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March 28, 2011

‘Akira,’ ‘Godzilla’ and Japanese pop culture of apocalypse

Posted in: Movies

Reed Johnson is one of the most astute culture writers in American journalism, and as all of us have watched moments of calamity, courage and grief play out on the other side of the globe in Japan this month, his thoughts turned to the mirror moments of national disaster that have played out so famously in Japanese pop culture. Here’s an excerpt from his new article on the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that come with this bundling of contemporary tragedy and pop-culture memory…

The sublimely cheesy, enormously popular “Godzilla” films launched in the 1950s depicted a dinosaur-like monster, spawned by underwater nuclear detonations, crashing through the streets of Tokyo. The popular 1973 novel “Japan Sinks” envisions the island nation being physically split in two by a combined earthquake-tsunami. And in the landmark 1988 animated sci-fi film “Akira,” adapted from a manga epic, a nuclear explosion levels Tokyo and precipitates World War III.

The three-headed calamity of earthquake, tsunami and near nuclear meltdown that has ravaged Japan this month has awakened some of the country’s most familiar disaster narratives. From short stories inspired by previous natural calamities to comic book series based on survivors’ accounts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some of these apocalyptic narratives are being evoked by commentators in and outside Japan to draw meaning from the latest catastrophes that have rocked Japan.

“Certainly the specter of the smoking nuclear reactors is a very scary one, and just echoes some of what we’ve seen before in animation and manga, where entire cities may be wiped out, or entire planets in some of the wilder science fiction,” said Charles Solomon, an L.A.-based animation critic and historian, referring to recent imagery of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

It’s an insightful piece; you can read the rest right here.

– Geoff Boucher

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