by Nico Beland
Godzilla and Akira are two iconic films from Japan, different from each other in genre but both movies were of course heavily inspired by the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As part of the healing process of those dark times, many artists and filmmakers in Japan revisited the traumatic experience through literature, film, music, and art. In the case of Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Godzilla, the monster symbolizes nuclear holocaust and has since became culturally identified as a metaphor for nuclear weapons. When Godzilla attacks the city, the scenes replicate the horrors Japan witnessed when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed.
1988’s Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and adapted from his manga of the same name, deals with global conflicts, social disintegration, and anarchistic adolescents in a futuristic, apocalyptic setting but its narrative draws heavily from the bombings, right down to the opening sequence being a nuclear explosion engulfing 1980s Tokyo, obviously a direct reference.
Destruction is the main theme of both films. Godzilla’s rampage sequences were filmed with the mentality that his onslaught was parallel to, as well as a physical manifestation of, an Atom bomb attack. Akira does something similar when Tetsuo and the children in the Akira program are experimented on and become living Atom bombs with the power to destroy an entire city.
Honda said “If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.” This seems a clear inspiration for Godzilla’s trademark Atomic Breath. Tetsuo in Akira is almost like Godzilla on steroids: not only does he have the powers of an atomic bomb, but he also has telekinetic abilities and eventually transforms into a mutated monster.
The release dates of the films also play a big role in their impacts. The original Godzilla movie came out when the bombings were much more immediate memories and was a fictional dramatization of Japan’s shock from the destruction and fear concerning radioactive contamination. Akira came out more than thirty years later and is coincidentally set thirty years after a nuclear holocaust has struck Tokyo, but it still captures the gruesome and terrifying realism of nuclear warfare and the impact it has on the world.
These two fascinating, important, and highly influential genre films reflect the traumatic experiences Japan went through at the end of World War II. Even though the movies revolve around a giant nuclear monster or kid with uncontrollable powers and a bad attitude destroying a city with Atomic Breath or a flashy explosion, they prove to be much more mature and connected to reality than you may think.
Nico Beland is a 23-year-old blogger, film enthusiast, and student at Bellevue College. He adores movies as well as geek culture, and frequently attends conventions like Emerald City ComiCon and Sakura Con. He writes movie reviews on his self-made blog, Moviewatchin’ Psychopath and has been writing on it for four years now and still counting.