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After asking a recent story identification question of mine about a film that turned out to be Gamera vs. Gyaos, the answer led me to the term "daikaiju", which, in the Wikipedia, redirected to "kaiju", which translates to "strange beast," but which, in English, we usually just translate to "monster."

The Wikipedia entry (linked to above) does not include many details on kaiju, other than a few simple points.

I thought, originally, that maybe only a few were made, but then as I started reading, I remember that many people growing up before the 70s or so talked about these movies and saw a number of them on the late late show or the local "cheap movie" show that may have aired low budget horror with a local host each week. And as I was reading the article, I also realized there were a large number of these movies (most using suitmation) produced.

Was this just a fad in Japan because they could put a movie together for cheap that would rake in money, or was there some cultural significance to these movies? I get the feeling that there was some kind of attempt, in some cases, to express a fear of nature gone wild or something like that.

Was there a cultural significance to these movies? Or were they just done for quick profit?

  • Well, the first Godzilla movie has some clear cultural significance, if nothing else... – Chris Lutz Feb 25 '12 at 18:29
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I'm afraid I can't provide references, but I've heard it suggested that Godzilla, which of course spawned the whole genre, was inspired by the post nuclear paranoia surrounding the detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War. Certainly Godzilla is radioactive and has radiation based attacks. The plot of Gojira, the original movie, has Godzilla created by a nuclear explosion.

The giant monster can be seen as a metaphor for the devastation, power and lack of control of a nuclear blast. As with all questions of origin, things may not be that simple, but the devastating effect of those nuclear bombs and the hundreds of thousands who died as a result on the Japanese psyche cannot be underestimated.

  • Specifically, Godzilla was inspired by an incident where a Japanese fishing boat wandered into a U.S. nuclear testing zone and a number of radioactive fish reached the market. – Chris Lutz Feb 26 '12 at 1:50
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Japanese have a strong culture to match the western tradition of elves/trolls/witches/dragons/fairies etc. Here's a piece of it: Namazu-e: Earthquake catfish prints

Films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, or Spirited Away expose more such creatures, which are amenable to googling. -I expect someone else can provide a more complete answer, but I thought I'd get it started.

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Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination, by Anne Allison, gives a very thorough account of the how the situation in post-war Japan gave rise to the creation of many Japanese characters. This briefly covers Godzilla, a monster which reflected Japan's fear of nuclear weapons.

  • Any chance you'll give us a simple summary so we have an answer here? I don't mean going through the whole book, but giving us something to fill us in. – Tango Feb 26 '12 at 15:21
  • I had really hoped you'd include more information in your answer because I felt if you could do that, it'd be much more interesting and probably be one I could pick as an answer. Unfortunately, I had to go with one of the others. – Tango Feb 28 '12 at 20:41

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