Tag Archives: ritual

Public Prayer and the Power of Ritual

4 Jul

I belong to a small block association that, as often as not, ends its meetings with a prayer. We stand, join hands, and one person will say the prayer—there’s two or three lay ministers in the group.

Though I don’t entertain any conventional religious belief, I like this little ritual. It feels good.

If a loaded gun were put to my head and my life depended on it, I might say I was an atheist. Might. Otherwise I’d just as soon not say any such thing. Nor even agnostic. Too damn rational.

And yet this Christian prayer, uttered by a devout Christian among other devout Christians, that doesn’t make me feel at all uncomfortable. As I said, I like it.

Question: Could this ritual be done without religious belief?

Ah, son, you ARE doing it without religious belief.

True enough. But I don’t think I could offer the prayer myself. For one thing, I don’t have the words and phrases ready to hand, couldn’t improvise one at all.

Getting back to the issue: If there is no religious belief, then to whom do you address the prayer? Certainly not to the mayor, nor to the CEO of Walmart, nor to Beyoncé, nor to the Japanese Emperor. Perhaps to some abstract entity such as the powers of abundance and fecundity throughout the universe? That’s edging up on a deity, no?

And there’s the hand-holding. Intimate, but not personal. Without that address to WHATEVER intimate hand-holding could be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Without the intimacy the hand-holding would be meaningless.

How do you engineer a way to have public intimacy that enlarges and enriches the group without being embarrassing?

Gojira 1954: No More Nukes

14 Mar

Here’s blast from the past, a review of Gojira, which I published in The Valve three years ago. Since this film is about nuclear anxiety it is highly relevant to the current emergency in Japan. I would also add that the Japanese original is superior to the film that appeared in America as Godzilla and scared the stuffing out of me when I was a kid. The Japanese original is richer and has a sense of grave ritual that is missing from the American hatchet job.

It came out less than 10 years after the end of WWII and about a century after Commodore Perry goaded the Japanese into investigating Western ways and refitting them into Japanese ways. Gojira has two interlinked storylines: the story about the monster from the sea and a story about love vs. arranged marriage, which grapples with tradition vs. change. The second one was dropped from the American re-edit. In this essay I suggest — but no more than that, suggest — that the two storylines are, deep down, but one storyline.


A review of Gojira, Ishiro Honda, dir. Toho Co, Ltd. 1954; reissued by Classic Media 2006.

On March 1, 1954, the United States detonated Castle Bravo at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. Castle Bravo was a hydrogen bomb with a yield of 15 megatons, roughly two or three times what had been expected. It was the largest radiological accident ever caused by the land of the free and the home of the brave and poisoned the crew of a Japanese tuna boat, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5), with one crew member eventually dying of leukemia. This led to a tuna scare in Japan and a petition drive to ban the bomb.

Tomoyuki Tanaka was one of many Japanese who followed the story closely. He worked as a producer for Toho Company, Ltd., one of Japan’s major film studios. When a deal fell through and created a hole in the studio’s release schedule, Tanaka decided to fill it with a new kind of film, a sci-fi horror story filmed in noir style and featuring a prehistoric beast awakened by an atomic explosion. The beast was named Gojira and the film was released in Japan on November 3, 1954.

If you look closely, you’ll see a reference to Lucky Dragon No. 5 early in Gojira. The movie opens on a freighter at sea off Odo Island, the Eiko-Maru. It’s evening and some of the sailors are gathered together while one of them plays the guitar and another the harmonica. There’s a sudden bright light and a loud noise. The sailors rush to the side of the ship to see what’s happened:

0 no 5.jpg

Notice the number on the life preserver, “No. 5.” The freighter sinks and all hands are lost.

Thus begins Gojira. It builds slowly. Another ship is lost, meetings are held, decisions made, and eventually a scientific team is sent Odo Island to investigate. The team is headed by Dr. Kyouhei Yamane, a noted paleontologist, who is accompanied by his daughter Emiko and Hideto Ogata, who works for the steamship company that’s lost two boats. At long last, 21 minutes into a 98 minute film, we catch our first glimpse of Gojira:

5 gojira roars.jpg

Gojira’s footprints are saturated with Strontium 90, as is the Island’s well water, evidence that Gojira as been tainted by radiation from some otherwise unidentified nuclear test. Beyond that, we know and learn little about why Gojira’s on the rampage. It’s simply an ugly fact, the monster’s been awakened and is heading toward Tokyo, what do we do?

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