Kaiju – Japanese Culture & Fandom

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Pacific Rim Kaiju concept art, 2013

Kaiju is a Japanese word representing “monster”. From an etymological standpoint, kai means mysterious and unknown, causing a negative association of otherworldliness when combined with other characters, while ju means beast (Vartanian, 10). The mysterious connotation of kaiju relates to the spirit world found in Japanese folklore (Vartanian, 10). Kaiju are grand and giant, usually taking the form of real, known creatures, such as lizards or sharks. Before the 1950s, kaijus could represent the demons found in Japanese folklore. Yet, with the popularity and success of Godzilla (1954), kaiju became extremely prevalent within the tokusatsu genre of film and television; productions which included large amounts of special effects, usually having a giant creature portrayed by a man in a suit. Different from common Western monster representation, kaiju are created with the same character development of their human counterparts, sometimes having a backstory that shows their motivations for destruction (Vartanian, 11). The kaiju presence within Japanese specific locations, such as Tokyo or Osaka, creates a narrative related to the urban development and technological advancements away from nature in post-war Japan (Vartanian, 15).

Anime and manga have become a home for the world of kaijus and their fighting counterparts; mecha, giant fighting robots operated by humans (Allison, 15). Including typical kaiju films, anime and manga have televised their kaiju stories to audiences around the world, more specifically the United States (Napier, 52). Otakus, or people with obsessive interests in fantasy stories, such as anime and manga, have appeared greatly within the U.S. fandom demographic (Vartanian, 80). Napier claims that Japanese culture has influenced the world’s consumption of popular culture (52). Pacific Rim (2013), directed by Guillermo del Toro, proves the point of American fandom and fascination with Japanese culture, specifically kaijus. Hollywood-made with a huge production budget, Pacific Rim’s storyline revolved around a kaijus with the goal of destroying the human race, to recolonize. To bring down kaijus, humans had to band together to create their own mecha fighting machines. Pacific Rim presents the kaijus true in form, most having physical characteristics present in vintage tokusatsu films. The film shows the kaiju destroying cities around the world, ranging from the United States to Australia to China. A character within the film played by Charlie Day considers himself a “kaiju enthusiast” and has different kaijus tattooed on his forearms. These examples represent the allusion to fandom and metaphor associated with the kaiju in relation to notions of race and world cooperation.

Works Cited

Allison, Anne. “The Japan Fad in Global Youth Culture and Millennial Capitalism.” Mechademia Vol.1 (2006): 10-21. Print.

Levina, Marina, and Diem-My T. Bui, eds. Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Print.

Napier, Susan. “The World of Anime Fandom in America.” Mechademia Vol.1 (2006): 46-63. Print.

Pacific Rim. Dir. Guillermo del Toro. Perf. Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, and Charlie Day. Warner Bros, 2013. Film.

Vartanian, Ivan. Killer Kaiju Monsters: Strange Beasts of Japanese Film. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Print. Ivan Vartanian, with the help of original artwork by Mark Nagata, Ryohei Tanaka, Keisuke Saka, and others, explore the popular incorporation of kaijus within Japanese film from the 1950s onward. Detailed descriptions of kaijus from all tokusatsu films are within, including cross sectional analysis of their physical attributes. This source successfully analyzes the monstrosity of kaijus within a racial Japanese framework, by introducing the kaiju as a metaphor for Japanese society and its changes over the decades up to the new millennium.

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3 responses to “Kaiju – Japanese Culture & Fandom

  1. The subject of my project, Godzilla, is one of the original “kaiju”, so it’s interesting to compare how the presentation of these creatures in film has changed over time! I also like how you considered otaku culture as part of your research on kaiju.

  2. I really enjoyed this analysis because you were able to find a monster that not only has history in film, but has also become increasingly popular in the present. I also found it very interesting the the Kaiju often recieve the kind of attention in character development that other characters do.

  3. I love the use of the Kaiju as a representation of race. Hollywood uses race as a subtle way of defining what is desirable, and I think that this is a great topic for this section. It represents the racism and the way Asians are portrayed.

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