shin godzilla and human revolution

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This is a literature review.

“Shin Godzilla” tells a story of evolution. In this film, Godzilla progresses from the Yokohama Bay towards the intersection of Tokyo Station and the Tokyo Imperial Palace, the former the core of Japan’s modernity, the latter the heart of Japan’s imperial nationality, and got frozen at this intersection by the Japanese army. In the process of progression, its “evolution” happened in its physical transitions, from crawling to walking upright, and then to using the technologies of its body – the breaths of black fume and red blaze and the intensified purple atomic beam – to defend itself from the human attacks. Godzilla’s transitional evolution is an incarnated epitome of the evolution of the biocentric Man. However, in Man’s eyes, Godzilla’s evolution is only a joke, an object of ridicule, a mimicry. It is just a mimicking monster from the Nature nurtured by the interruption of Man’s civilization at the age of Anthropocene, takes its revenge in the replicated human form. We can refer this Man-centric understanding of Godzilla to Timothy Morton’s theorization of “hyperobject,” an influential concept in the field of object-oriented ontology that defines those hyper-powerful objects as something human beings cannot clearly see its total figure but can feel its inter-objective causality pervasively. Godzilla can be seen as a visible fictional representation of the incomprehensible hyper-object pollutions from the United States’ atomic bomb and the nuclear waste. With its representation these pollutions became speculatively real.

Godzilla’s evolution is destined to be a failure because it is impossible for a non-human being to evolve in human’s way. In Man’s categorical and dichotomous thinking, Nature is ontologically different from and incompatible with Man. The failure of Nature’s evolution comes from its ontological failure of not being capable of being human. Inspired by Sylvia Wynter’s theorization of the evolution of Man, I therefore point out that the analysis above takes place from Man’s vision. Godzilla is perceived as merely a monster from the sea, given birth by human’s overwhelming appropriation of Nature. This perception is based on the Man-centric Man-Nature dichotomy. It interrupts the human world, forces human beings to face what they ignored or rejected. Its existence, thus, is for Man’s sake. It is a threat to Man’s world as well as a reminder for Man’s self-reflection and self-criticism. Such a Man-centric analysis, I argue, is not applicable to the human others, including Japanese that are severely permeated by the modernity/coloniality and the Asian human others that are exploited and murdered by imperial Japan’s colonization and occupation and the United States Cold-War manipulation. Japanese and the Asian human others are the dehumanized human others in the modern/colonial world system. They are part of Nature or the subjects closer to Nature, ontologically less than Man. In other words, the relation between human and Godzilla in “Shin Godzilla” is exactly the relation between Man and the human others.

From now on, I am going to talk about Godzilla’s evolution from the human others’ perspective. Since the 19th century, modernity/coloniality has been rooted in Japanese self. During the Meiji Restoration in the second half of the 19th century, Japan in its form of the modern nation-state for the first time occupied Ryukyu in its south and Ainu-Mosir in its north, which later renamed as Okinawa and Hokkaido. Further, it turned Taiwan and Korea into its colonies and occupied several regions of Mainland China and Southeast Asia in the name of the Empire of Japan. In the preparation of and the arrangement during the Pacific War, Japan initiated the idea of “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” and posited itself as the leader of such a sphere in order to appropriate and operate the natural resources and labor powers thoroughly. The dream of being fully recognized as a qualified modern empire was crushed by those two atomic bombs dropped by the United States and was substituted by the status of a tributary, puppet-like capitalist, alternative-/post-modern nation-state under United States’ Cold-War manipulation. The rooting modernity/coloniality brought a huge transformation to the Japanese self in its original state of being marginalized as yi in the eastern margin of tianxia-huayi system, manifested in the series of philosophical debates centering the idea of “Asia”: “What does Asia mean?” “Is Japan a part of Asia?” “Datsu-A Ron – leaving Asia and joining Europe?” “Can the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere work?” “How does Asia become a method?” This series of debates is the journey of looking for the answer of what it means to be human. East Asia is being defined by the European imperial powers as the destination of European’s conquering of the world, the destination in the Far East. It is conceptualized as the opposition of European modernity, fixed in the stagnant-in-progress and ancient-civilizational images. The conquering of East Asia accomplishes the construction of the world in its spatial totality and the construction of the modern in its temporal linearity.

