An "Alien’s" Analysis of the Film

Godzilla 2000: Millennium

Jerome Shapiro, Hiroshima University

The twenty-third film in the Godzilla ("Gojira") series is Godzilla 2000: Millennium, released in December 1999. There are two basic plot lines that merge, plus a romantic-comedic relationship. Yuji Shinoda is a former university professor who now operates the "Godzilla Prediction Network" (or "GPN"), in the "belief that a timely prediction of Godzilla’s arrival will minimize the damage and save precious lives." A science journalist, the love interest, Yuki Ichinose, supports Shinoda’s project but "does not understand his passion for Godzilla." Not at all surprisingly, Godzilla has a passion for destroying nuclear facilities, including Tokaimura where there is a real nuclear reprocessing plant, which, well after the film was completed, had a very serious and highly reported accident. (The Japanese nuclear industry gives, at the very least, the appearance of being grossly incompetent, and is the cause of a great deal of anxiety in Japan.) At the same time, a very large meteorite is discovered in deep waters off Japan’s coast. The meteorite is approximately 6,000 years old, and has "unknown chemical properties" that government scientists hope to exploit. As it turns out, the rock is an alien life form. Both Godzilla and the alien meet at Tokaimura; the alien to, apparently, draw energy from the plant, and Godzilla to destroy the plant. The two fight and seem to mortally wound each other.

Both creatures revive and meet in a glitzy part of Tokyo known as Shinjuku. This may indeed be "one of Japan’s busiest districts," but Shinjuku town just ain’t big enough for the both of them, so it’s a duel to the death. As the battle proceeds, the alien also tries to absorb into itself Godzilla’s regenerative powers and strength. During the battle, science journalist Ichinose gains access to a super computer and manages to open one of the alien’s computer files that was mysteriously downloaded into her laptop. A lot of words appear, on the screens of computer monitors, in seemingly random order. A fragmented but understandable message, however, finally takes form. In Godzilla 2000: Millennium, the "millennium" is the alien’s plan to deracinate terrestrial life from the earth and repopulate it with its own extraterrestrial life form. Morphing itself into Godzilla is just a means to this end. Godzilla, however, emerges from the battle victorious, but proceeds to destroy a large part of ultra post-modern Tokyo. End of story.

Several curious elements in this film present themselves, such as the conspicuous absence of the panicky crowds that have been ubiquitous in Japanese Sci-Fi Creature films. In this brief analysis, however, I will confine my comments to only the question of what this film suggests about how the Japanese understand the "millennium." To answer that question, we must first look at two very important beliefs about Japan.

In the 13th century the Kublai Khan demanded that Japan accept his suzerainty and pay tribute. Japan, according to legend, answered by returning the emissary’s head back to the Khan, on a platter. So much for the myth of the Japanese being subtle and highly sensitive to others’ moods. Angered, the Mongols twice attempted to invade and subdue Japan, first in 1274, and then in 1281. A total of 5,300 ships and 180,000 men where sent to the shores of Japan in the two assaults, and in all likelihood either invasion would have overwhelmed Japan’s defenses. During both assaults, however, typhoon winds destroyed much of the fleets, forcing the survivors to retreat. From this arose the belief that not only is Japan a unique place established by the gods, but also a place protected by a kamikaze, literally a "god wind" or "divine wind." The legend of kamikaze has a grip on the Japanese psyche, and as it is played out in both later historical events and narratives entails not just the belief that a divine force protects Japan, but that sacred Japan is forever at risk of being invaded (in one form or another) and polluted by foreign forces. In W.W.II, for example, as it became apparent that the Japanese military could not stop the Allied fleet, divine forces were evoked by referring to the approximately 2,000 pilots trained for suicide missions as "Kamikaze."

There is, however, another Japanese myth that is even more important because it grips not just the Japanese psyche but also the psyche of non-Japanese who want to believe things about Japan. In the early post-W.W.II period, D. T. Suzuki, the highly respected popularizer of Japanese Buddhism, began to establish another myth, culminating in his now very influential essay "Love of Nature." The belief that the Japanese have a unique bond or special love of nature is perhaps one of the few universals in our time. But, if the Japanese do indeed "love" nature, then it is better understood as being more akin to an Old Testament love than a New Testament love. The Japanese do not "love" nature the way, say, Muir or Thoreau, or even the way most of us today, love nature. After all, the Japanese anthropomorphize nature; nature is alive with spirits, including the spirits of ancestors whom they worship. To love nature as we now imagine the word "love" to mean, would suggest a relationship of equality and not the hierarchical relationship that exists between the Japanese and nature and their ancestors.

Rather than love, the Japanese revere and fear nature. According to Toho Studio’s "Godzilla Official [web] Site" (sic), Shinoda tells us that by "studying Godzilla, we may be able to unravel the secrets of all life forms on this earth." Shinoda and his GPN, however, do not hope to stop Godzilla. Rather, they hope to find a way to live in balance and harmony with him, just as one must learn to live with an often-hostile natural environment. Japan is not, say, Bangladesh, but it is subject to very violent earthquakes, volcanoes, and typhoons. And although the temperatures are never as severe as in other climes, Japan does have oppressive summers and winters. Nature is something that must be contended with, compensated and prepared for, just as traditional Japanese arc texture is said to compensate for the extreme humidity. Needless to say, one could never hope to control or fully compensate for nature; after all, "As Shinoda says, Godzilla is full of surprises." Thus, Godzilla 2000: Millennium is really about something other than what we in the West believe to be Japan’s relationship to the natural, social, and cosmological environment. In particular, it is about a very different notion of the millennium.

Like baseball, Christmas, St. Valentines Day, "Chapel Weddings," and, in a sense, perhaps all of modernity, the "millennium" has been absorbed and morphed into something very Japanese; or, at least, a very Japanese perception of its relationship to the rest of the world. The millennium is yet another example of a foreign force threatening to invade and pollute sacred Japan. But what saves Japan is, again, nature’s violent gale; in this case Godzilla’s "atomic fire breath," which is his main weapon against the alien life form.

After the final credits have rolled, Japanese audiences can go home reassured that little has changed. Indeed, Godzilla is a problem, but one that isn’t going to go away. One must simply learn to "gaman," or as the previous Emperor put it, "endure the unendurable" until the aliens have left; for, in the finally analysis, it’s better than anything "out there" beyond Japanese shores, and certainly better than what the invaders have to offer. The millennium, thus, as we understand it in the West, is in Japan just another foreign invasion. Troublesome, yes, but doomed to failure. And, while a fascinating topic for TV talking heads, it proved to be even more of a non-event than it was in the West. Oh yes, quite a number of train passengers get wiped out in rare moments of millennial panic caused sometimes by the an alien invader, or sometimes by the domestic monsters, like AUM; but that’s now taken for granted. The rest of will get to work on time. To some extent, such an outlook on life is very reassuring, and perhaps helps keeps the society from flying apart at the seams. Or at the very least, it means Toho Studios no longer has to pay thousands of extras to run mad in the streets from the fear that the alien invasion is bringing their world to an end.

Godzilla 2000: Millennium (Toho Studios, 1999), produced by Shogo Tomiyama, screenplay by Kanji Kashiwabara and Wataru Mimura, directed by Takao Okawara, special effects directed by Kenji Suzuki, music by Takayuki Hattori, staring Takehiro Murata, Hiroshi Abe, Naomi Nishida, Shiro Sano, Maya Suzuki, and Tsutomu Kitagawa (as Godzilla).