Fatalism, Fear, and Retribution: Japanese Environmentalism in Godzilla vs. Biollante
By Bond Benton and Tracy Mariofiote
To Western eyes, Toho Studio’s Godzilla films are an anachronistic bit of kitsch. The obviousness of the monster’s staging is now more likely to elicit laughter than shrieks. Indeed a cursory glance of Godzilla is likely to show little more than a person in a rubber suit smashing models of cities while fireworks explode with each clumsy step. Yet, by considering the Japanese cultural perspective, the subtext of these films reveals something far deeper. Within the Godzilla films, there is rich symbolism that both reflects and reveals significant dimensions of Japanese epistemology.
With that in mind, this essay explores the 1989 film, Godzilla vs. Biollante. Having a broad enough fan-base to warrant a release on Blu-ray DVD in 2012, this text is particularly worthy of greater rhetorical scrutiny because of its subtle exploration of environmental themes. Specifically, the film enacts a number of elements of Japanese environmentalism that are distinct from the American construction of the environmental movement. To many in the West, the phrase “Japanese environmentalism” is likely unfamiliar, at best, and thought to be an oxymoron, at worst; a narrow caricature is constructed in the fairly limited representations of the country in environmental literature. In environmental communication, for instance, Japan is nearly exclusively framed as a whale-slaughtering antagonist (see DeLuca, 2009; Lester, 2011; McHendry, 2012)—a view that does not acknowledge or interrogate many whaler’s religious devotion to the animals (Kagawa-Fox, 2010)—or the site of the devastating, irresponsible Fukushima nuclear crisis (see Autry & Kelly, 2012; Ionesco, 2012; Kinsella, 2012). While each of these essays examine crucial aspects of Western environmental communication, countries embracing an unfamiliar environmental ethos are mapped as the other against which Western environmental values and practices are made normative.
Japanese environmentalism, however, is a culturally-embedded practice that is based on obligation, cooperation, and harmony with or toward nature (Aoyagi-Usui, Vinken, & Kuibayashi, 2003; Kagawa-Fox, 2010), yet carries with it a sort of karmic punishment for those who violate that balanced and harmonious state (Brown, 2007; Mitsuda, 1996). Cumulatively, the dimensions of Japanese environmentalism have given the movement a greater degree of fatalism and militarization than is found in much of the West. These elements are all observable in a textual analysis of the film Godzilla vs. Biollante. With its focus on the danger of genetic modification and its use of Godzilla as the ultimate manifestation of an earth out of balance, the film begs consideration as an environmental commentary deeply rooted in the uniquely Japanese conception of environmental consciousness. To that end, this essay will first consider Godzilla’s historic role in social criticism. It will then reflect on the unique elements of Japanese environmentalism and contrast those elements with American perspectives on the subject. Finally, this essay will consider Godzilla vs. Biollante in the context of Japanese environmentalism, drawing conclusions about culture and sustainability.
Godzilla as Social Critique
Godzilla films have long been noted as having deeper textual meanings than is superficially apparent (Inouye, 1979). Inouye notes that the fights in Godzilla films typically show a hapless and ineffectual military unable to stop a force far greater than their poor power. The allusion being made to Japanese post-war history is fairly transparent. Inouye states:
Japanese faith in the military, so shattered during World War II, is low. Modern aircraft, battalions of tanks, battleships and destroyers constantly pound the radioactive reptilian to no avail. Wars of aggression have previously been popular in Japanese psychology. That the Army and Navy with advanced equipment cannot stop a beast from the ancient past implies that simple-minded action will not deter the evil of a dark, mysterious and hostile Nature. This mood, typical of the immediate post-war period, is further evidenced by the martial music, warships of the sea dropping depth-charges and tanks pounding shell after shell with no effect. The power of the city itself, the very veins and blood of modern civilization, is helpless to stop the monster (Inouye, 1979, p. 6).
Roberto (1997) argues that after the war “Japan was devastated, physically, politically and financially, and although the Japanese reaction to this defeat is evident in their present anti-nuclear policies, their feelings have never been fully understood” (1997, p. 3). Yet Roberto contends that at least a partial understanding can be achieved by looking at the Japanese Godzilla films, particularly the films released in 1954 and 1955, Gojira, and Gojira no Gyakushu. Within these texts, the critic is given profound insights into the Japanese post-war psyche.
