by Brian Scherschel
I mentioned in episode 40 on “Varan” that the American version of the movie loves the word “Kunashiroshima”, as it is said plenty of times. The creators of the American version decided to make Kunashiroshima an island. They moved every event in the movie to this island. In the Japanese version, the events take place in the mountains of Tohoku in Iwaya Village. The military and scientists kill Varan at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
The island of Kunashir is in the Kuril Islands, which are called the Northern Territories in Japan. The Japanese refer to this island as Kunashiri. The Soviet Union invaded this group of islands towards the end of the Great Pacific War. They have been Soviet/Russian territory ever since.
In a previous article, I mentioned how this disputed territory will likely never be resolved because neither side is budging despite what the president of Russia said to Prime Minister Abe recently. There are currently a significant number of Russian troops on Kunashir and Iturup, because of the recent increases in global tension. All of these islands are very close to Hokkaido.
The Kuril Islands (source: Google Earth)
Why the Location Change?
Why is the location changed and then given this name in the American version of Varan? Shima in Japanese translates to “island”. So the island in the movie is Kunashiro Island. Sid Harris, the screenwriter for Varan, may have purposely changed the location to Kunashir in order to connect Varan with the Soviet Union. Varan represents the Soviets, who are lying in wait to attack and invade. Varan is in the lake and is ready to attack at any time.
The American version was released at the height of the Cold War in 1962. So this type of symbolism would fit with the times.
Connection to Other Kaiju Films
This isn’t really new though. In previous movies covered in the show, there have been connections made between Godzilla and the United States because of his relation to nuclear weapons. Rodan may represent the Soviet Union as well. King Ghidorah has a possible connection to China in the 1964 Ghidorah film.
While I usually expected Takeshi Kimura or Shinichi Sekizawa to do this, I didn’t expect the American remake of Varan to do it. Viewers don’t really look for the American remakes to be smart. It’s not necessarily “in your face” symbolism, just as the other Japanese movies have done. If the symbolism was obvious, then it wouldn’t be as good.
If this is the case, then bravo to whoever decided to do it, because it works! It’s even in line with what other Japanese kaiju films have done!