Gory Gojira

Auto-ethnography  is essentially focussing on the researcher and “his/her position and involvement in the field” (Ellis et al, 2011). Considering my first viewing of this film – and frankly any Japanese film – I felt withdrawn as so many said they had seen it. I had never been involvement in this ‘field’. I was struggling to find any commonalities between American cinema and Japanese cinema. On the day, I found a few blatantly obvious things.

After coming home and madly searching through Google and re-reading Ellis, I found that there were a lot of obvious but subliminal messages that Gojira was trying to tell us. Namely, nuclear weapons and World War II.

An epiphany! At last! Common to other auto ethnographers, I hear, made me begin to witness the film in a different light. It was not just a film with a scary monster destroying the city; the monster was meant to be the embodiment of America, portraying the fear, chaos and horrific destruction that they caused after dropping the Atomic bombs in Japan, in 1945.

I felt rather stupid that I had not noticed this considering I am fascinated by 20th Century history. I mean, how did I miss the closing line from, Yamane, “if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again”.

Or even the scene in the hospital where  a Geiger counter was waved over a small child who had no hope of survival portrays, “a poignant moment witnessed by so many in history…as well as infuriating the audience with the highly emotive scene” (Kalat 1997, p.20)

One of the assumptions that I brought to the experience of watching Gojira was that there would be nothing that I understood because it was a completely foreign film and culture. But then there was a love triangle and a disapproving father and suddenly, something was clear to me. Nearly every Disney film has a disapproving father and whilst there are hints of betrothal in these films, there has never been a death for someone’s love to be accepted – to my knowledge. In Gojira, they made the ultimate sacrifice for Emiko’s love and happiness.

Despite all the initial confusion, there came acceptance that Gojira is an interesting film and has the subliminal message of the dangers of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, through more research, I found that I had a deeper connection with the film and what it was trying to say. It was something so poignantly beautiful.


But this, to me, is truly what autoethnographical research is about. It is stripping it back to the simplest of commonalities and in turn generating a more emotive response from the audience. Once the context and – I suppose – the motive for making this film was evident to me, I began to feel ashamed that I took it at face value; a confusing and sad film about a monster and a city. What it is, is a sad, honest and evocative story of human mistakes.


My God! That’s Godzilla?!

With my mouth agape, eyes squinting in confusion and head spinning, for the first time ever, I watched Godzilla.


I must admit this now, before we go much further that my knowledge and experience of Japanese cinema is..well..nil. Not a little or a bit. Zip. Nothing.

So I was ready for whatever was going to appear on the screen. Whatever weird and wonderful film that we were about to watch. I must admit I was quite surprised by how much I understood the film. Maybe not on a deep, personal level but enough to get me through this week.

As I sat there ogling at the complex cinematic gold that is Godzilla, I was searching for any kind of connection – anything! – and began to reflect on what Ellis et al (2011) said about autoethnography.

Whilst this seems like a complex term, once broken down, it applies effortlessly to the film and other scholarly works. Autoethnography is both a process and a product; it is something that is equal parts autobiography and ethnography and treats research as a political, socially conscious and just act. It also interweaves personal and interpersonal experiences so as not to differentiate between the “outer” and the “inner” cultural groups.

Furthermore, it also aims not to exploit the experiences shared between the culture and the researcher or writer. There is nothing changed for a Western audience – excluding the subtitles – there is no need to. It is a film produced in Japan for any audience.

As Ellis et al said, the majority of work is written, insisting on canonical forms of research that favour and advocate the “norm” which is white, masculine, middle/upper class and heterosexual.

Maybe that was why I was so baffled by Godzilla. I was so busy trying to find the commonality, the secret hidden message that could not accept the fact the film was completely foreign to me.

A correct or rather an adequate piece of autoethnographical work should be evocative, aesthetically pleasing and chronological according to Ellis et al.

Godzilla is to some, aesthetically pleasing – I mean, he does look like a moss covered rock with a spiky spine – but it does not fit into the modern ideas of what a beautiful film may be.  But what about other cult classics, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds which still has dodgy camera work and fairly hilarious string-controlled birds; but fits the norms as described by Ellis by having predominantly white, males in the film.

One element that I could grasp onto was the love triangle between Emiko, Ogata and Serizawa. Whilst many Western films do not touch the subject of betrothal, the majority do explore the issue of a disapproving father – hint, every Disney film ever!

On reflection, however, the storyline does seem to appeal to me as it was basic yet dramatic enough to keep me engaged and it followed to recipe for a great blockbuster:

  • damsel in distress – or failing, screaming idiot as I like to refer to them
  • nutty scientist
  • wise old father
  • dominant male


I think this subject is going to be engrossing as I am not a Digital Asia buff by any means. I rarely watch international films – apart from the couple of times where I watched German and Italian movies to improve my language skills (hint: it didn’t help it one iota!) – but because there is such a fluidity between the two cultures today, I am excited to see what I can learn along the way. Weird terminologies and all.