Japan’s Long Nuclear Disaster Film
Peering at the post-tsunami devastation in Japan on miniature YouTube windows or video-streaming displays from Japanese news outlets provokes not only great empathy and concern, but an unmistakable feeling of déjà vu.
As a scholar focusing on the place of nuclear energy in Japanese culture, I’ve seen more than my share of nuclear-themed monster movies from the ’50s onward, and the scenes of burning refineries, flattened cities, mobilized rescue teams and fleeing civilians recall some surreal highlights of the Japanese disaster film genre.
This B-movie fare is widely mocked, often for good reason. But the early “Godzilla” films were earnest and hard-hitting. They were stridently anti-nuclear: the monster emerged after an atomic explosion.
They were also anti-war in a country coming to grips with the consequences of World War II. As the great saurian beast emerges from Tokyo Bay to lay waste to the capital in 1954’s “Gojira” (“Godzilla”), the resulting explosions, dead bodies and flood of refugees evoked dire scenes from the final days of the war, images still seared in the memories of Japanese viewers.