At a basic level, Godzilla is the manifestation of the atomic attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, these films reveal a great deal more of the complex Japanese reaction to that event and the nation’s standing after the war. As Godzilla’s attacks become more intense and brutal, the most viable solution for stopping him becomes the use of an “Oxygen Destroyer” developed by the scientist character of Dr. Serizawa. The weapon has the potential to kill Godzilla, yet will destroy all living matter with which it comes into contact. Within this terrible weapon is a deeper argument about the nature of force and the zero sum gain of the militaristic dogma that dominated Japan prior to the World War II. Adding another layer of meaning is the origin of Serizawa’s oxygen destroying weapon as described in the film. A reporter speaking to Serizawa suggests that a “German friend” had indicated that Dr. Serizawa's project, when successfully concluded, could rid Japan of Godzilla. To which Serizawa responds emphatically, "I have no German friend” (Roberto, 1997, p. 17). His denial is inauthentic and serves as a reminder of Japan’s complicity in not only the atrocities authored by their own citizens, but in the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. This textual statement becomes even more provocative considering:
There are no discussions on whether or not Japan bears any blame for the events of the war. It is simply a matter of examining and stating the facts. This policy even extends to the way Japanese schools treat the events of the Second World War. Japanese students are taught about the events, but only within their factual content in relationship to Japanese history. There is no discussion or debate on the rightness, or wrongness, of Japan’s position during the war; or America’s action towards the end of it. To this day Japan has never accepted blame for the war nor do they acknowledge the brutality of their actions during the war (Roberto, 2000).
The seeming simplicity of “Godzilla” as “Atomic Warfare” becomes a considerably more varied, challenging, and contradictory cultural response to a period change and reflection. Subsequent Godzilla films fundamentally changed this narrative, with Godzilla becoming a force for good to battle even more menacing monsters and with Godzilla humanized and made into a “loveable monster… targeted to a younger audience” (Anisfield, 1995, p. 55). Yet even in this transition, the essential reflective element of the character is maintained. As Susan Sontag argues:
In the (Godzilla) films it is by means of images and sounds, not words that have to be translated by the imagination that one can participate in the fantasy of living through one’s own death and more, the death of cities, the destruction of humanity itself (1978, p. 212).
Godzilla serves not only as a metaphor for humanity’s destruction and our culpability in that devastation, he now offers immortality and the opportunity to participate in that destruction absent our own annihilation. Further academic reflection on the subtext of Godzilla has produced similarly rich analysis including nationalism in American localization of Godzilla films (Boss, 1999), latent imperialism in the “Godzilla as Japanese protector” films (Brophy, 2000, p. 42), and the divergent Cold War reading of Godzilla films by American audiences (Tsutsui, 2004). Here, we examine the significance of environmental subtexts implicit in Godzilla vs. Biollante and their implications as commentary on the (Japanese) human condition.
It would be easy to dismiss the Godzilla series as a juvenile lark composed of rubber costumes, low budgets, and nominally functioning special effects. Yet to do so would rob the character of his voice and his statement. Despite superficial dismissiveness, it is a statement that goes far beyond bellicose roars and radioactive breath.
Environmentalism in the United States and Japan
Despite numerous interconnected and frequently competing views, American environmentalism has historically been categorized as either conservationist or preservationist; anthropocentric versus ecocentric. Simply put, conservationism tends to support the contemporary protection of “natural resources” (framing nature-as-a-human-resource) for future social use, an anthropocentric outlook that privileges human need. This viewpoint is widely manifested in the Western cultural, human-centered phenomenon that is sustainable development: an environmental approach grounded in the general idea of a system that does not exceed its ability to maintain itself and, from an anthropocentric viewpoint, which provides for both current and future populations (see Killingsworth & Palmer, 1992; Miller, 2000; Mirovitskaya & Ascher, 2001; Peterson, 1997).
