Showa 20 (AD 1945)
WHITE SANDS, NEW MEXICO—An experiment meant to put an end to a war goes horribly awry. Watching from their bunkers, the scientists and generals of the Manhattan Project watch the blazing monster they have created, its incandescent rage setting the very sands of the desert aflame, uncoil to its full and terrible height and bellow its challenge to the heavens. When the roar reaches the nearby town of Alamogordo, windows shatter and tarpaper roofs are torn loose.
The mutant gila monster, thirty stories high, the twin rows of flat spines on its back aglow with nuclear fire, leaves behind a track of destruction miles wide as it stomps inexorably down the Rio Grande toward the Gulf of Mexico, hastily scrambled bombers from the training squadrons at Randolph Field only fueling the monster’s anger. Luckily, once the monster reaches the coast, it plunges into the waters of the Gulf without hesitation, showing no interest in further revenge. The last trace of the monster is an ambiguous sonar contact, reported by an Allied destroyer off the coast of Cuba.
With a sigh of relief, President Truman signs Executive Order 9613, forbidding further development of megaloallotheres.
In late August, a coterie of junior officers loyal to the Emperor deposes the wartime cabinet of Hideki Tojo and Japan surrenders, conditionally, on 1 September. In the tumultuous half-century that follows, the diplomats of the Gaimusho maintain a delicate balance between the victorious superpowers; indeed, Japanese neutrality is credited by some later historians with preventing the Russo-American Wars of 1954-1959 and 1978-1987 from growing into wider conflicts. Meanwhile, the science-fiction cinema of postwar Japan is dominated, not by inscrutable monsters and devastated cities, but by more subtle tales of the dangers of jingoism, ideology, and propaganda.
The first — and still considered, by some critics, the best — of the shisôseiatsu genre is Yasujiro Ozu’s Mirai-no-koto: Ani Gannen (1953), a dark and stylish film combining elements of 1984 and Wells’ Things to Come. Akira Kurosawa followed up in 1954 with Entômin, a fable of a country devastated by war and enslaved by the mind-control devices of a small ruling elite. Ironically, Entômin was remade both in the United States, as an anticommunist parable (Elia Kazan’s Prisoners of Power, 1957), and in the Soviet Union, as a satire on Western media culture (Andrei Tarkovsky’s Obitayemyi Ostrov, 1979). Both directors, along with a host of imitators, continue to direct shisôseiatsu films through the end of the century. The genre is credited with making major contributions toward keeping the excesses of Japan’s militaristic past at the forefront of the country’s collective memory, and hence helping first heal and then cement relationships with Japan’s neighbors and former victims.
In 1983, at the height of the second Russo-American war, President Ronald Reagan makes a speech outlining an ambitious program of renewed megaloallotheric research. The war-weary United States is torn between “pro-monster” and “anti-monster” factions, between the hope of a “super-weapon” to win the war and the fear of “mutual assured destruction” should the Soviets develop megaloallotheres of their own.
Two years later, anti-monster director Terry Gilliam releases the revolutionary Watchmen, now universally recognized as the West’s finest original contribution to the shisôseiatsu genre. Combining the genre’s traditional themes of militarism and totalitarianism with an epic alternate history, Watchmen depicts a world of trigger-happy superpowers armed with city-destroying “nuclear weapons”, a world whose metaphorical “doomsday clock” stands only a few minutes from annihilation.
The analogy between Watchmen’s “nuclear weapons” and the possibility of megaloallotheric war is not lost on America’s voters, and anti-war, anti-monster candidates form a solid majority in the 100th Congress. The war ends in early 1987, and funding for megaloallotheric research is cut to the bone.
Later administrations prefer not to waste political capital on the issue. In 1999, Japan brokers a Comprehensive Monster Ban treaty.¤