Where and When Does Godzilla Minus One Take Place?

In ‘Godzilla Minus One,’ the titular kaiju monster emerges from the choppy waves of the ocean to terrorize Japan after incessant bombings have ravaged the nation. Depicting an all-out monster invasion that lays catastrophic destruction on civilian households and buildings, it is an epic tale about the horrors of war and its arbitrary nature when it costs people their lives. The film is set when trust in government institutions is at an all-time low. As such, the kamikaze pilot protagonist, Shikishima, has to confront his fears and trauma to do what is necessary. With the people licking their wounds from a brutal campaign, the stage for this kaiju epic becomes pivotal in exploring the themes of redemption, survival, guilt, and a soldier’s duty in a desperate and hopeless time. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Godzilla Minus One Takes Place in a War-Torn Japan

‘Godzilla Minus One’ mainly takes place in postwar Japan. The island nation’s harrowing losses in World War II create the perfect backdrop for a dinosaur-like monster that eradicates people’s hopes for a brighter future. Japan was the testing ground for the first nuclear bomb explosions ever used in warfare. At the end of the Second World War, the Japanese forces were unwilling to surrender as the Allied Powers dismantled their opposition. As a result, two nuclear bombs, built from the efforts of Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, were dropped on Japanese cities teeming with civilians. Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the first cities to witness the power and cataclysm of nuclear devastation and its fallout.

The Kaiju behemoth in ‘Godzilla Minus One’ is a creation from the horrors of the nuclear test bombings that took place during and at the end of the War. Shikishima, the kamikaze pilot, is a runaway soldier who cannot bear the atrocities committed during the war. His anxieties and fears lead to even further death when Godzilla attacks a military base on Odo Island and wipes out the technician crew working there. Carrying the remorse from that incident, Shikishima internalizes his trauma into survivor’s guilt, which he holds on to as he returns to civilian life after the war is over. The nation’s ruined plight is reflected in its central character and its people as they look to face a more significant threat in the shape of Godzilla.

Although most of the film takes place in mainland Japan, primarily in regions of Tokyo like Ginza and Sagami Bay in Kanagawa, a large chunk of the narrative is also spent at sea. With Godzilla making his first appearance in Odo Islands, where he was mythologized by the locals and given the titular name, he constantly makes his appearance via the maritime routes. Warning bells are sounded in the cities of Japan every time the monstrous kaiju is on its way to lay havoc, thus reflecting the desperate and dark times the country was facing after its harrowed past in the war and the bombing raids it had to endure.

The Narrative Encompasses the Worst Period in Japan’s History

The kaiju epic chronicles the years between 1945 and 1947, which is when postwar depression had set in for the inhabitants of the Land of the Rising Sun. With people’s morale and spirits at an all-time low, the threat of a further destructive power in the shape of a lizard monster only added salt to a grievous wound. Koji Ueda, the President of Toho International, one of the production companies behind ‘Godzilla Minus One,’ explained that before Godzilla’s arrival, the land of Japan was already at a Richter scale of 0 in terms of its well-being. But now, with the impending doom about to be brought to its door by Godzilla, the people are at a minus one state, which means things are about to get worse.

The director, Takashi Yamazaki, who also wrote the film, delved into topics of postwar guilt as experienced by Shikishima, the effects of the nuclear holocaust as portrayed through Godzilla’s rampage through the city, and how the collective spirit was pivotal to putting behind such a hopeless and bleak period in Japan’s history. As people fight for their survival, they must confront their trauma and learn to let go of their suffering. Because Godzilla was originally conceived as a metaphor for the nuclear bombings Japan had to endure during World War II and the long-lasting effects it left on people’s psyche, it makes sense for ‘Godzilla Minus One’ to go back to an era where the kaiju monster could breed the fear and dread he was meant to in the first place.

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