After releasing Godzilla (1954) with great success to Japanese audiences, Toho was seeking new stories to make to capitalize on the blossoming interest in giant monster films. In their search for a new monster, they turned to Ken Kuronuma, a novelist, science fiction, and mystery writer. For Toho, he developed the kaiju Radon, a prehistoric irradiated Pteranodon (General-note 1).
Another way to attract more spectators was to leave the monochrome colours behind and introduce this new kaiju in all its colourful glory. What did not change was the person in the director’s seat, Ishiro Honda, and the person responsible for the special effects, Eiji Tsuburaya.
One day, in a small but thriving mining village near mount Aso in Kyushu, tunnelling and safety engineer Shigeru Kawamura (Kenji Sahara) receives a call that two miners, Yoshi (Jiro Suzukawa) and Goro (Rinsaku Ogata) have gone missing due to the caving in and flooding of their shaft.
Upon hearing the disconcerting news, Shigeru immediately sets out to check the flooded mine. Not long after he descends with some volunteers in the flooded mine, they find the dead body of Yoshi floating in the water. Seeing Yoshi’s headwound, some miners believe that Goro, whom he was always fighting with, murdered him. Yet, not much later, a police officer and two miners, who are on the look-out for the suspect, are attacked by something hiding in the water.
The very same night, a giant larval-like insect creature invades Kiyo’s home and attacks Kiyo (Yumi Shirakawa) and her fiancée Shigeru. The police, increased in the area to catch the murderer, starts chasing the monstrous being.
We need to approach each new kaiju as well as each new appearance of such a giant monster with the same question: what does it represent if one reads the structure of the narrative attentively? So, to discern what Rodan (Haruo Nakajima) represents, we need to carefully analyse the acts and signifiers that lead to or result in his sudden appearance as well as what causes its defeat or victory. Two indications that allow one to gain some headway in the question of representation are given very early on in the narrative. The spectator does not only witness some trains brimming with ore departing the mineshaft, but he/she also learns that the mine is struggling to find more – “With eight Million tons being mined out of this entire area, I’d say the Earth is running out of ore”.
What does the contrast between the excess of the ore with the fear of the veins drying up imply? In our view, this conflict echoes the fact that the search for economic prosperity, GDP growth, and post-war repair blinds the Japanese subject for the way he impacts and even destroys his environment. The positive drive, as embodied by the miners, to crank up the post-war Japanese economy and to rebuild the lost industrial capacity comes with a subjective and societal price.
This opportunistic blindness is beautifully illustrated by the way the company leaders and other miners react to Yoshi’s untimely death and the flooding of the mine. Rather than linking the deathly event with the impact unrestrained mining has on the environment, they diminish the meaning of the flooding of the mine – i.e. the environmental damage – and believe Yoshi’s death is due to an imaginary quarrel that got out of control. Even when the monstrous murderer is discovered and Rodan is sighted, no one questions the role of the mining industry and the excavation of earth’s natural resources in its awakening.
While Dr. Kashiwagi (Akihiko Hirata) theoretically links the birth of Rodan with radiation seeping in the earth and the impact of the atom bomb that fell on Nagasaki – it may have been the spark that give it life, he is not yet able to explain the circumstances that caused the giant egg to hatch. For the spectator however, it is quite evident that the exploitation of the earth in service of the rebuilding of the Japanese economy is the main catalyst of Rodan’s actual birth.
It is therefore not surprising that the Japanese Self-Defence Forces attack the monstrous flying being without questioning its sudden presence. This protective violence is, just like in Godzilla Raids Again (1955) , an act of repression. The Japanese Other, heavily invested in rebuilding its economy and promoting consumerism, does not want to be confronted with the negative consequences of its own economic growth, but merely wish to erase and efface them (Narra-note 1).
