By St. Paco
In the classic giant monster movies of Japan, a trio of islands in the South Pacific Ocean are home to three of Tokyo's biggest threats: Barugon, Giant Beast Gappa, and King Kong. In real life, these isolated islands are home to some of the biggest threats to history and anthropology textbooks everywhere.
Why is it that the giant monsters in the old Japanese science-fantasy flicks nearly always originate from remote islands in the South Pacific? It has long been something of a puzzle to me, but I'm not the only giant monster movie lover to ever express interest in this subject.
In an essay originally published in 1992, cultural critic Nagayama Yasuo also pondered the significance of this recurring theme in the cinema of his homeland when he wrote: why do monsters always come from the South–specifically the South Pacific–in Toho monster films?
Sollgel Island, a fictional locale situated somewhere in the South Pacific, is home to both the giant spider Spiega, and Kamacuras, a super-sized praying mantis. The monster Mothra – a mountain-sized silkworm moth – originates from the equally imaginary Infant Island. And the suitably named Monster Island is yet another tropical land mass surrounded by the sky-blue waters of the South Pacific Ocean.
Monster Island, by the way, is like a mysterious Busch Gardens where Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and others of their kind have been segregated for the safety of all humanity.
Thus, it is probably with this firmly-established history of concocted South Seas locales in mind that some authors also mistakenly add Fauro Island (alternately misspelled as Faro or Faroe) to their lists of fictional locales in Godzilla flicks.
"The equally imaginary Faro Island is supposed to be the home of King Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla," writes Yoshikuni Igarashi, author of the essay entitled "Mothra's Giant Egg."
Amazingly, though, Fauro Island isn't fictional at all. It is actually a very real monster island.
In King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the scientist who tells of the existence of Fauro Island describes it as the tropical domain of a "strange god," and the natural habitat of a medicinal red berry that grows only there and nowhere else. The scientist even mentions its connection to the very real Solomon Islands and then points to its location on a Pacific Ocean map.
(Okay, not to crack anyone across the knuckles with a ruler or anything, but that's the kind of obvious factoid that no Godzilla geek worth their pocket protector should have missed.)
Then again, I should probably blame the schools. When have American school systems – public or private – ever educated its student citizens about anything regarding the Solomon Islands or the South Pacific? It isn't as if a great number of this country's World War II battles were waged there, or as if the young Lieutenant John F. Kennedy nearly died in the fighting there, right?
Wrong–unless you actually said "wrong."
After the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, America's battle to stop the spread of Japan's rapidly expanding empire would take place on and above the beaches and jungles of these little-known islands. When the war ended in 1945, large numbers of Japanese POWs were even detained in Allied holding camps established on the shores of what would later become King Kong's movie home.
The history of the Pacific War theater also plays a part in the screenplay of Gamera vs. Barugon. In the 1964 film, Papua New Guinea is the domain of a chameleon-tongued dragon that the giant turtle Gamera must fight to defend Japan against. The island is also the location of a papaya-sized opal that one of the supporting characters, a former soldier, says that he found there during the war. Amusingly, he mentions also having to hide the gem in a cave in 1945, just before "being sent to the prisoner of war camp."
In Giant Beast Gappa (1967), whose screenplay appears to steal without shame from King Kong vs. Godzilla, the story begins on begins on Obelisk, a volcanic land mass situated in the Solomon Islands east of Papua. Unbeknownst to the team of journalists and scientists who visit the island while on the payroll of a greedy publishing magnate, Obelisk is a nesting ground for a couple of griffin-like gargantuas called gappas.
Obelisk, like the islands of Fauro and Papua New Guinea in these films, is also inhabited by fearsome tribes of dark, bushy-haired "primitives." And though the placement of these figures would seem to border on the absurd, their presence on the screen actually hints at a profound reality that is infinitely even more curious than the South Seas origin of make-believe monsters.
To be continued...
The YKFS management hopes that you have enjoyed this teaser excerpt of St. Paco's "Monster Islands." The full essay will be published in a future collection of similarly themed essays written by the author.