By way of contrast, the less common standpoint of preservationism is generally framed as more ecocentric, viewing the natural world as having value in and of itself. Critics of preservationism, however—many of whom identify as deep ecologists and believe that anthropocentrism is the root of the environmental crisis (Hendry, 2010)—have long argued that preservationism serves as “little more than an instrument to sustain the economic development of Western civilization while forestalling such environmental disasters as the greenhouse effect” (Oelschlaeger, 1991, p. 292). Deep ecologists tend to see themselves as outside of the conservation-preservation divide, instead embracing a more authentically biocentric ethos that critiques industrial culture and disavows any divide between humans and nature (Oelschlaeger). Indeed, Stibbe (2004) argues that in its deep respect for all living things, deep ecology, a relatively fringe perspective in the United States, most resonates with Japanese environmentalism.
Although sharing some similarities to the American environmental movement, Japanese environmentalism diverges in several ways relevant to this analysis (Johnson, Saito, & Nishikido, 2009). Specifically, it is profoundly connected to the concept of wa which roughly translates to “harmony, peace, and balance.” While that element of balance is present in both the American and Japanese perspective, Japan’s cultural emphasis on Confucianism and fatalism (Pfeiffer, 2010) suggests that natural retribution will come when an imbalance is created. Recalling the Japanese proverb that “the nail that sticks up is hammered down,” it becomes clear that Japan replaces Western notions of protecting the earth with the idea that the nature should be feared (Naito et al., 2010)—a perspective that Americans generally discarded around the onset of the twentieth century with the conquest or “closing” of the American frontier.
Additional divisions can be found in the primary source of agency in the environmental movement. In American environmentalism, human choice and environmental stewardship are commonplace logics, while the Japanese environmental movement is increasingly speaking out against this focus. Mitsuda (1996) writes: Contemporary Japanese environmentalists criticized not only "the growth myth" of mass-production, mass-consumption, and mass-waste lifestyle, but also the ideology of the anti-pollution movement that was too anthropocentric (p. 126; see also Kagawa-Fox, 2010).
Explanations of the distinctive character of Japan’s environmental movement can be found in economic factors beyond cultural dimensions. American environmentalism, for instance, gained political currency after World War II, with the rise of affluence and the broad diffusion of high living standards (Hays, 1987; Marafiote, 2008; Nash, 1989). Mitsuda further notes that “…in Japan the environmental movement mounted its offensive when the costs rather than the benefits of industrial expansion became notorious and the rewards of industrialization uncertain” (1996, p. 129). With limited geographic population space and an economic reliance on the sea for fishing and transport, environmental problems are less viewed speculatively or as a long term issue by activists in Japan; rather, environmental degradation is felt with immediacy by the population, giving the movement a strong foundation in victimization and exploitation rhetoric.
Reflecting this are the results of a comprehensive survey administered in Japan regarding the environment. The survey showed statistically significant levels of “fear” and “regret” in the population on items related to environmental views (Naito et al., 2010, p. 1000). Cumulatively, the environmental movement in Japan bears some pragmatic similarities with the movement in the United States and many other Western countries, such as concerns about environmental justice or sustainable development (Kagawa-Fox, 2010). Divergence occurs, however, in a number of relevant ways. For Japanese environmentalists, the earth is not wholly something we are charged to protect. It is something that sound environmental policies are created to protect us from (Naito et al.).
In Western countries like the U.S., human-nature relationships are grounded in Judeo-Christian ideologies, which encourage the human domination of the natural world (White, 1973). In Japan, the country’s various religious and philosophical traditions, including Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, reinforce ethical practices as well as concerns about and respect for nature (Kagawa-Fox, 2010; Stibbe, 2004). In contrast to the U.S., researchers in Japan document a parallel relationship between traditional and environmental values, finding that, on a broad cultural level, respecting the environment is felt to be a time-honored convention (Aoyagi-Usui, Vinken, & Kuibayashi, 2003). In short, while the Western/American ethos has been grounded in the taming of nature, the Eastern/Japanese perspective draws from a tradition of living with nature (Aoyagi-Usui, Vinken, & Kuibayashi; Kagawa-Fox)—a tradition that is informed, at least in part, by a trepidation over the repercussions of disrupting a natural harmonious balance (Brown, 2007; Mitsuda, 1996).
