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

March 28, 2011 | 7:25 p.m.

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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Comments


2 Responses to ‘Akira,’ ‘Godzilla’ and Japanese pop culture of apocalypse

  1. pogo says:

    When i first saw the tragedies occur and heard about the possible nuclear meltdown, i vividly recalled Akira Kurosawa's epic movie "Dreams". In one of his dreams at the end of the film, there was radiation of all colors in the sky from a melted nuclear reactor and there were folks trapped on an island with Mt. Fuji in the background. It is a very stressful and quite thought provoking dream as it makes you think of the disasters that can be caused from both man and nature, combined it is catastrophic. my heart goes out to them and i pray that the dream in that film does not become a reality…watch "Dreams"! the other 6 or 7 dreams are quite amazing

  2. brandon says:

    If all that's happening in Japan right now doesn't prove that Akira cannot be remade for America, then I don't know. In all honesty, they should change the title and all the character names and references cause it's not even Akira from what I've heard around the net. They're just using Akira as the title to get their movie more attention than it deserves. Plus I heard they're using 9/11 as their crutch. I'm sorry but New York has been a more than stable city before the attacks and even after nothing major has happened to the city, or our country for that matter. Akira centers around the idea that cities are fragile things that can be taken away in an instant and no other place in the wolrd embodies that more than Japan, whose had two nuclear bombs wipe the face clean of two of their cities. Add in the recent earthquakes and tsunamis and the constant threat of a really bad nuclear reaction, and boom, you have Akira. I'm sorry to all you paranoids, but New York is not in constant danger like that, let alone the entire United States. So, for the love of all that is good, please stop remaking beloved anime or anything from our childhood that we hold dear.

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