Godzilla Minus One Context

10.9.2023 (revised 10.13.2023)

With Godzilla Minus One soon to make landfall in U.S. theaters on December 1, it is important to construct the postwar context and timeline of Yamazaki’s Godzilla, which is set between 1945 and 1947 (映画の時代設定 1945〜47年戦後の日本 | movie period setting Postwar Japan 1945-47). What was life like in Japan two years after War World II? What was the nature of the Allied occupation? What significant events led up to and shape Godzilla’s appearance? Having some basic understanding of those days after World War II, as moviegoers we will appreciate and better understand Godzilla Minus One.

Godzilla Minus One Official Trailer

With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, World War II ended. Days later Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers was announced by Emperor Hirohito on August 15 and formerly signed on September 2, 1945.1 From 1945 to 1952 the U.S. and the Allies led by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) Douglas A. MacArthur (1880-1964), appointed by U.S. President Harry S. Truman, occupied Japan in a time of reconstruction by enacting widespread military, political, economic and social reform. Through a series of conferences and Japan’s unconditional surrender by August of 1945, the Allied powers determined how to disarm and stabilize Japan.

Tokyo in 1949

From 1945 to 1947, the most fundamental changes were made to the Japanese Government and society. There were trials for war crimes in Tokyo and the Japanese Army was dismantled and forbad military leaders from political leadership in the new government. MacArthur tried to break up large business conglomerates in order to create a free market capitalist system. In 1947, under the supervision of General MacArthur, and American officials established a new constitution most known for Article 9 in which Japan renounces its right to wage war and maintain military forces. Also notable is the demotion of the emperor’s status to a figurehead without political control. In the coming years, the spread of communism in Asia was the real threat rather than a re-armed Japan.2 3

Pacific Century: Reinventing Japan

After the war, Japan suffered enormous losses. Japan’s navy and airfare were decimated. Most big cities had been devastated and destroyed. Sixty-six major cities had been heavily bombed during the war.4 Major parts of Tokyo had been burnt to ashes. 65% of the residences of Tokyo were destroyed with 57 and 89% for Osaka and Nagoya, respectively As many as 3 million Japanese (3-4% of the population), both military and civilian, were killed during the war. One third of Japan’s wealth had been destroyed. Industries and transportation networks were severely damaged. The conditions were harsh with poverty and food shortages would last for several years.3 30% of the population was homeless. Many of the homes belonging to the wealthy survived only to house the occupation officers. Tokyo’s financial district was undamaged and became “little America,” where MacArthur was headquartered. Railways were functioning across the country. The major cities were full of “ex-soldiers, widows, orphans, homeless and unemployed.” Most Japanese were malnourished. In the fall of 1946, elementary schools had “bread-eating races.” Leftovers and garbage were sources of nourishment. Using poisoned food to kit rats was suspended so that people were not poisoned when eating it. Communicable diseases were widespread and flourished. There was a rise in the abuse of alcohol and drugs along with violent and non-violent crimes. The black market grew in size and funded political campaigns.5

Godzilla Minus One

Wako Building as seen in Godzilla Minus One

In the Godzilla Minus One trailer, the Wako Building in Ginza is featured prominently. Ginza was the show street of Tokyo. After the war, Ginza was a burnt-out shell but was quickly rebuilt during the Occupation. In 1945 postcards of Ginza Crossing, the Wako department store is standing with the damaged Mitsukoshi department store and Dai-Ichi Sogo building in the distance. The Wako building was repaired and reopened as the Tokyo PX (post exchange) for occupation troops. It was described in Mark Gayn’s Japan Diary (1948): “Right now it’s pitted, dusty length is lined with dead buildings and piles of rubbish. Some of the department stores have bravely resumed business in the lower two or three floors, but the floors are covered with rubble, and the showcases are filled with cheap crockery and worthless junk. The stories above are nothing but concrete frames, still black where the flames had licked them.” 6

1950s Tokyo Japan Ginza Asakusa After World War II

The United States conducted about 1,054 nuclear tests between 1945 and 1992. Godzilla Minus One takes place over the two years after the end of World War II. There are four tests that are important for establishing the dating and context for the appearance of Godzilla: 1) The Operation Crossroads series in July 1946, at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands (the first postwar tests and underwater nuclear explosion; 2) The Operation Greenhouse shots of May 1951, at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands; 3) The Ivy Mike shot of 1 November 1952, at Enewetak Atoll; 4) The Castle Bravo shot of March 1, 1954, at Bikini Atoll (the Daigo Fukuryū Maru came into contact with the radioactive fallout referenced in Godzilla (1954) criticizing American nuclear tests).7

Project Crossroads – Nuclear Test Film (1946)

Operation Crossroads appears to be the atomic tests linked to the birth of Godzilla in Minus One. Two U.S. nuclear weapon tests were conducted at Bikini Atoll in 1946, eight years before the Castle Bravo test of March 1954 that inspired Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. These tests were the first of many and were designed to study the effect of nuclear weapons on warships. Two detonations like that on Nagasaki in 1945 were made over a fleet of 95 ships gathered in the Bikini Lagoon. The first test was named Able with the bomb called Gilda. The second called Baker and the bomb was known as Helen of Bikini. As a result, radioactive sea spray lead to extensive contamination. The U.S. was unable to decontaminate the target ships after the second test. Native residents were evacuated from the island and moved to the Rongerik Atoll. Scientists and diplomats wanted the operation cancelled. A study found that “the water near a recent surface explosion will be a witch’s brew” of radioactivity. J. Robert Oppenheimer declined to attend the test and objected to it.8 Such details could be important context for scenes in the trailer.

Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla Minus One trailer: Explosion in Ginza with Wako Building converted into the Tokyo PX building on the right.

To appreciate the coming installment in the Toho Godzilla series a close study of postwar Japan is required to do justice to Director Yamazaki’s story and Godzilla. This brief survey of the events and locations of postwar Japan should be meaningful and relevant to the story and context Godzilla Minus One.