Japanese Environmentalism in Godzilla vs. Biollante
Godzilla vs. Biollante is the second film of the Heisei Series that began with Godzilla 1985 (Parente, 2012). The Heisei films reimagined the series after it had become significantly less menacing, more child friendly, and self-aware of its campy place in popular culture. This new series returned Godzilla to a force of nature and a serious threat to humanity. The creation of the film was somewhat unique with Toho Studios creating a public contest for fans to write the film’s plot. The winner was Godzilla vs. Biollante, and the text of the film reveals a number of elements unique to Japanese environmentalism. While several other Godzilla films have engaged environmental issues (notably Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), Godzilla vs. Biollante did so in the most direct, focused, and culturally distinct fashion of any entry in the Godzilla canon.
As Godzilla vs. Biollante opens, we learn that tissue fragments torn away from Godzilla’s body in the previous film are the source of massive industrial interest among biotech firms collecting and harnessing the creature’s DNA in service of economic and military development. The testing and splicing of Godzilla’s DNA promises to improve all aspects of life from weapons development to the creation of sustainable technology within both the credible scientific community and a shadowy black market involved in such initiatives (Parente, 2012). The film’s storyline focuses on the tragic plight of geneticist Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi) who works on splicing Godzilla DNA with plant-life to benefit the desert nation of Saradia. A terrorist attack on the laboratory in Saradia kills his young daughter, Erika, bringing about Dr. Shiragami’s retirement and reclusion. The doctor’s tragedy and unthinkable loss leads to his desperate series of experiments that ultimately result in splicing together the DNA from Godzilla, Erika, and a red rose. A combination of his sadness, scientific aptitude, belief in development, and environmental hubris ultimately give rise to a giant monster dubbed Biollante, an oddly feminized creature that towers even over Godzilla. Atop a colossal stem-body, Biollante’s massive rose-petal head rings a small maw of fierce teeth; leaf covered branches and snaking vines function as vicious limbs ending in countless bud-shaped heads armed with ferocious tooth-lined jaws. This feminized perversion of nature calls to Godzilla, the ultimate Japanese symbol of a masculine perverted nature. In a twisted representation of yin and yang-like harmony and balance, Godzilla and Biollante symbolize the masculine and feminine, animal and plant, sea and land; both formed as a result of human interference with nature. Like previous entries in the film series, human arrogance demands punishment from the natural world. The rise of a reborn Godzilla creature to battle Biollante and become (in the words of J. Robert Oppenheimer) “the Destroyer of Worlds” was assured by Dr. Shiragami’s violation of the natural order, the combining of human, plant, and beast.
From this overview of the film’s plot, the environmental themes portrayed are plentiful and demand additional scrutiny. The initial disappearance of Godzilla prior to the beginning of the film should have served as a relief to humanity and a warning about future environmental degradation and militarism; it was an opportunity to redress their environmental sins. Godzilla, after all, was created at the beginning of the age of atomic warfare and nuclear power. Instead, humanity’s nature is revealed in the first scenes of the film. In flashback, governments, gangsters, rogue regimes, and terrorists are immediately shown killing one another to claim the torn fragment of Godzilla’s skin. The warning suggested by the creature’s presence is quickly forgotten as the potential genetic power of samples of his abandoned flesh awakens the human greed that always crushes reflection and responsibility. These scenes bleed from one to the next, with legitimate institutions and criminals juxtaposed in a way that suggests there is little difference between the two. As is consistently shown in the film, the Japanese environmentalist perspective of the inert exploitive character of humanity dominates the perspective of the filmmakers. As Kazuki Omori, the film’s director states in an interview: “Godzilla had to fight something that matched his terror. If there was something equivalent to the terror of nuclear power, it must be the biotechnology with which humans manipulate life” (Omori, 1989). Indeed, a function of Godzilla films, like other popular cultural representations (Pezzullo, 2007), is a purging of social anxieties such as those surrounding the ethics of genetic modification.
