Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Urban Bestiary (5)

Cambridge, September 3, 2013

If King Kong was a product of the Great Depression, Godzilla embodied the worst nightmares of the post-WWII nuclear age.  The original movie was released in 1954, not a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the very same year of the disastrous US detonation of a hydrogen bomb at the Bikini Atoll.

In the movie, Godzilla emerges from the sea as a prehistoric creature mutated into an enormous monster due to an underwater nuclear test gone wrong.  The name of the monster combines the Japanese words for gorilla and whale, a typical trope of ancient mythical beast, and the analogies extend to local legends involving the sacrifice of young virgins.  The story follows the giant lizard-like animal along its path from the shores of the fictional Odo Island in southern Japan all the way to Tokyo.  And that's where the fun begins.

The city prepares for the monster with a 50,000-volt defensive line strung along Tokyo Bay on 40-foot high-towers.  Although the electric barrier is no match for the melting power of Godzilla's atomic breath, this memorable image may count as the first mega-project of the Japanese Metabolists and, at the risk of sounding completely ridiculous, maybe even as a precedent for Kenzo Tange's 1960 legendary proposal for Tokyo Bay.

(Before you begin to dismiss all this as the nonsense that it is, let me remind you that the circulation lines in Tange's project were also meant to hover about 40 meters above the water and that the buildings would have had roughly the same height as Godzilla... and long tails.)

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