rebuild it as soon as possible – one could argue that his character evokes Japan’s post-war resilience. The narrative threads of Hidemi and Shoichi’s engagement and Kobayashi’s search for a bride, on the other hand, celebrate the idealistic beauty of Eros, of the desire to form peaceful romantic unions with each other.
The composition of Godzilla Raids Again is very similar to the composition of Godzilla (1954). Just like Honda, Oda uses a balanced mix between static and dynamic shots to create a pleasant visual rhythm. Yet, the composition, this time around, is rougher around the edges. Luckily, this roughness does not hinder the staging of what the spectator desires to see, i.e. Godzilla and Anguirus in all their destructive glory (Cine-note 1).
The miniature sets and special effects in Godzilla Raids Again are of course dated, but they still succeed to engage the spectator and draw him into the narrative (Effects-note 1). The power of these visual effects does not merely lie in the exquisite quality of the miniature sets and their destruction, but in the fluid way those shots are concatenated and combined with shots of the cast. Yet, Godzilla Raids Again could have used some more shots with people in the foreground and kaiju fighting in the background as that would have further improved the spectator’s sense of spatial and temporal continuity. The lack of such shots is the most clear sign that the crew lacked time during the various stages of production.
Yet, as already mentioned before, the atmosphere of Godzilla Raids Again is radically different. While Honda played with visuals, sounds, and music to give the invisible Real its disconcerting effect and the visible fiction of the monster its frightening quality, Oda carefully avoids any kind of horror-like effects within his composition. Some surges of threatening music are nevertheless present – some fear is instilled the spectator, but these are nicely balanced out with dramatic music that not only heightens the dramatic flavour but infuses a touch of heroism in Japan’s attempt to deal with the truth that marks it (Music-note 1). Oda’s stylistic and musical choice is, in our view, one of the earliest signs within the narrative that this Godzilla is not another representation of the traumatic horror of the atom bomb.
Godzilla Raids Again lacks the impact of Honda’s Godzilla (1954), but does deliver enough action and destruction to satisfy any Kaiju fan. Rather than delving, once again, in the nuclear horror of the pacific war, Oda’s Godzilla narrative explores the struggle that marked the period of past-war recovery (1946-1954). Oda’s narrative offers the Japanese spectator a message of hope, yet not without underlining that what is repressed today will resurface another day – i.e. the truth of the pacific war cannot be effaced.
Narra-note 1: This explains why Godzilla is still marked by atomic and war-time references. Not only is this Godzilla also awakened by the hydrogen bomb test and the phallic thirst for (international) power. Moreover, Godzilla’s sensitivity to light is explained by the fact for this creature a sudden flash of light is associated with the nuclear test that awakened him.
Narra-note 2: The ending sequence of Godzilla Raids Again should be interpreted with the Freudian terms of repression and the return of the repressed. As the truth of the pacific war cannot be erased within society, the only option is to try and repress it. That is what burying Godzilla with avalanches ultimately means – an attempt to hide the truth of the societal wounds. Yet, every repression is a failure. The truth will, eventually, rear its head again.
Cine-note 1: There are some continuity problems within the composition of Godzilla Raids Again. For instance, when Koji Kobayashi is waving at Shoichi Tsukioka’s airplane on Iwato Island, the shots on location – no rock-wall near him – do not match the shots on the set – a rock wall near him.
Effects-note 1: The spectator can easily recognize the miniature sets. While some spectators might be put off by this, it also allows the spectator to appreciate the beauty and the effort that went into making and destroying them.
Music-note 1: Some spectator might be disappointed to hear that the iconic Godzilla music is absent from this sequel.