When the Middle Eastern nation of Saradia captures a sample of Godzilla’s genetic material, there is little ambiguity about their intent. The first scene showing the desert country jumps from barren landscapes, to oil production facilities, to a military force, to the genetic lab where Dr. Shiragami is employed. The thematic sequence of these images is clear: a destitute earth results from exploitation, consumption, and manipulation. Clarification of these images comes from a Saradian official who speaks enthusiastically about using Godzilla’s DNA to create plants that would thrive in their harsh desert climate. “Oil will not be here forever,” he forecasts, in reference to the foundation of his country’s economy (Omori, 1989). Consistent with Japanese environmental themes, the creation of such an oasis in a desert land is an affront to the natural order, an imbalance much like that later symbolized in the film by Shiragami’s creation of a mutant life from DNA that would never naturally intertwine.
The Saradian official goes on to state, “…the Americans will be mortified. Their position as the largest grain exporter in the world will be shaken!” (Omori, 1989). The purpose of development, it seems, is the consolidation of strength and power in the hands of those who wield it. This linkage between environmental and economic exploitation is presented as a transparent relationship; one certainly not lost on Dr. Shiragami. Despite the inherent dangers of such a relationship, however, Shiragami continues working for Saradian institutions, ignoring the questionable morality of his task. For the Japanese audience, this arrogance is certain to bring about retribution. As demanded by the forces of balance, Dr. Shiragami’s daughter is killed in the attack on his labs. The immediacy of natural retribution suggested in this event foreshadows that present throughout the rest of the film.
The inevitability of nature insisting upon a return to equilibrium is further presaged as the film leaves Saradia and returns to Japan. In the Godzilla Lounge, an upscale bar named in celebration of the apparent defeat of the monster (in previous films), a skeptic of genetic modification speaks to the dangers of using Godzilla’s DNA for research and development. He references Chimera and states that it is,
a legendary monster which spits fire. Appearing from the ocean’s depths, it had a lion’s head, goat’s body and dragon’s tail. If they play around with cells, genetic engineers might create their own Chimeras. A new life form. Totally alien. Totally different to what God intended for this earth. (Omori, 1989)
Despite such reservations, the CEO of a Japanese biotechnology firm argues that Godzilla’s DNA could yield aggressive and powerful bacteria capable of cleaning up oil spills. He appears deaf to the irony that his suggestion implies that the human destruction of nature can only be remedied by the human distortion of nature. When asked if caution and restraint might be in order, the CEO laughs and states “I do realize the dangers involved in genetic engineering… I just hate to leave the jewels locked away. Such a waste” (Omori, 1989). Further aggravating this easy dismissal of environmental scruples, Godzilla’s cells are subsequently (additionally) mutated to create an anti-nuclear bacteria, becoming a form of biological warfare that is the Government’s greatest hope in its fight against the beast.
Indeed, Government institutions fall under similar scrutiny in the film’s gaze. A government official suggests the inherent morality of militarizing Godzilla’s DNA by stating “Japan has suffered nuclear bombs and Godzilla. It is only right that we should have a weapon against our enemies.” Echoing the fatalism of the Japanese environmental perspective, he goes on to state that “the technology will produce a monster far worse than Godzilla. Even if we don’t produce the bacteria, I’m sure someone else is going to do it. Just look at what human beings have done over the centuries” (Omori, 1989). With his daughter dead and the inescapability of the evil Godzilla’s DNA has unleashed, Dr. Shiragami becomes isolated and withdrawn. Speaking of the dangers of genetic manipulation, Shiragami’s colleague states “But as a scientist, our responsibilities are to–” Shirgami cuts off and rebukes his suggestion, resolutely stating, “I have a feeling you don’t understand science very well… science is just another tool of politicians” (Omori).
