I will readily admit I am partial to the belief that culture inspires art. And so, with the coming release of Pacific Rim, I think it interesting to express my opinion based on the Japanese obsession with large beasts, bots, and interconnectedness.
We’ll begin with Godzilla. This creature is a veritable icon of Japanese cinema and the template for so many monster flicks that followed. A great beast rising from the deep to wreak havoc upon the modern day world. What awakens him? A nuclear detonation. What does he attack? Mankind. Why? Because he was awoken by man’s destructive nature, so he revisits said destruction upon them. Man shook the heavens and awoke long sleeping gods. He disturbed the order and now must suffer the consequences.
Let’s start with the cultural implications. Japan is the sole nation that has suffered a nuclear strike. It has left a permanent scar upon the psyche of an entire nation. It stirred something revolutionary in Japan: a doubt in the strength of the state, of their civilization, shaking the foundations of their own reality. So it is only fitting that a great destructive force such as Godzilla, something primordial and dragon-like (considered magical and god-like), should be awakened by this great blast. He wreaks havoc upon the Japanese nation, a needed cleansing, something deserved for their foolish attempts to overreach their place.
America, that most individualistic of civilizations, stirs this long slumbering beast with its nuclear tests, brought on by the hubris of Japan’s attempts to conquer Asia. With their (Japan’s) collapse, America occupied their nation. Bringing western influence, disturbing a structured society, it is America’s actions that bring forth Godzilla, a force determined to unmake what has long survived: Japan’s self identity. Godzilla’s appearance is heaven sent to remind Japan of what matters most: humility and the importance of balance. But it goes beyond an explanation of WWII and the damage Japan brought upon itself, it is about nature itself. Throughout anime, Japanese cinema and television, great beasts (kaiju) arise. They represent nature, the past primordial world coming in to challenge and destroy the evils of the modern world which threatens the soul of Japan with their acclimation of individuality, materialism, and secularism. The soul of the world, the great sun rising in the east bringing glowing life, is lost to a sterile world blinded by the artificial lights of a dying west. This attempt to conquer nature, to challenge the hierarchy of things, brings forth a wrath biblical. And so rise the kaiju. They are overpowering, great beasts of a bygone era that only the collective strength of Japan can overcome. They rise to reawaken Japan’s collective spirit.
And so we come to the collective nature of Japan itself. They are a people that put the community above the individual, who believe that together they can overcome any and all challenges. This leads to the obsession with the interconnectivity of all things. Let’s be serious, since Macross it has been obvious that Japan cannot get enough of great bots, individuals, joining together to create a united weapon capable of overcoming the threats to humanity. Ultraman, Voltron, Power Rangers (under another name overseas), and now even Pacific Rim have retold the tales of how souls united against a foe can overcome any threat no matter how great. It is telling that this uniting spirit is technology, i.e. robots.
Robots represent the modern world. They are an advancement, stripped of useless emotion. Efficient, everlasting, gleaming. They do not question, do not falter, but press on as needed. They are the ideal, ready to sacrifice without question and able to make magic a scientific reality. Japan has seized upon the robot/android because they are the template of the perfect citizen: a being based on logic, ready to do what is needed.
So we come back to the last fifty years of Japanese tropes: the arising of the great beast, the threat to civilization, the coming together of disparate humans, uniting through robots to battle the impossible and winning against the odds because of their united spirit. These are tales of the past versus the future, of the everlasting question of humanity’s value in the scheme of things, and the very question of man’s values and his necessary challenge by nature to refine and make him better. Overall, Japanese tropes encourage community, the coming together to face an overarching threat that otherwise will consume them. Whether this is psychological, military, or supernatural, only united can Japan overcome its enemies. And even in destruction, Japan can learn and rebuild, must rebuild, for that is the nature of things. The need of balance, of past and future, primordial and modernity, through which all must grow.