Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City

By Gyan Prakash | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Oh No, There Goes Tokyo:
Recreational Apocalypse and the City
in Postwar Japanese Popular Culture

WILLIAM M. TSUTSUI

In his book Ecology of Fear, Mike Davis seeks to establish Los Angeles’s reputation as the “disaster capital of the universe,” a “Book of the Apocalypse theme park,” and, quite simply, “Doom City.” Davis chronicles the rich profusion of novels and films that have “managed to destroy Los Angeles in a remarkable, even riotous, miscellany of ways,” listing 138 literary and cinematic Armageddons between 1909 and 1996. “The City of Angels,” Davis assures us, “is unique, not simply in the frequency of its fictional destruction, but in the pleasure that such apocalypses provide to readers and movie audiences. The entire world seems to be rooting for Los Angeles to slide into the Pacific or be swallowed by the San Andreas fault.” And although New York City can also claim more than its fair share of imaginary annihilations and plentiful moviegoers eager to cheer its demise, Davis confidently concludes of LA that “No other city seems to excite such dark rapture.”1

But Mike Davis, it seems, has been spending too much time in Southern California and not enough watching Japanese movies, television series, and animation. There can be little doubt that, in the years since World War II, fictional apocalypse has been visited upon Tokyo more frequently (and often with much greater thoroughness) than any other location on the globe. In what one observer has called the “doom-laden dreams” of Japanese popular culture,2 Tokyo has fallen victim to earthquakes, tidal waves, fires, floods, cyclonic winds, volcanoes, alien invasions, supernatural curses, viruses, toxic pollution, all nature of giant monsters, robots, and blobs, and, needless to say, every imaginable form of nuclear explosion. Domestic and worldwide audiences have been exposed to “innumerable replications of Tokyo being stomped and burned to destruction” in a staggering variety of media and genres,3 from silent movies depicting the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 to cold war–era science fiction and special effects films, from live-action chil-

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