Every time we sit down to work on the Culture Crush insights, we see patterns emerge. It’s funny how disparate topics from the pool of writers we work with sometimes seem to echo each other. And, of course, as we listen to that echo, we try to record and replay these sonic ideas back to you. So, when we were deciding which way to go this week, we couldn’t ignore a few signals that were bouncing back and forth between two stories that are quite different at face value, yet both express concepts like escapism, community building, and true devotion to subculture. And as the monsters of the mainstream continue to try and co-opt these subcultures, it forces those on the fringe further and further out. And it’s worth talking about.
Author Levin Roy takes us on the journey of a niche group of obscure, yet highly-skilled Japanese video game translators. Sometimes going by usernames like ‘Nightleech,’ ‘Belial The Hedgehog’ or ‘Burt Lasagna,’ these individuals work together online, often for decades, in order to translate obscure Japanese games into English and then release them out into the world at no cost and for no other reason than so that other devotees to Japanese Role Playing Games can escape too. As Levin perfectly explained, “translating these games, given their unique and time intensive demands, has led to the formation of entire communities of geographically diverse individuals that would otherwise not exist. After all, it is one thing to like a game, it is another thing altogether to have a project that a community must form around to complete.”
This teamwork eventually caught the eye of the big gaming companies, and now, thanks to the dedication of the fan translators, mainstream gaming companies are re-releasing forgotten Japanese gems in English to sell directly back to them. Which begs the question: where will the online subculture of video game loving, good Samaritan translators go next? Read Found in Translation!
In juxtaposition, author Malique I. Morris goes offline, and out into the night, to talk about the history of nightclubs and how they have always served as a sanctuary for marginalized communities in real life, where in our opinion, things matter the most. These are places where people could go and be free from judgement and even take on alternative personas, to become creatures of the night, together. Yet, as these cultural outsiders continually create and conjure alternative dimensions in order to escape the heaviness of establishment society, that same societal monster never ceases to pursue them.
As Morris explains, “In most cases, nightlife often is a dismissible consumerist entity. It facilitates a culture of vapidity, unhealthy indulgence and segregation among various social groups. But, somehow when organized by the socially ignored or targeted sub-cultures, nightlife can turn into an entirely different kind of institution.
There is no full divergence from consumerism, certainly not from capital gain. And honesty, there will never be.” Although brands now sponsor club parties and C-list celebrities are paid to sit at VIP tables in an attempt to attract crowds, real nightlife, that belonging to the outsiders, still carries on, in however many dimensions they can reach.
To us, it’s heartening that even with the changing times, we can continue to recreate and find our escapes from the mainstream and society’s ever-present eye to just be, whether it is in a bilingual 16-bit world or in the darkness of the night.
Speaking of monsters, none is more famous than the King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla. First appearing in the eponymously named film, Godzilla, or Gojira, the monster stomped into theaters in post-World War II Japan as a commentary on the dangers of nuclear weapons and the hubris of humanity in believing that they could control nature. The producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, was inspired by the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This movie served as the muse of many post war “creature features,” feeding off of the panic that was gripping the world over the possibilities of a nuclear holocaust. However, the story of how Godzilla went from a B-movie monster flick to a worldwide pop culture phenomenon and the longest running film franchise in history is reminiscent of a game of cultural tag. Except, this one took place on a global scale.
The original film was released in 1954 in Japan and became only the eighth best-attended movie of the year. Initially, Japanese critics hated the film because the monster was cheap looking, and the design nonsensical, while the plot, with its emphasis on devastation caused by a nuclear monster, was thought to be disrespectful to the legacy of victims of the atomic bomb. However, in 1955, a small American production company purchased the international rights for the movie and decided to adapt it for American audiences. The “Americanization” of Godzilla was no small task. The movie had many themes and plot elements that simply would not be understood by the average moviegoer.
Similarly, the lack of any American characters was another hurdle that they needed to overcome. To combat these problems, the studio hired Raymond Burr to play the role of American reporter Steve Martin, who was added to the movie, appearing to interact with the original Japanese actors through intricate cinematography, narration, and edits. Additionally, whole segments of the movie were removed and the original Japanese dialogue was dubbed over by English voice actors.
This new version, Godzilla, King of The Monsters!, was released in 1956 to American theaters. Unlike its Japanese counterpart, American critics enjoyed this version of the movie and it was a success among the public as well. It’s safe to say it was a hit. This same American version was then exported to Europe and South America, where the original version had never been released. By 1957, Godzilla had gone full circle, returning to Japanese theaters (with subtitles since the dialogue had been so radically changed) and renamed as Kaiju Ō Gojira where it replaced the original in both the theaters and the minds of the public, and later became the inspiration for the other movies in the series.
In the end, Godzilla was the first piece of Japanese culture that worldwide audiences had been exposed to and it left them clamoring for more. Godzilla did not just open the door for anime, manga, and Japanese horror; he blew the door down with his atomic breath.