What the Podcast Taught Me about Japan

by Nathan Marchand

Image by geralt. Courtesy of www.Pixabay.com.

Many listeners have told Brian and I that the podcast has been educational for them. Not only did they learn things about Godzilla films they didn’t know, but they also learned much about Japan (which is just as important). It was a goal we set early in our planning process, and I’m happy to see that we’ve succeeded. It’s one of the things that sets us apart from other Godzilla/kaiju podcasts.

However, listeners weren’t the only ones who learned new things—I did as well.

That might seem like an unusual thing to admit. I’m podcasting about this, after all, which makes me something of an expert, right? In many regards, that’s true. I’ve been a Godzilla fan since I was a teen, and I’ve absorbed a lot of knowledge about the franchise over the years. But in researching for Kaijuvision Radio, I feel like I’ve more than doubled my knowledge about these films.

One of my favorite “discoveries” was learning about screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa. Being a writer myself, I normally pay attention to screenwriter credits in films, but I never bothered to look up anything about him. I wish there was more information on him because he’s easily the most underappreciated member of Toho’s Showa era creative team. That’s why we take every opportunity to mention Sekizawa and the huge contributions he made to the franchise. He really did help make Godzilla the kaiju the fandom knows and loves.

More importantly, though, I learned much about the country that created Godzilla: Japan. Before this podcast, much of what I knew about the country was part of “Cool Japan.” I grew up watching G-films and anime and playing Japanese video games, among the country’s other exports. I learned things about the “real” Japan, but I still only knew the country in a pedestrian sort of way.

Now thanks to Brian and my research, I’ve become acquainted with the Japanese national spirit, which is one of the trademark subjects of our podcast. I’d heard a few things related to Japanese history—the Meiji Restoration, WWII, the Occupation, etc.—but not in detail. Things like the Japanese Economic Miracle, the Lost Decade, and the Yasukuni Shrine I didn’t know. One of the most eye-opening shows for me was episode 19 (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) when I dove deep into the rabbit hole that is Okinawa. If I once knew the island had been returned to Japan in the early 1970s, I’d forgotten, so I didn’t realize Toho made that Godzilla film for a people with a long history of animosity toward the mainland. It gave greater significance to a movie that’d long been just a fun romp.

It wasn’t just that film, though. The entire franchise has been enhanced by my new knowledge. Kaijuvision Radio is a film appreciation podcast, and part of that is understanding the original context for a movie’s creation. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I, like most people, am separated by time and culture with these films. I needed to be educated in order to more fully appreciate them. Without that, I was missing part of the story. How was I to know that the Xiliens were an expression of how the Japanese felt about foreigners? (See episode 11 for all the details). To me it was just a cool alien invasion film. Now it’s much, much more. Even something as recent as Shin Godzilla (episode 37) I wouldn’t have understood nearly as much if not for everything I’d learned in planning the podcast.

So, listeners, what was the most educational episode of Kaijuvision Radio for you? What did you learn from us that you didn’t know before?

If you’d like to help us continue creating podcasts that are both entertaining and enlightening, please support us on Patreon. We just added a new membership level with some great rewards, so don’t miss out!

Why This Is a Perfect Time to Create a Godzilla Podcast

By Brian Scherschel

One week until the premiere of Episode 1.  Brian gives us the big picture, and connects Godzilla to international affairs, history, and current events.

Co-Hosts: Brian Scherschel and Nathan Marchand

Editor: Brian Scherschel

Video Location: Metea Park, Allen County, Indiana

Video: Brian Scherschel

Music: Audiophiliac (http://www.fiverr.com/audiophiliac)

Transcript:

Hi, this is Brian Scherschel. I co-host Kaijuvision Radio with Nathan Marchand. We only have one week remaining until the release of our first episode next Wednesday, so as the final preparation for beginning our show, I will tell you why it’s the perfect time to create a Godzilla podcast.

I have a Masters Degree in Public Administration and I studied International Affairs and Comparative Politics. Many of the Godzilla movies express the Japanese national spirit in one way or another, whether on economic, social, or political subjects, and discussing these films is an incredibly interesting way to look at Japan. In my opinion, it’s too easy to discuss Godzilla without discussing Japan.

The world is drastically changing and a lot of us wonder what’s going to happen. The nation-state system is undergoing a partial collapse. The creative destruction of capitalism is uncontrollable. The progression of technology and artificial intelligence is reforming the world in ways previously thought impossible. The advancement of genetics will assuredly change the course of history. The world as we know it is collapsing and rebuilding itself, and there is constant death and rebirth.

The post-World War II and post-Cold War order is disintegrating, and the United States is losing its position not only as the dominant military power in the world but also as the leader of the world economic order. As the United States gives up its quasi-imperial role, we will enter a new, likely unstable, multi-polar era. This means that much of the world will go through a re-balance of power, and East Asia will likely be the epicenter of that re-balance.

Advanced industrial societies face many challenges, but in Japan, they are much more intense. Japan has a high debt to GDP ratio, which in 2016 was 250%, which is by far the highest in the world. The economy is stagnant, inflation is very low, and there are 148 jobs for every 100 applicants, which means many jobs are left unfilled. Japan has the most rapidly aging population in the world. Their total population could decline by about 26 million before it stabilizes to around 100 million. That’s slightly over 20% of Japan’s population predicted to disappear. Japan’s high government spending on the elderly and the pension system is a major contributor to the debt. Japan’s young people are up against the harsh reality of bearing the burdens of living in a gerontocracy. They face declining wages and higher taxes, which has caused them to delay getting married and having children, which makes the demographic crisis worse.

