See, this is why you need friends. I had never heard of Gehara: The Dark and Long-Haired Monster until long-time pal of the blog, Rocket Scientist, brought it to my attention. I’m not sure how such an oversight happened, but that injustice has now been corrected.
Produced in 2009 for the Japanese television show Tere Asobi Pafoo!, Gehara is a 20-minute short film that both celebrates and parodies the giant monster genre. It begins with two fishermen witnessing the rising of the very hairy behemoth, an incident that leaves one dead and the other completely bald for some reason. Curious about the survivor’s story, a newspaperman tracks down a shrine/tomb dedicated to the legendary beast, Gehara, only to find it empty.
It isn’t long before the hirsute horror stomps its way into Tokyo, where it proves unstoppable. That is until a mysterious American shows up with a newly developed secret weapon, a giant oscillating fan. Using the device, the army blows Gehara’s hair away from its face, exposing the creature’s weak spot. Gehara appears doomed… until the evil extraterrestrials show up!
Gehara is a work of pure fan service. Casual viewers probably won’t get all the inside jokes, but those who’ve sat through 60+ years worth of Godzilla movies more than a few times will likely recognize the loving details. There’s the lost tribe that worships the creature, the gratuitous tacked-on environmental message, and the homeless aliens hell-bent on world domination. And, of course, there’s the obligatory scene where the authorities try to hash out just what kind of monster it is they’re dealing with.
Among the possible explanations are some rather odd choices. Possibly they’re up against a Keukegen spectre, one of those small dog-like spirits whose hair can cause disease that were dreamed up by artist Toriyama Sekien in the 1780s. Or maybe it’s a Seaman, a freakish fish with a humanoid face found in a Tamagachi style video game for the old Sega Dreamcast. One government representative even suggests it could be one of the elder gods, the Koto·ama·tsu·kami, who created the earth and has now come back to reclaim their handiwork.
Inherent in all these speculations is the notion that something old is trying to reassert itself, a common thread in Japanese giant monster movies. Many experts see this as a commentary on Shintoism in post-war Japan following its dissolution as the state religion by Allied occupation forces. In his piece for the book Giant Creatures in Our World: Essays on Kaiju and American Popular Culture, Professor Se Young Kim discusses Shinto, noting that “its connection to kaiju cinema is in the fact that it loses favor as a cultural practice beginning in the middle of the twentieth century.” He goes on to point out the fact that “Godzilla appears at exactly the moment that Shintoism recedes.”
While many Shinto customs continue unabated in Japan, the religious aspects of the practices have slowly been deemphasized. With that change has come an apparent decline in the respect for the traditional family, the sacredness of nature, the need for spiritual and physical cleanliness, and the honoring of the gods and ancestral spirits. As a result, many experts suggest Japan is suffering. So basically, in these kinds of movies, the idea is that all of these crazy kaiju running around are a manifestation of the cultural rot brought on by the abandonment of traditional religion and the values contained therein.
With that being the case, one wonders why there aren’t more giant monsters running around the United States. Of course, we have plenty of homegrown horrors to reflect our own cultural decline, don’t we? After all, there’s a reason exorcism and zombie movies remain so popular.