Another element of Japanese cultural perspective in the film is the belief in mysticism over empiricism. On the one hand, post-Enlightenment confidence in empirical data and the scientific method dominates much of Western thought. While American environmentalism may strategically include rhetorical tools such as storytelling, aboriginal motifs, or spiritual iconography, validation for the movement is frequently predicated on scientific evidence. By way of example, to demonstrate the dangers of global warming, scientific data is the gold standard of proof. To show how organic crops are safer for consumption than crops grown with pesticides and gene manipulation, empirical evidence will be sought for validation of these claims. Contrary to this, while Japanese culture and its environmental movement are not unaccommodating to empirical data, there is far more cultural acceptance of metaphysical and esoteric evidence (Naito et al, 2010). With that in mind, Godzilla vs. Biollante draws extensively on this perspective in forecasting the environmental dangers suggested by the film, as well as the necessary consequences for humanity. A main character is Miki, a young psychic training to advise the military force, who is tasked with predicting attacks by Godzilla. In the universe of the film, an entire system of public schools exists to train children showing psychic abilities. It is in one such psychic school where arguably the film’s most chilling scene takes place. Early in the film, when the public still confidently believes that Godzilla is a concern of the past, a teacher is informed that all of the children in the elementary school have been having the same dream each night. The teacher asks the class about the subject of the shared dream and dozens of young children respond in unison by displaying an array of crayon drawings that are unmistakably Godzilla.
Science, in this case, only sees the profit and power of environmental manipulation. In the purity of children listening to nature rather than casting their will upon it, however, the result of human arrogance is revealed with clarity. Environmental degradation is bringing Godzilla back.
Dr. Shiragami becomes the author of that return with an experiment to bring back some part of his daughter. The experiment comes from a place of mourning and regret, but his attempt remains an affront to nature that the story’s fatalism will not allow to go unpunished. By combining his daughter’s DNA with Godzilla’s and the genetic components of a rose, Shiragami creates a flower that is initially beautiful but quickly becomes menacing. Shiragami names the flower “Biollante” and explains the name comes from a “…spirit of the plant that appears in Norse mythology. But this plant has a human spirit” (Omori, 1989). His attempt to revive his daughter’s spirit shows initial promise. When Miki, the young psychic, is shown the flower, she says that she feels Erika’s spirit in the plant. The flower continues growing, however, and the previously beautiful bloom is made grotesque by the enormity of its proportions.
A particularly challenging dimension of Biollante’s appearance is the image the giant flower evokes. While on the surface, the flower appears to be a rose, closer inspection suggests a vaginal inspiration for character’s design. This is not accidental. In an interview, the film’s director Kazuki Omori states “Godzilla has the terror of a male. The flower represents the mysterious, yet dangerous female” (Omori, 1989). Nature, as the place of birth, has become hideous as it is corrupted, and the female power to give life is rendered alarming and perilous.
As Biollante begins to stir, beauty is replaced by hostility and Miki states “…it is no longer Erika’s spirit. It’s just a violent monster, a cross between a plant and Godzilla,” although Erika’s spirit subsequently resurfaces in the radically gendered, (orgasmic) climax of the film.
As plant continues to grow and as its movements become more threatening, events are set into motion that bring about the return of the Godzilla monster. The masculine beast, Godzilla, it seems, is drawn to the feminine plant, Biollante, which shares his DNA. As Shiragami states “…they are more than just the same family. They are identical” (Omori, 1989). Shiragami’s blindness in understanding the metaphysical meaning of his creation, however, is further shown when considering the origins of Biollante and Godzilla. While Biollante emerges from a flower, Godzilla was born from nuclear fallout; both are the products of human disregard for the harmony of the natural order.
As Godzilla travels resolutely toward Biollante and densely populated coastal cities, the military engages in desperate, yet impotent, at-sea attacks. In addition to their conventional battleships and missile-launching helicopters, they unleash an overtly yonic, special attack weapon, the SuperX2, in a bid to crush Godzilla’s dominating threat. Approaching him at sea, this remotely controlled oval-shaped airship splits open, mid-air, revealing a diamond-encrusted cup-shaped surface surrounding a magic button, at which the beast aims his powerful, penetrating rays. Although this secret weapon is at first able to resist Godzilla’s force, it is eventually overcome, foreshadowing the film’s climactic scene. In a move that is eerily prescient of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that would occur two decades later, Godzilla moves on a nuclear facility to consume its power.
