I have loved Godzilla my entire life! I have watched every film that’s been available since I was a little kid. Traveling to Japan in the fall and being able to see the real-life Godzilla in Shinjuku, Tokyo on top of Toho Cinema was the real deal and a dream come true.
The most recent film, “Godzilla Minus One” directed by Takashi Yamazaki was by far the most magnificent masterpiece. Being a native Japanese speaker, with theaters in the States having only Japanese subtitles available, hearing the film in my mother tongue was like watching the modern version of what I watched growing up and seemed to be what I’ve waited for my entire life.
But what made the movie unique and drew the audience in was the kamikaze fighter named Shikishima. He was on a suicide mission, yet he reported that the airplane had a “malfunction” and ran from duty to avoid death, but later he encounters Godzilla on Odo Island.
As a result, due to his “fear” and failure to carry out the lifesaving task of shooting Godzilla, all but one engineer dies. “Everyone has died! You disgrace!” Accused and ashamed by fellow countrymen he returns to his hometown that has lost absolutely everything.
The rest of the story, the thought of shame and suicide, penetrates and saws through the plotline. The weight of shame that Shikishima carries with the identity of “failure” often shocked him through terror and horror of the past throughout the night.
Friends, family, and colleagues come alongside Shikishima and point to life amid being caught in the chasm of death, “Whatever is happening, you must continue to live and survive!” Within Shikishima, he was still fighting a WW3 of his soul, searching for “purpose’ as he grappled with his past that morphed into his worst “nightmare”, a monster that went “berserk” out of control.
This scene reveals to the audience the reality of loneliness within an honor-shame-based culture. This is a societal problem that the country is facing now called, “Syoushika” which is on the matter of sanctity of life. Census shows that Japan, though economically advanced, is a country that has one of the highest suicide rates worldwide. In Japan this is a phenomenon called, “hikikomori.” It is a form of severe social withdrawal and a “deep-seated depression.”
Cultural and Historical Significance of Japan
Historically, in the 1600s, the significance of “Hara-kiri” (Seppuku) of Bushido (literal translation, the way of Samurai) revealed the ritualistic practice of showing an individual’s strength and loyalty by code of conduct by giving up one’s life.
300 years later, in WW2, kamikaze fighters embark in a similar fashion to show strength of the individual and loyalty to the country and empower, were to give up their lives for the greater cause. Based on one US veteran when encountered the kamikaze fighters were shocked saying, “I was ready to die for war, but was not ready for that” Western culture of justice-guilt-based society vs Eastern culture of honor-shame-based society comes into major conflict.
Buddha taught that “Suffering will cease when the cessation of desire of suffering” Like the idea of Bushido and Kamikaze tactics, Christianity and the Japanese understanding of life and death collide with a false dichotomy.
As Christians, suicide is seen in a very different light. Shikishima’s belief is tied to his behavior, and he says, “That monster (Godzilla) will never forgive us” He lives in the prison cell of his soul. God tells us those “fears” are a place where he needs to learn to put the past in its proper place.
Restorative and Hopeful News of the Gospel
We live in a fallen world, don’t we? When people cannot learn to deal with the past, the past then makes them bitter rather than better. As Christians, we can move forward into the future because of the freedom and forgiveness we find in Christ.
The film is about Godzilla, but it’s a bigger monster that rages war against mankind. The fear of life and death itself, as it was a battle to live for the future. “Fear” is a theme all over the Scripture that people face to overcome the unknown future. When the cold hand of fear lays upon one’s shoulder, God commands, “Do not be afraid” which has been written 365 times in the Bible.
As I think of the “hikikomori” reality in Japan, loneliness is one of the most painful and hurtful human emotional experiences we bear. Not just to be known, but to be valued by somebody else in some way. The feeling of being discarded, the feeling of being abandoned, the feeling of being isolated. The reality of suicide is this; sometimes people just want to stop the feeling of pain. Sometimes people want a moment of relief from suffering. Sometimes people just want to fix the problem.
The problem is, we cannot fix the problem of sin. The result of fixing sin, shame, and suffering whether they are taking the “suicide” route only leads people further down in despair, emptiness, and depression. Running away from the pain further separates the individual from the real solution. How can hikikomori move forward from their present helplessness to future hopefulness How do we overcome shame in a worried-filled world?
The good news is that Jesus came to fill that empty void with living water (John 4:14). God wanted to make a way for the lost lonely sinners who had no hope. When the world avoids lonely people, Jesus came for lonely people (Mark 2:17). As I grew up in Japan, I heard Buddhists saying how they “ascend” to reach god. As a Christian now, I have come to realize that “God descends” to us and that’s how we can reach God, not the other way around.
Biblical Solution to the Problem of Shame & Suicide
Today, Japan is the largest, currently non-evangelized nation that is completely open to missionaries. Tokyo is the world’s biggest city with a population of 40 million people. To this day Japan has been known as “the missionary’s graveyard.” Only 0.3% of Japanese people know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
That is a Godzilla-size monster that seems impossible to defeat with man. But with God? All things are possible with Christ (Phil 4:13). I pray that the “country of the rising sun” will one day become known as the country of the Risen Son!