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March 16, 2011

Japan, Tsunamis, Nukes, Godzilla, & the Movies

A few thoughts, and some news, connecting all of the above

As we continue to pray for, worry about, and send aid to Japan in the midst of their crisis, I can't help but be reminded of Godzilla, the classic 1954 monster film that in some ways is comparable to current events. Like the tsunami, Godzilla was a devastating creature who rose from the sea, trampled everything in sight, and wreaked havoc on the land and its people. There was a nuke angle as well: The giant creature was born from nuclear materials, a mega-mutation from atomic radiation, with radioactive breath, no less. The parallels between that film and Japan's current crisis are eerie, as evidenced in the original Japanese trailer

But here's where the parallels end: Godzilla wasn't merely a "force of nature"; he was an imaginary product of American nuclear devastation. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in Japanese minds, and writer/director Ishiro Honda came up with a film that is more cultural commentary than it is monster movie. A recent New York Times editorial, titled "Japan's Long Nuclear Disaster Film," notes that in 1954, Japanese audiences reportedly watched the film "in somber silence, broken by periodic weeping."

The anti-nuke message of the film means little today, of course, when Japan, which powers one-third of its electricity with nuclear power, is struggling to prevent a meltdown crisis. If only the fictional Godzilla were real today -- over the course of the films, he actually changed "sides" and became a defender of Japan. Perhaps he could think of a way to protect them from the meltdown. But in his absence, Japan's nuclear officials and engineers -- with offers of help from around the world -- are scrambling to contain the mounting threat.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is considering the plight of one of its greatest sources of revenue. According to a story in yesterday's LA Times, Japan is the No. 1 foreign market for Hollywood films, generating $2.5 billion in box office receipts last year, $700 million ahead of No. 2 foreign market France. The story reports that "Hollywood studios are undoubtedly counting on Japan to play an important role in the success of their big budget summer tentpoles such as Kung Fu Panda 2, Green Lantern, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon." The story says that Hollywood execs are now reconsidering their release plans, depending on how quickly the nation recovers.

The recovery may take some time, and along the way, Japanese people may or may not be interested in going to the movies. Something as trivial as a movie seems like the last thing you'd want to do if you've lost loved ones, your home, and more. On the other hand, trends show that people sometimes flock to the movies to escape the harsh realities of life, so it's hard to say how our friends in Japan might react in the weeks and months -- and maybe years -- ahead.

In the meantime, at least one American film distributor is moving forward with plans to show a movie in Japan: Campus Crusade for Christ, which for decades has shown the evangelistic film Jesus to billions of viewers around the world. Japanese Campus Crusade teams are already on the ground, as staff and volunteers deliver aid, food, and more to the displaced and the devastated. The ministry's Japanese teams are asking for 50,000 DVDs of the Jesus film (in Japanese, of course) to share with their countrymen.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a bit tacky -- because while there are people all over the world who certainly need Jesus, what the Japanese need right now is food, shelter, warmth, medical aid, and comfort. But there are so many with no place to go, nothing to do, but just sit and wait for help to come. And as noted before, hurting people often like to escape to the movies; why not show a film that offers the greatest hope of all? Between that and knowing that the Japanese teams are asking for the film -- and the decision isn't just being made at CCC's Orlando headquarters -- I'm good with it. (If you're interested on donating to help get those DVDs to Japan, click here.)


You're right, Mark. It does seem tacky. In fact, it's worse than tacky.
Right now, the call should be to actively support with prayers and money those Christian organizations, like the Salvation Army, World Vision and church groups among others, and those individual Christians (Japanese and non-Japanese) who are actively showing the love of Christ to the traumatized Japanese people with concern, food, water, shelter, blankets, medical care, emotional and physical assistance.
That is what the people these need right now. After all, the Lord’s own prayer says, "give us this day our daily bread" after "Thy will be done" and but before "keep us from temptation” and “deliver us from evil.” And what does James, in 2:16, say about those who say, "Be warm and well-fed" to those needing it--and then do nothing about it?
Send this film to address the spiritual hunger and despair that will come when the people in Japan begin to recover later … but to focus on this now when there so much death, so much apocalyptical destruction, so much sorrow and trauma, and unresolved nuclear disasters, to ask for money to send 50,000 DVDs instead of sending medical and physical help is not only tacky, but insensitive.
Right now, the Japanese people need the real love of Jesus presented to them—which leads to Jesus—not a DVD.

Please re-read this. Mark already said they are already "on the ground, as staff and volunteers deliver aid, food, and more to the displaced and the devastated." In addition to meeting their physical needs, they desire to give them something to meet their spiritual needs. This is well balanced and not in the least bit tacky.

As long as they are meeting the physical and emotional needs first, I say, it's movie time! Movies are the campfires of today when it comes to telling stories, especially those that give healing for our pain, and hope for our suffering. If the Japanese people have a lot of down time while they figure out what to do next, then let's show them a movie worth watching. To understand the love of Christ is to know his story, and a movie seems like just the thing for telling it.