To Japanese, to leave East Asia and join Europe means to join the “world” where “tianxia” does not make any sense. The world offers an option to Japanese to progress from yi in the margin of tianxia to the modern Man that claims a modern empire. This is the so called “Datsu-A Ron” in the early modern Japan. Before and during the Pacific War, the Empire of Japan returned East Asia not as a part of Asia, but as an Empire of modern Men that was able to lead the backward Asia to join the “world.” This is the so called “the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” that turned the Asian others into its resources for the war. Ironically, Japanese last step of becoming an imperial Man, a God-like Man that wins the war and legitimately owns East Asia, was blocked by the United States’ atomic bombs that reveal the fact that Man can cruelly and easily destroy the non-humans in the ways not so different from destroying the Nature as long as they become an uncontrollable threat. It was the moment that Japanese’s positivism got ruined by realizing their ontological inferiority and the destined failure of their replicated evolution. After the Pacific war, Japan did not become a Third-World country, but was prioritized by the United States as a model representative of the capitalist modern post-colonial nation-state in the Cold-War structure. It was enabled to abandon the shame of being dehumanized before and during the war as well as ignore its responsibility to the lives in its former colonies and occupied territories. It was this time strategically elevated by the Western imperial powers into a status of a Man-like mimic and a model minority in the international arena. Again, left Asia, but not yet European, Japan is sociogenically isolated. Japan is constantly reminded of its disability to carry on its human evolution by the United States’ military, political, economic, and cultural interventions. The West/Man-Japan/human other hierarchical relation was re-established. In addition, the nuclear pollutions and the Fukushima incident that came along with the post-war economic and industrial reform has been haunting Japanese. Whereas the United States reminds Japan its ontological non-human inferiority, the uncontrollable nature reminds Japanese that they are not capable of manipulating the nature like the ideal imperial Man does. Godzilla’s evolution is the epitome of Japanese’s evolution. In Japanese’s vision, Godzilla is a mixture of the revenging nature and the struggling Japanese self in pain. Therefore, it haunts Japanese both externally and internally. Japanese are awed and horrified at the same time. The last scene of the film, which Godzilla was frozen instead of exterminated at the intersection of the Tokyo Station and the Tokyo Imperial Palace, reveals the status quo of the Japanese’ self after the war – being under the control of the West as well as of themselves. The inferiorized and dehumanized Japanese is under recovery and preparation for the next possible evolution. This line from the film, “The ‘post-war’ time is unlimitedly extended,” implies that as long as Japanese does not give up their human evolution, the Godzilla in their selves will then never be eradicated or leave. Nonetheless, is the replicated Man-centric evolution the only way out for Japanese? Rather than murdering the Godzilla in our minds, can we save it, live with it, or even live as one?

So far I have talked about what Godzilla means when it is seen from Man’s vision and Japanese vision. Comparing to these two visions, the one that it is seen from the other Asian dehumanized others’ vision is seldom analyzed. The last close-shot of the film on Godzilla’s frozen tail triggered my thinking. The close-shot draws our attention on the human corpses that stick together with all kinds of waste from the nature in the bottom of the sea. It reveals the shocking yet obvious fact that the Asian human others are also harmed and destroyed by the Japanese imperialism, the United States’ occupation, the atomic bombs, and the nuclear pollutions. They were not treated so differently from the nature. Indeed, Godzilla is an assemblage of the dead materials sacrificed by the imperial complicity, and human bodies are a big part of it. Tetsuya Takahashi proposes the idea of “the system of sacrifice” to analyze those human beings and the environment being sacrificed by the Empire or the modern state of Japan in the name of protecting the nation and the emperor. The lives in Fukushima – the land assigned for generating the nuclear power and containing the nuclear waste for the metropolitan Tokyo – and Okinawa – the first colonial territory of the Empire of Japan, the only land designed for the physical battle between the Japanese and the United States’ armies during the Termination of the War, and the military base and the heaven of prostitution for the United States’ army after the War – are the examples of sacrifice that Takahashi gives. If Godzilla’s visible Man-like evolution is the modernization of Japanese self at the light side, the darker, hidden side of its evolution is the entangled sacrifices of Asian human others and the nature. Different from the fictional Cartesian Man-Nature separation constructed by Man, human others and the nature, especially at the moment of being sacrificed, are never separable. Therefore, we come to this more comprehensive understanding that Godzilla is not just the revenge of the nature, but also the revisit responsibility of Japan’s war and colonization that were never thoroughly reflected and dealt with because of the Cold-War structure that came right after the Pacific War. In other words, without this assemblage of sacrifices, the Empire and the state of Japan was unable to mimic Man’s evolution at all. It was this assemblage of flesh and bones that made Japan’s visible evolution possible.

All in all, Godzilla is a reflection of different mind-sets. The different meanings are revealed for different visions. From Man’s vision, it is a scientifically fictional representation of a threatening hyperobject or hyper-phenomenon. From the human others’ and nature’s vision, it is a reality that cannot be captured scientifically since it is not merely materialistic. It has a mind that Man rejects to see, a mind that is not separable from its physical materiality, a mind that feels the pain. The process of feeling the pain is the process of coalition making outside of Man’s sphere. This coalition making requires each dehumanized subject to come into each one’s liminality and make coalition from each one’s specific oppressed position with a keen empathy to the relationality between each other. Godzilla is an assemblage of the liminal subjects struggling on the borderland Asia. It creates an opportunity for all human others to feel the pain together.

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