I was recently re-watching some of the episodes from the BBC series ‘Japanorama’ hosted by popular British entertainer Jonathan Ross. I came across this fun episode on Godzilla and Japanese cities that crave the publicity that comes from having their city destroyed by Godzilla.
The episode featured the typical array of ‘weird Japan’ moments from interviews with eccentric locals, entertaining demonstrations, and colourful media clips from Godzilla.
One of the most interesting parts of this episode was how the town planners and Godzilla experts so clearly use fan practice to arrive at solutions for the problem of why Godzilla should destroy Saitama and why Toho (the production company) should be interested in using it as a location.
For example, the episode begins with Tetsuo Takahashi, an enthusiastic town planner from Tokyo’s Saitama prefecture, coming up with a novel way to make Saitama stand out from all the other cities vying for Toho’s attention. Takahashi decided the best way to make Saitama’s bid stand out was to write a new Godzilla movie script. Writing a story using your favourite movie characters from which you introduce and explore your own interests and concerns has a long history in fan-fiction writing. While a Godzilla movie script written by town-planners in the hope of securing a cameo has a different prupose to a young Godzilla fan’s fan-fiction which is posted on a fan website, nevertheless there is a striking similarity in what is produced. Both are written by non-media professionals who are using a well-known pop culture icon to give them an audience they may not have had without the Godzilla connection.
The approach adopted by the Saitama town planners Godzilla script is framed in Japanorama’s voice over as an innovative and novel approach which had “never been done before” between a local government agency and media industry. Sadly Takahashi informs us that he has not yet heard back from Toho. The show then centres around how they can help Takahashi convince Toho the Godzilla would love destroying Saitama. To achieve this two further fan practices are employed. Fan play through performance as a favourite character or acting out favourite movie scenes. Using a scale model of the Saitama New Urban Center and a toy Godzilla leg to demonstrate how Godzilla could dramatically destroy it, giving dramatic emphasis to his performance through improvising the Godzilla theme-music and the sounds of terrified citizens, the Japanorama producers accentuate this fanishness by inserting clips of Godzilla destroyng similar buildings and trains to create an entertaining mash-up clip for the audience. The episode also featured two actors who had played Godzilla touring Saitama to advise on how it could best be destroyed by Godzilla. The episode ends with both actors competing to best demonstrate how Godzilla would stump and rip his way through a cardboard scale model of Saitama.
The use of fan-fics, mash-ups, fan performance shows in this episode offers an example of the increasing appropriation of what were once marginalised audience activities into some moments of professional discourse. Normally a town planner wouldn’t write a Godzilla movie script or use a plastic Godzilla leg to explain why his city was interesting or valuable. But here these approaches are used to solve problems and experiment with one’s surroundings. Obviously this all has to be understood within the broader agendas and framing of the Japanorama program and their need to tell a particular ‘weird and wonderful Japan’ story for its audience. So, obviously the show has edited material to best meet its requirement which would include the value of these professionals acting like fans for comedic effect. There is a gentle ‘laughing at’ the town planner’s over-enthusiasm for the destruction and pleasure Godzilla would find in terrorising citizens and destroying the train station. Nevertheless, humour aside this episode is interesting in demonstrating the types of fan skills that can be brought into professional discussion around problem-solving and experimenting with place.