Eye of the Beholder

Peach Maki by Yasiromann


The metaphor is invoked by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek in his work The Parallax View. Žižek borrowed the concept of “parallax view” from the Japanese philosopher and literary critic Kojin Karatani. “The philosophical twist to be added (to parallax), of course, is that the observed distance is not simply subjective, since the same object that exists ‘out there’ is seen from two different stances, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently mediated so that an ‘epistemological’ shift in the subject’s point of view always reflects an ontological shift in the object itself. Or—to put it in Lacanese—the subject’s gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its ‘blind spot,’ that which is ‘in the object more than object itself’, the point from which the object itself returns the gaze. Sure the picture is in my eye, but I am also in the picture.”

上坂すみれ – パララックスビュー


Why is it Godzilla endured, while so many other nuclear monsters have faded out of our collective consciousness ? It seems that there are elements of Japanese culture that lend Godzilla a unique air of mystery and strength and contribute to his popular longevity.

Japanese culture has strong roots in its religious traditions, including Shinto, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Zen Buddhism, in particular, forms the foundation of much that the world considers “Japanese”. One of the primary teachings of Zen is gaman or patience. On many cases, Japanese monsters can be seen as forces that represent overwhelming and all-consuming adversity. As mentioned earlier, the whole genre of monster films is described in Japan as kaiju eiga, often translated as “monster films”. The literal translation of kaiju, however, is closer to “supernatural force” than “monster”. Kaiju are seen in much the same way as earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes, or even the ravages of war – rolling forces of terrific power that come and go quickly, leaving terrible devastation in their wake.

Japan’s geography and political history have dealt incredible devastation on its people over time. True to the philosophies of gaman, however, Japanese culture has consistently found a way to bend in the wind of adversity – to rise from the ashes again and again – to be remade. I believe that this spirit is a significant factor in these movie’s appeal to youth of all cultures.

A good potion of cultural energy is spent on learning to deal with the world as a scary place, with many things that are beyond our power to influence. Much of Western popular culture deals with dominating and domesticating our monsters – turning them into something different by the sheer force of our determination. While Godzilla plays varying roles in his multiple incarnations, he is never a slave of humankind. He helps or he destroys, unconcerned with our desire as motivation.

Children who watch Godzilla gain a sense of untamed wildness – of immense destructive power unchecked by human desire or intention. For children, fantasizing about being Godzilla brings not only power far beyond their own capacity, but also freedom from the restrictions of civility.

Mark I. West, The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki, 2008, p.4

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