Transnational Monsters

Media Studies (Steve Rawle)

Steve Rawle, together with Keith McDonald from the School of Humanities, Religion and Philosophy, are undertaking two projects that explore monsters and the monstrous in cinema and popular culture.

Transnational Kaijū: From Strange Beasts to Legendary Monsters

This project explores the global development of the kaijū eiga through a focus on the ways in which concepts of national cinema have given way to more plural, transnational forms. By considering the ways in which Japanese national cinema has been at the core of the kaijū eiga’s transnational circulation, from its name to its core Godzilla texts, it contributes to the ways in which we understand how genres have developed globally. While Hollywood is only now capitalising on the popularity of the genre, there has been a long-standing fascination for global audiences with the figure of the city-smashing giant monsters of Japanese cinema. Taking a plural approach, it looks across production, distribution, reception, alongside textual analysis to consider how this particular genre has grown from its roots in Japan to become one of the most popular global genres, especially as the Legendary/Warner Bros. Monsterverse cycle is set to once more bring Godzilla face to face with King Kong in 2020.

This is not intended to be another historical overview of the development of the kaijū eiga in Japan – this has been covered in other texts – but to consider how transnational and globalised the genre has become. The focus of the project ranges across historical and contemporary research to show how, while the genre is rooted in Japan and sometimes in Orientalised Japanese terms, the labour of kaijū producers, distributors, viewers and fans have helped produce a transnational genre in which concepts of nation are central but dispersed across and beyond borders as kaijū journey from country to country.

The project’s outputs are planned to include a monograph, and edited journal issue, with a stand-alone book chapter due to be published in January 2018.

Transnational Monstrosity in Popular Culture

Since the popularisation of monster narratives in the nineteenth century, the monstrous figure has been a consistent border crosser, from Count Dracula’s journey on the Demeter from Romania to Whitby, to the rampaging monsters of Godzilla movies across multiple global cities. In folklore, such narratives have long been subject to specific local and national cultures, such as the shape-shifting Aswang of Filipino folklore or the Norwegian forest Huldra, yet global mediacapes (Appadurai) now circulate mediatised representations of national and regional folklore (including fictional ones) across borders, producing a transnational genre that spans multiple media.

While the study of monsters in fiction is nothing new, the examination of the figure of the monster from a transnational perspective offers the opportunity to better understand issues of cultural production and influence, the relationship between national cultures and transnational formations, hierarchies of cultural production, the ethics of transnationalism, as well as the possibility to explore how shifting cultural and political boundaries have been represented through tropes of monstrosity. Hence, this project seeks new insights into the nature of transnational cultures and help to understand how one of the oldest fictional metaphors has been transformed during the age of globalisation.

A conference was held in June 2017, with work underway on an edited collection.

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