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Monster mission: Godzilla chosen as college tool to teach Constitution, peace

Professor Hiroshi Ito talks about Godzilla and the Constitution at his office. (Mainichi)

WAKAYAMA -- A professor at a women's junior college here started a course to teach the Constitution using something that may seem remote to the supreme law's war-renouncing ideals: Godzilla, an incarnation of death and destruction with worldwide notoriety.

"I want students to examine how Japanese society that surrounds the Constitution has transformed, using images from the Godzilla series of films that spans more than 60 years," explained Hiroshi Ito, professor of media studies at Wakayama Shin-ai Women's Juniro College, about his intention behind utilizing the sci-fi monster that appears in 29 films released between 1954 and 2016, and has a Hollywood variant. Now Japanese politicians are talking about amending the supreme law but "it is critical for people to know first what's in and around the Constitution," Ito said.

The behemoth is serving its role and did help grab students' attention. On April 26 this year, the first day of his course designed to introduce the Constitution, the professor distributed materials using images from the first Godzilla movie, and the students' curiosity seemed piqued.

"Godzilla (films) started as an anti-nuclear, anti-war project," Ito explained, adding that scenes of devastation caused by Godzilla attacks in the film represented cities ruined by air raids and atomic bombings during World War II. He went on to say that the film about a huge monster jolted out of eternal sleep in the deep sea by a hydrogen bomb test had its roots in the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident of March 1, 1954. The Daigo Fukuryu Maru, a Japanese fishing boat in the South Pacific, was hit by radioactive fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test blast on the Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands. The film conveyed, Ito emphasized, the danger of nuclear weapons at a time when memories from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh.

A big fan of Godzilla, Ito decided to introduce the monster into his classes after seeing the record box office success of Godzilla Resurgence (Shin Godzilla), which was released in 2016 and raked in some 8 billion yen ($73 million).

In the latest film, the Self-Defense Forces and the United States forces carried out a joint attack on Godzilla. The U.S. went further to get the United Nations involved and consider a nuclear attack. No nuclear weapons were used, but the film's departure from past Godzilla works with an anti-nuclear message was evident. "These things were now taken for granted, and it worried me," Ito said.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced a plan to change war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to explicitly mention the SDF, unleashing debate on constitutional amendment. Students with voting rights, however, do not show much interest in the subject. Politicians seeking to change the Constitution often argue that the supreme law has become obsolete, but "perhaps some people have forgotten the social goals idealized in the Constitution," Ito suggested.

It was out of this thinking that Ito wanted his students to learn about the foundation of the Constitution, including Article 9, in which pacifism in postwar Japan has its roots.

For his course, Ito selected scenes from the Godzilla series that are related to peace or the Constitution. One example is a scene from the 16th installment released in 1984. The U.S. and the Soviet Union, now Russia, demanded that the government of Japan accept a nuclear attack on the monster about to land on the Japanese archipelago. The Japanese prime minister stood up to the leaders of the two superpowers, insisting that Japan has three principles of not possessing, producing or introducing nuclear weapons. "Can you use nukes if Godzilla lands on your countries?" the premier asked his U.S. and Soviet counterparts, who eventually backed down.

(Japanese original by Akira Iida, City News Department)

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