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Aaron Kerner




Gaye Chan
Kaili Chun
Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Robin Kandel
Aaron Kerner
John Morita
Katsushige Nakahashi
Masami Teraoka
Lynne Yamamoto

History is never objective. And when we think of history we generally assume that it moves from a specific starting point, be it the life of Jesus Christ, or the Meiji Restoration forward as opposed to the other way around, from the contemporary moment backwards. The fact is, and historians would most likely disagree on this point, historical discourse is not intended to explain the past, but rather justifies our current condition. We use history not to explain previous eras, or events, but rather to discover something about ourselves. Nor should history be circumscribed to a specific discipline. To view historical discourse within the extremely narrow confines of the specific discipline is to ignore the presence of historical knowledge embodied in architecture (e.g., Gallery éf, an earlier exhibiting venue), visual media including even narrative cinema.

On November 3, 1954 the first Gojira (Godzilla) film was released in Japan. Just a few months prior during an American hydrogen test blast in the Bikini Atoll, on March 1, 1954, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru was showered with radioactive fallout. All the crewmen became ill, and eventually on September 23, 1954, Aikichi Kuboyama the radio operator of the vessel would succumb to the effects of radiation illness. It is no accident that the first Gojira film premiers on the heels of this event; nor is it an accident that the opening scene of this film takes place on a fishing boat resembling the Daigo Fukuryu Maru. And moreover, the very first person to ‘die’ in the film is the radio operator of the vessel. This film, while not conforming to the standard rules of evidence as maintained in the historical discipline, nevertheless conveys knowledge of past events. And although it might not be ‘accurate,’ it might convey some of the emotions of that event, the fear and horror of atomic weaponry.

A couple years after the release of the Japanese film, an American film company purchased the rights to Gojira and completely re-edited the film and inserted an American actor into the narrative. In addition, and most revealing, all the explicit references to American use of atomic weaponry were edited out of the film. The ending for example of the 1954 version, while heavy handed in its moralism, was cut from the film because of its demand that nuclear testing stop. In another scene from the 1954 version characters make reference to surviving Nagasaki, wartime evacuations, and radiated tuna this too has been cut out from the American version. If we consider Gojira to embody some sort of historical narrative either version is used to justify certain ideological positions.

My video installation, About Fallout, juxtaposes these two narratives, comparing the opening scenes of the Japanese and American version of Gojira. The video opens with a preface, showing the American and Japanese opening scenes side-by-side. What follows is a chronology, beginning with a count-down of American nuclear tests, leading to the spectacular Bravo test which produced a fire ball that spanned four miles; the flash of light from the test was seen as far away as Okinawa. The video references critical dates from the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident to the Japanese and American releases of Gojira. At times what is seen is the video-feed from both versions of the film superimposed over one another; the result is a distorted image, as if either image is attempting to impose itself on the other. The other footage in the film is taken from a variety of American films such as About Fallout (which I have appropriated as my own title) sponsored by the US Defense Department and A is for Atom a film presented by General Electric. On the audio track I have included dialogue from the 1954 version of Gojira that was cut out from the American version.

It is easy in this case to illustrate how American filmmakers have become revisionist historians of sorts. Such conclusions, however, are too easy. Besides what narrative filmmaker doesn’t take liberties, the problem is not so much that the ‘truth’ of the original film has been violated, or even that the spirit of the Japanese film has been excised, but rather what I hope this video demonstrates is that historical knowledge is fragile. It changes form and pledges no allegiance to the past, but is answerable only to those who construct history.

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