Yet, how can we explain Rodan’s violence, the destruction he causes with his sonic waves and windstorms at Fukuoka? In our view, the repeated attempts of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces to repress this being representing the monstrous side of wild economic growth simply leads Rodan to violently emphasize the bleak finality of such kind of growth for the planet and its limited resources. The finale, which leads to the demise of the two beings, echoes this beautifully. Rather than succeeding in repressing the truth – all is well, the very act of defeating the two flying kaiju leads the Japanese Other to affirm the destructive impact it has on the environment (i.e. the volcanic eruption) but is not yet willing to assume responsibility for.
With his composition, Honda delivers, once again, a visual rhythm that keeps the spectator engaged and enables him to savour the beauty of the practical and special effects and the well-orchestrated destruction by Rodan. Just like in Godzilla (1954), Tsuburaya and Honda succeed in blending the practical and special effects, miniature landscapes and models and suits of the monstrous beings fluidly into the visual fabric so that the spectator has no problem experiencing the narrative as having a spatial and temporal continuity (Effect-note 1). The destruction of miniature Fukuoka and its fluid combination of shots of fleeing citizens , for that matter, is an absolute joy to watch. In fact, that after all this time, Tsuburaya’s work can still be enjoyed is a testament to the tremendous skill and overflowing passion he brought to the kaiju genre.
The musical accompaniment that decorates the opening credits of the narrative is, just like in Godzilla (1954), threatening and disconcerting. In both narratives, the dramatic music aims to make the spectator uneasy and, by signalling a destructive threat yet unseen, to allow a quantum of fearful anticipation blossom within him/her.
Other pieces of music – dramatic as well as subtle mysterious ones – are utilized throughout the narrative to evoke the nearing presence of a yet-unseen monstrosity and to fleetingly heighten the fearful anticipation of the spectator. These thoughtfully constructed moments are highly effective in keeping the spectator on the edge of his seat and glue him to the screen.
At a visual level, Honda keeps the fear of the unseen alive in the spectator by keeping what lurks in the flooded mine visually hidden for the spectator for a certain time. Moreover, by signalling the monstrous nature of what hides in and attacks from the dark muddy waters with high-pitched squeaks, Honda fleetingly increases the disconcerting atmosphere of his narrative.
Despite its many similarities with Honda’s Godzilla (1954), Rodan does not offer the same kind of horror. Yet, Honda nevertheless delivers a bleak and disconcerting outlook on the optimistic post-war reparative economic growth. By using the awe-aspiring shape of Rodan soaring through the sky and falling to its demise, Honda shows elegantly how the societal ignorance of the impact economic growth has on the environment invites natural and cultural disaster.
General-note 1: Given the fact that there is no difference between the pronunciation of l and r in Japanese, Radon can also be read as Ladon. Ladon is, in Greek mythology, a serpent-like dragon that guarded the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides.
General-note 2: Some commentatorshave argued that“Rodan […] represent[s] the Soviet Union.” (Jess-Cooke, C., 2009), yet such reading is not supported by the structure of the narrative itself. The main element that contradicts such reading is the element of spatiality. The very fact that Rodan rises up from the Japanese soil does not support the association between this monstrous being and the communist Soviet Union.
In contrast, the appearance of Godzilla near Japan in the narrative of 1954 underlines that the atomic threat did not originate from within the Japanese societal fabric as such.
Narra-note 1: The underlying environmental issue that the narrative touches upon resounds very clearly in the discussion that precedes the final attack on the two Rodans. Sugahara (-) objects to the plan to bury the Rodans alive because such human intervention might cause Mount Aso to erupt and destroy the surrounding area.
Once again, the representative of the JSDF retorts in such a way that the dimension of human responsibility within the destructive tragedy remains ignored.
Effect-note 1: The use of painted backgrounds to fleetingly introduce different locations like Peking, the Philippines and Okinawa might feel cheap, but it does not detract or disturb the investment of the spectator in the narrative.
Jess-Cooke, C. (2009), Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood, Edinburgh University Press, p. 38.
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