Without A Screen: Gojira Tai Shofuso

Cinedelphia contributor Aaron Mannino is also currently Artist-In-Residence at Philly’s own Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. If you are unamiliar, Shofuso is an authentic 17th Century style Japanese house located in the heart of Fairmount Park, replete with three sculpted gardens and a koi pond. First constructed in Nagoya Japan, Shofuso made its way to MOMA NY as an exhibition house, where it stood for two years. Afterward it found a permanent home in Philadelphia. Shofuso continues to serve as a beacon of traditional Japanese culture – such as monthly tea ceremonies – and is a living testament to the relationship between Philadelphia and Japan which extends as far back as the 1876 Centennial Celebrations. As Mannino points out in his 2012 art series titled Shofuso Colors, Shofuso is also the most surreal place in Philadelphia. Here he discusses his most recent, and incidentally most cinematic project in this series.

The underlying concept behind Shofuso Colors is to develop a bridge of cultural understanding and curiosity through site-specific color-based artworks; ranging between sculpture, photography, poetry, and performance. The goal of each work individually is to celebrate the sensuous cultural gateway allowed by the experience of color itself; an extension of what Shofuso allows by its very existence. Shofuso Colors also challenges the traditional leanings of Shofuso’s cannon through its integration of contemporary art. Lastly, I hope to highlight the dreamlike quality of Shofuso, evident not only in the cultural cross-over it embodies, or the temporal confusion it creates, but in the tonal dichotomy it represents; a pocket of solicitude and calm against the bustle of the city.

The third installment of Shofuso Colors, titled Gojira Tai Shofuso (Godzilla vs. Shofuso), is also the series’ most irreverent. The intent of this video-based installation is to challenge the pervading atmosphere of reverence, serenity, and un-touchability in the Shofuso experience. Gojira Tai Shofuso is a collage of clips and scenes, taken mostly from Japanese monster films in which sacred, traditional, and old-world structures are the brunt – or host of – destruction. These include Ishiro Honda’s Mosura tai Gojira (Mothra vs. Godzialla, 1964) in which Godzilla famously destroys the Nagoya Castle (if not by accident). The inside joke is that Shofuso itself was originally constructed in Nagoya, Japan. The more complex intent of Gojira Tai Shofuso is to broaden the definition of “sacred space.” In structuring this video as a dream – having sourced films Kurosawa, Okamoto, and Gilliam – I mean to suggest that the mind itself is a sacred space. Alongside this expanded definition of space, is an implication of “monstrosity” as a quality shared by monsters (Kaiju) and humans alike.  In the dream represented by this video, various physical spaces blend into one another, and are demolished successively by warring monsters. Therefore Gojira Tai Shofuso creates a fusion of tangible (physical) and intangible (psychological) space. The following films were sourced for this piece.

Gojira Tai Shofuso is on view July 5th – 15th at Shofuso. Horticultural and Lansdowne Drives, Philadellphia PA.

Kagemusha (1980)  A peasant thief with a stunning likeness to the lord Shingen is elected to impersonate the late lord Shingen in the event of his death. Kurosawa creates one of his most lavish and involving dramas, which is also his most existentially adept. Kagemusha is the height of the director’s visual language and use of color.

Mothra Vs. Gojira (1964) A massive storm washes Mothra’s egg and a slumbering Godzilla ashore. Mass destruction ensues, and in typical Honda fashion, the best and worst of human beings is revealed. Honda was always simple yet masterful at coupling the event of a monster attack with a sociopolitical catalyst. Here, tides of aggressive and unsavory post-war economic tactics, and class exploitation are the underpinnings of mass destruction.

Mothra Vs. Gojira (1992) Remake of the original, with the addition of the Monster Battra. Nagoya Castle still gets a renovation.

Gojira (1954) A prehistoric monster is awoken by A-bomb testing and wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting Japan. The antinuclear message (Godzilla being a living embodiment of the bomb and Japan’s post-war anxiety) and writer Sekizawa’s clever integration of the human drama into the ultimate resolution of the monster conflict makes this an excellent film. Ishiro Honda’s dynamic handling of the subject makes Gojira the best and most lasting of the franchise. The combination of all these elements and the innovation of effects wizards makes this a masterpiece.

Gojira Raids Again (1955)  A rushed sequel to the poignant original introduces a new atomic monster named Aguirus. Director Motoyoshi Oda presents Gojira’s first on stage battle and an onslaught of mass destruction.

Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964)  A meteorite unleashes Ghidorah, a three-headed beast from outer-space, upon….you guessed it…..Tokyo. Mothra stuns audiences by trying to unite the forces of Godzilla and Rodan to battle the threat on their mutual homeworld. This film marks the shift of Gojira from aggressor to protector.

Brazil (1985)  Sam Lowry is a workaday bureaucrat in a technocratic future in Terry Gilliam’s dystopian masterwork. In his efforts correct an administrative error, Lowry is swept into a convoluted spiral of revelations about the absurdity and hazard of his world, while chasing the love of his life. By the end of the film he is public enemy no. 1.

The Sword Of Doom (1966)  Tatsuya Nakadai burns one of the most intense screen performances, and one of the greatest freeze-frame endings into cinema history under Kihachi Okamoto’s direction. HNakadai’s Ryunosuke Tsukue is a sociopathic samurai whose knack for accumulating vendettas is unmatched, as is the ferocity of his unsheathed sword. Without scruples, Ryunosuke is used as an agent of political agendas, but nothing supercedes his loyalty to chaos. In that way he stands as one part in a lineage of characters that lead up to Heath Ledger’s Joker.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) A pharmaceutical company catches wind of the horticultural anomalies of Farou Island where they lead an expedition to capture King Kong. When brought to Japan, he escapes. At the same time, Godzilla is released from an iceberg and the two battle it out epic style. The American release of the film, which injects strange interludes of a United Nations news show following the story (a commentator speaking directly to the camera), is perhaps the most bizarre and surrealistic film from the genre, if not the era. It is all the more interesting, perplexing, and hilarious for it.

Author: Aaron Mannino

Aaron Mannino is a Philadelphia area artist, film enthusiast, and some other things. He has made contributions on film analysis to the publication Korean Quarterly. Visit his blog or his website for writings and art-ings.


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