TUC Kaiju-Genre

To tackle the problem of genre consolidation and the potential role of media tropes for merging several, varying databases about Japanese visual media, the following Tiny Use Case is narrowed down to the Kaiju genre. Due to its diverse nature, the Kaiju genre provides a special challenge to evaluate its genre-defining core tropes from a data-analytical perspective. Thus, gained insights can provide a solid base for further studies on other genres. Additionally, because contemporary genre research focuses on tropes as a transmedia concept to understand the notion “genre”, the question whether this method is still viable in times of digital databases has to be raised.

Kaiju (怪獣), roughly translated as “strange monster”, have been recognizable staple characters in global cinema, comic books, and popular media for decades. Since its emergence with King Kong (1933) and Godzilla (1954), the genre saw great success and popularity not only due to the epic battles of gigantic monsters in cities, against militaries, or other Kaiju, but also due to the diverse range of topics explicitly or implicitly portrayed and discussed in the movies. From manmade and natural disasters, international and domestic politics, mass destruction, to militarism, Kaiju have been emblematic as protectors or destroyers in these narratives (see Barr 2016[1]).

This diversity in content indicates a range of topics, narratives, and aesthetics that constitute and define the Kaiju genre, and engenders questions about whether it is its own genre, where the genre borders can be drawn (especially in differentiation to catastrophe, monster, horror and science-fiction), and which movie tropes are indicative of the genre.

To answer these questions, I draw from data from TV Tropes (tvtropes.org), which is available under CC BY-SA-NC 3.0 Unported License (Creative Commons[2]), and analyze the significant overlaps and differences of movie tropes among Kaiju movies and to find out whether a core of characteristic movie tropes for this genre exists or not. Here, I will try to evaluate which tropes can be categorized as too generic, i.e., tropes that can be numerously found in other genre, or too rare to be considered as genre defining. This also entails the question, which movies are taken into account for the analysis. Here, I will also draw from Barr and draw a line, “despite their lineage and themes they share” (Barr 2016: 2), between Kaiju and other Tokusatsu movies (特撮, lit. ‘special photography’, tokushu satsuei gijutsu, 特殊撮影技術, lit. ‘special effects technology’), like Tokusatsu Hero (e.g., Kamen Rider and Metal Hero), Mecha (e.g., Giant Robo, Super Robot Red Baron), but also combinations, like Ultraman or Super Sentai. In course of this research, a consistency or inconsistency of the genre will unfold.

Future Research:

While this TUC will focus on tropes to define a genre and whether this method might be or might not be viable in the course of digital databases, future research might entail, but is not limited to, a historical perspective tracing the development of tropes over the years, or, while it is the consensus among researchers, directors, and fans, whether differences of core tropes do exist between Japanese and non-Japanese Kaiju movies.

[1] Barr, J. (2016) The Kaiju Film. A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters. Jefferson: McFarland.

[2] We would like to thank the team behind tvtropes.org for providing the data under creative commons and acknowledge their efforts to expand and maintain the data provided.