Commentary Track

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

Destroy All Monsters (1968) 2.7.19
Featuring: Austin, Maxx

Commentary begins at 9:48

— Notes —

  • The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters by Jason Barr — This is the book we used to help frame our conversation of the movie this week. This book serves as an excellent survey and overview of the different critical discussions being had about the Kaiju genre, and we think it’s a fantastic critical introduction. We’ll include some relevant quotations below:
    • On Bunraku and its relation to the Kaiju film:
      • “…the staging of Japanese puppet performance known as bunraku – often, the puppeteers are on stage and clearly visible in the presence of the puppets – is evocative of many kaiju films. After all, watching an older kaiju film carries with it the reasonable expectation that the viewer would be seeing not only kaiju but the performer in the suit as well. How many times has Godzilla, for example, been referred to as the ‘man in a rubber suit’? In this instance, the viewer’s historic expectation for a kaiju is that they would be witnessing both actor and creature in a sort of fluid symbiosis and that the staging for much of the destruction would consist of intricate miniatures rather than full-sized sets. Of course, the puppets in bunraku performances are also at once real and unreal. With authentic and realistic facial expressions and movements, the well-conceived bunraku performance can breathe life into the puppets, allowing the audience to suspend its disbelief for the length of the play while still remaining, in the mind of the audience, unreal creations” (27).

    • On the Kilaaks as a representation of US interference in Japanese society:
      • “Several films during the Showa period featured aliens manipulating the events on Earth… Each of these films could be read as a series of criticisms on United States policy and intervention in the inner workings of Japan’s government and economy. One reason why this avenue has been unexplored in much kaiju genre criticism is not only the idea that these films were too cheesy for academic discussion, but also that critics may have found the pointed exploration a bit too unsavory – after all, a race of cockroaches may not necessarily be the most forgiving or ideal symbol for Americans. This may also explain the sudden and dramatic shift from Godzilla as a walking symbol of science run amok to guardian of Japan: the presence of Godzilla represents something that is standing up for the country and its own interests. In this regard, it may seem like wish fulfillment in some small part. To Japanese audiences, repelling the outside invaders would be a refreshing ideal, especially considering the often perilous – some would say unfair and uneven – negotiations the Japanese government was subject to when dealing with American desires to either force Japan into favorable trade agreements or to play a bigger role in the Cold War” (96).

      • “Throughout Destroy All Monsters, the criticism is subtle but present. The invaders wish to subvert Japanese advances – and successfully do so in an effort to take over the world. This sabotage ultimately hurts not just Japan but the entire world, which is robbed of the safety and ingenuity that the Japanese have provided – indeed, in the film it appears that the Japanese are the only country that has mastered routine Earth-to-moon travel – and the destruction is massive. The subversive efforts can be read as an analogy to continual U.S. attempts to stymie the growing economy of Japan and its overwhelming pace. It is only through the recapturing of that technology and primal force (again, Godzilla is a dangerous kaiju, but is representative of all Japan) that the world is saved. In other words, attempts to keep the Japanese from experiencing economic success are tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. That the invaders again turn out to be giant slugs may be an idea that is lost on – or upsetting to – many Americans who see the film” (97-98).

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