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Nuclear disasters and invisible spectacles

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The violence of nuclear catastrophe is fundamentally contradictory. On the one hand, when caused by nuclear weapons, it is highly visible and often spectacular. As is the case with exposure to a large dose of radiation, the consequence of this violence can be instantaneous, too. On the other hand, odourless and invisible, radiation is beyond direct human perception. Furthermore, the deadly effect of radiation often manifests itself gradually over many years or even decades. This paradox of nuclear violence on human lives and the environment, which is simultaneously hypervisible and invisible, poses a particular challenge to film and other types of visual media. In this article, I examine how Japanese cinema has long been struggling with the complex and contradictory relationship between the nuclear question and visual culture. Many Japanese filmmakers, including well-known auteurs like Kurosawa Akira and those who specialize in popular genre movies such as tokusatsu eiga (‘special effects movies’), have tried to overcome the challenge of representing the invisibility of nuclear violence and radioactive contamination of the environment. I discuss how popular Japanese cinema has experimented with various formal and stylistic means to make the invisibility of nuclear violence perceptible or imaginable.
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Keywords: Gojira; Kurosawa Akira; Shin Gojira; nuclear cinema; radiation; slow violence; special effects; spectacle

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000419369975Waseda University

Publication date: October 1, 2019

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  • Asian Cinema is a seminal journal, which has been published since 1995 by the Asian Cinema Studies Society under the stewardship of Professor John Lent. From 2012 Asian Cinema will be published by Intellect as part of our Film Studies journal portfolio. The journal currently publishes a variety of scholarly material - including research articles, interviews, book and film reviews and bibliographies - on all forms and aspects of Asian cinema. The journal's broad aim is to advance understanding and knowledge of the rich traditions of the various Asian cinemas, thereby making an invaluable contribution to the field of Film Studies in general.
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