Aside from economic and demographic issues, Japan finds itself in an increasingly unstable and unfriendly East Asia. North Korea is a major destabilizing force in the region because of its nuclear program, missile tests, and kidnapping of Japanese citizens over the years. Japan is as far from North Korea as San Francisco is from Seattle. China has taken aggressive steps in the region, specifically its contested claim of ownership of the Senkaku Islands, which are currently administrated by Japan. The number of air defense incidents between Japan and foreign aircraft has rapidly increased in recent years. China has also established the nine-dash line which is the demarcation line of its claim to nearly all of the South China Sea as its exclusive national territory, including the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. China has ignored a 2016 decision by a UN-constituted arbitral tribunal which declared their claim invalid. China has recently established bases on multiple islands in the Spratlys with surface-to-air missiles, long runways, and fortifications. The rise of China is one of the biggest forces of change in the world at this time.

There are many pressures on Japan to increase its military power. These include the pressure of the perceived threat of China, the pressure exerted by the United States to be a more equal partner in the US-Japan alliance because of its own debt and the shrinking of its quasi-empire, and the pressure of Prime Minister Abe’s party to strengthen the Japanese military. However, some Japanese citizens are weary of war and want the government to concentrate on the economy instead of constitutional revisions. In addition, some Japanese, particularly Okinawans, want US forces to leave but Japan, but at the same time, Japan remains almost entirely dependent on the US for defense.

What I find even more interesting is that Japan has built up a huge amount of “soft power”. This relates to the “Cool Japan” phenomenon or what’s called Japan’s “Gross National Cool”. Another nickname for Japan is the “Pokemon Hegemon”. Japan is a cultural superpower, which has an effect on how the rest of the world views them. This helps Japan’s economy, increases tourism and other foreign interest, and increases Japan’s influence around the world. So, here’s my big question: Will Japan ever be able to convert this soft power into real power, if necessary? Down the road, if a crisis in Japan occurs, what will all of this soft power get them? I think at some point we may find out.

Godzilla is an official citizen of Japan, and he is the cultural ambassador for the Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo. He is one of the most visible icons of Japan, right up with Mario, Pikachu, Ultraman, Evangelion, Totoro, Lupin, Naruto, Sonic, Titan, Mega Man, and the Chocobos of Final Fantasy. Godzilla came before all of the others, and in my opinion he’s the genesis of Cool Japan, and therefore, the core of the soft power that Japan projects and exports.

The Godzilla series of films cover many Japanese issues either directly or indirectly. It’s great that these movies are not just one dimensional. Though they may appear simple, they’re often refreshingly intelligent and thought-provoking, allowing us to appreciate them on an entirely different level, which adds to the fun of being a Godzilla fan. These movies are unique, intelligent, and enjoyable all at the same time. As Japan (and the rest of the world) move forward into an uncertain and very challenging future, the Godzilla movies tell us so much about where Japan was in the past and where Japan is today.

Next Wednesday, September 20th at noon Eastern, Nate and I will release the first episode of Kaijuvision Radio. Join us as we appreciate these truly special movies in every way that we can.

MP3:

Kaiju, Tourism, and ‘Cool Japan’

By Nathan Marchand

If a kaiju appeared in a city, I bet it’d make you more likely to visit it. Any self-respecting kaiju fan probably would.

Crazy, right?

Well, that’s what the cities of Kita-Kyushu and Shimonoseki in the Yamaguchi Prefecture have been doing for several months. To promote tourism to their cities, they released an online video featuring a kaiju emerging from the Kanmon Straits, which separates the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. Here’s the video:

The bizarre creature is composed of local specialties found in nearby waters, like pufferfish and octopuses, and is supposed to be a reincarnation of the Heikegami, a Japanese crab, which is said to be possessed by the fallen warriors of the Heike clan defeated at the Battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185. (This sounds easily similar to Godzilla’s origin in GMK, doesn’t it?) In other words, it’s packed full of local flavor. (Personally, in distant shots, I think the creature almost looks to have an unmasked Predator face).

The video was originally done in English so as to draw international attention, but it was also subtitled into several other languages.

The creature is humorously defeated by the water current because the Kanmon Straits have one of the fastest tides in the world, with speeds up to 10 knots (about 12 mph). Not only that, but the special effects team that worked on Toho’s latest Godzilla film, Shin Godzilla, created the effects in this promotional short.

While this technically isn’t Godzilla, it’s certainly a byproduct of the longstanding kaiju tradition started by the original 1954 film Gojira. So, these cities are vicariously tapping into Godzilla to promote tourism. It’s also an expression of Japan’s “gross national cool” (or “Cool Japan”). This was a term coined by Douglas McGray in Foreign Policy magazine in 2002. As Japan’s pop culture—J-pop, manga, anime, etc.—has infiltrated other nations and exploded in popularity, it has created an appealing image for its native country while also being quite profitable. The Japanese government has sought to use this “soft power” (indirect influence through cultural or ideological means) for economic growth. To bring it back to the kaiju video, the fact that this short was intended to be seen internationally shows how prominent and widespread the kaiju culture is and how closely it’s tied to “Cool Japan.” In other words, it’s an international cultural touchstone. Godzilla and kaiju still remain relevant.

You can learn more about the short film here.