This week is always a celebration in Britain. 406 years ago, a group of Catholics led by Guy Fawkes planned to blow up the King of England at the State Opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605. The plot was foiled: the plotters died horribly. Yet England’s fear and hatred of Catholics was so great that, even though the fear has largely receded, we burn Guy in effigy and let off huge quantities of gunpowder on every anniversary of his epic failure.
Japan has anniversaries of its own to celebrate. Two days earlier, one of its most beloved sons was born and one of its most remarkable icons made its debut. 3rd November was the birthday of Osamu Tezuka and the date for the world premiere of Ishiro Honda’s groundbreaking movie Gojira, better known to Western fans as Godzilla (because in the Fifties, American movie distributors didn’t think their audiences had evolved far enough to pronounce foreign words correctly.)
I’ve already contributed my own few thousand words to the millions written about Tezuka: the God of Manga, the father of the modern industry, the man who nailed moe in 1948 in Lost World, redrew the map of girls’ manga with Princess Knight and drafted styles and systems still used today. He would have been 83 years old last Thursday, but he died aged only 60 in 1989. That loss is almost incalculable. 99-year-old director/screenwriter Kaneto Shindo is still active, and Akira Kurosawa was working until his death at the age of 88. Since Tezuka produced over 150,000 pages of manga in 43 years, plus anime, design and other work, we might have had another 70,000 pages of manga and several more epic series and films by now.
As for Gojira, that fabulous fusion of monster myth and even more monstrous reality, in 1954 he was the perfect embodiment of Japan’s fears of a world out of control. The movie was so powerful that its original version was shown in the USA only in Japanese-American communities. The 1956 edit, with an authoritatively American Raymond Burr as mediator and the scenes of nuclear horror removed, was released in the USA as Godzilla in 1956. Honda’s original version didn’t get a US release until 2004. In the intervening half century, Gojira had won an army of fans throughout the world.
My other half is a kaiju fanatic, so we’ve made a number of pilgrimages to sites trashed by the grey giant. My favourite is in the heart of Tokyo. Gojira stomps the city in fine style, attacking the Diet, the railways and the high-rises, and perpetrating iconic outrage on the clock tower of the Wako building in Ginza, Tokyo’s glitziest shopping district. The American bombardment had left the Wako building one of the few landmarks still standing at the end of World War II; now the Japanese fear of nuclear disaster threatened it.
Ginza has plenty to offer non-Godzilla fans. The buildings are worthy of attention, and even the tiny local police offices have their own special charm. Walk past the ritzy stores and glitzy window displays, and at the opposite end of the street from Wako you’ll find the Hakuhinkan Toy Park, home to doll mecca Licca Club 67 as well as four more floors of playtime. Under and around the railway tracks at this end of the street there’s a less pricey selection of bars and restaurants.
But for me, Ginza is forever Gojira territory. He even has his own bronze statue in the area. The perspective in the photo above is a cheat. The statue on its plinth is safe and small and friendly, but it reminds us of a time when this smart street was devastated by a force beyond comprehension. Happy birthday, Big G. Don’t let us forget.