As the creature destroys the country, prominent corporate logos are seen on the buildings being smashed. The theme of the Japanese environmental perspective remains consistent in the story: exploitation of nature forecasts punishment from nature.
As Godzilla moves to attack Biollante in the film’s final, climactic battle, an observer notes “whichever the winner is going to be our enemy” (Omori, 1989). The folly of human motive and in the insignificance of human thought is clear: whether the exploitation of nature is for genetic salvation (in the case of Biollante) or nuclear destruction (Godzilla), nature’s justice cares little. When asked if the creation of Biollante is the beginning of a new era, Shiragami responds “if we continue to do the same thing how can we call it a new era?” (Omori).
The culminating battle is filled with subtext and haunting images that evoke elements of Japanese environmental values. The most gruesome and horrific come from Biollante’s defeat at the hands of Godzilla. Underpinning her botanic origins, Biollante emerges from under the earth, her “flower” no longer framed by soft folds and pink textures but covered in terrible spikes as the place of birth is transformed into a place of death.
It is in this place of death that the most shocking scene in the film occurs. The two beasts confront each other, Biollante massive jaws seeking a grip on Godzilla flesh. Godzilla reverses the attack, however. Forcing open the folds of Biollante’s “flower,” Godzilla thrusts his “masculine” (Omori, 1989) head inside. With violent thrusts, Godzilla releases the open flower and spews radioactive venom from his mouth, killing Biollante.
The image is one of rape in which a perversion of nature is annihilated by the ultimate perversion of nature. The scene comments on the environmental and ethical dimensions of the characters in various ways, both likening human relationships with nature to a masculine domination of the feminine, and alluding to the moral and ethical violence of human control and perversion of the natural world. Positioning Godzilla as a natural force that reestablishes harmony, the scene provides the Japanese audience with a familiar, expected resolution that seeks to restore balance through the destruction of the human-beast-plant perversion, Biollante.
Humanity’s nature is also suggested in this appalling scene. Humans seek ways to preserve life and ways to destroy it, yet the impulse of destruction (and perhaps the masculinity of that destruction) always win out. Battered by his conquest, Godzilla stumbles towards the sea and collapses. Recalling the first scenes of the film, the reaction of bystanders is not relief, but greed and want. An official present at Godzilla’s fall looks at his apparent corpse and states “we must isolate samples of his bacteria and get them into production at once!” Dr. Shiragami’s response is eloquent summation of both the film and perspective that it is based on. He quietly utters, “I won’t continue my work anymore… Godzilla and Biollante are not monsters. The real monsters are the ones who created them” (Omori, 1989). In keeping with Japanese views of the natural order, Shiragami’s divine punishment comes moments later as he is shot by a sniper hiding above the scene. It is the bullet of an assassin from Saradia looking to claim some piece of Godzilla’s DNA and continue the cycle of exploitation and destruction. Although Shiragami’s daughter was released by the death of Biollante, no such redemption is allowed for the author of the tragedy.
Godzilla, too, it seems, refuses to be complicit in that cycle as he rises and makes his way back to ocean. The film concludes with voice-over narration which is more of a condemnation than a challenge to the viewer. “How long have we been living in such an age?” the voice asks. “Maybe it started when Man first stepped out of the Garden of Eden. “
The best Godzilla films contain monsters but are ultimately not about monsters. In Godzilla vs. Biollante, a uniquely Japanese perspective on human arrogance, violence, and environmental destruction permeates a text rich in meaning and deserving of greater reflection. There remain, however, a number of challenging questions that this analysis cannot answer. Is the popular audience of a Godzilla film likely to unpack these deeper perspectives or simply concentrate on the visceral excitement of seeing giant monsters fight? Does the fatalism of the film encourage a sort of nihilism, where the belief in justice is crushed by the realization that the human condition is one of injustice? Is inclusion of overt images of rape, regardless of intent, appropriate as a rhetorical device? This essay does not seek to answer any of these questions. Rather, it is hoped that this work is an invitation for greater critical analysis a text such as Godzilla vs. Biollante. Understanding the monster is easy. Assessing the human inside the monster suit is the challenge given to the spectator.
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