CW: Sexual Violence
Though amid the widespread acclaim and respect, one aspect of Ishiro Honda’s past is has been forgotten and overlooked.
Ishirō Honda is a man who many admire, I would put myself as one of those people. He is most well known as the director who brought Godzilla to life, among many, many other popular giant monsters such as Mothra, Rodan, Baragon, and King Ghidorah as well as his numerous dramas, comedies, and co-works with one of his best friends, Akira Kurosawa such as Ran and Dreams.
However, beyond just his achievements in film, Honda’s values and ideals are very much admired as well. His humanistic and pacifistic views are very much held dear by his fans and admirers. His story of being a World War II soldier who saw first hand the horrors of war and then while returning home the horrors of the nuclear bombs is one which many Godzilla fans consider to be monumental reasons for why his films are so effective, and why they are so powerful.
In a way, it could be said that Honda is put on an extremely high pedestal. One which many would say is entirely earned and deserved. I would personally agree with that in regards to looking at just his works alone. Ishirō Honda took a concept many would consider comical and gave it his trademark reverence and the seriousness within Godzilla, let alone the library of works that are only now beginning to get looked at such as The Blue Pearl or Skin of The South. However though amid this widespread acclaim and respect one aspect of Ishirō Honda’s past is forgotten and overlooked. That aspect being the time Ishirō Honda spent guarding a ‘comfort women’ camp.
Before we continue, what comfort women are must be explained. During World War II, the Imperial Japanese government and military used the frameworks of legal sex work in Japan to form their own version of it for soldiers sent abroad. This was formed to stop anti-Japanese sentiment in occupied territories as a result of rapes, to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and to stop the leaking of military secrets. The sex workers in these territories however were very infrequently there voluntarily.
Most of them were forcibly enslaved Korean or Chinese girls and women, though there were many other enslaved groups beyond just Korean and Chinese women, sent to various comfort stations where they would be forced to have sex multiple times a day without end.
Frequently they were beaten as well, with three-quarters of ‘comfort women’ dying before the war ended either as a result of these beatings, disease or in some cases being killed by the Imperial Japanese Army before the Allied Forces could arrive. Many survivors were left infertile as a result of sexual violence or sexual disease.
It was under this framework that Ishirō Honda was forcibly sent to guard one of these comfort stations, where he was placed in a bureaucratic position. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I was not able to get the only firsthand account by Ishirō Honda himself, which he felt inspired to write for a film magazine after seeing a film about forced sex work of Greek women by Fascist Italy, translated. This leaves me having to use another translation, the one found in Steve Ryfle and Ed Godzwieski’s biography on Ishirō Honda, Ishirō Honda: A Life In Film.
In their translation Honda remarks on how he would be instructed to listen to their complaints and stories, sharing how he would tell them that he didn’t want to be there either and that to him at least he felt it made them feel better. He would also share a story of how one ‘comfort woman’ had her life ruined by the drugs she would take in order to cope. He would remark that the war ruined many of their lives and his sorrow over it. Much can be said about this and how one feels about it is up to them.
However, I can discuss my own views on it. How what I feel I can take from Honda’s later feminist works such as The Blue Pearl and Skin of The South, the latter of which deals with rape in a Japanese community and how it’s accepted and how it ruined the life of the character who experienced it. I can say what I take from it, and how it makes me feel. The issue here is how I feel about it doesn’t matter.
In contrast to creators such as H.P. Lovecraft whose racist beliefs are overt or other creators who have done awful crimes, the case with Ishirō Honda is fundamentally more difficult. It’s not about how a creator felt or what they did, it’s a matter of who gets to forgive them. The issue is, it is not up for us to forgive Ishirō Honda and to absolve him of what he was involved with.
As someone who is a victim of sexual assault and abuse myself, something I find in a sense deeply ironic with how while I was recovering from my own sexual assault I found Gojira and fell deeply in love with it and the message it was sending, it is no one else’s place to forgive my abuser or my rapist but me. It is this issue that I feel is at the core of the matter.
Many Godzilla fans see Honda’s apparent remorse, one which I do also believe that he had, as an open invitation to forgive him and many take it. It is far easier to forgive than it is to consider what someone who had an inspiration and impact on your life was involved with. The flaw with this is though, we were not the ones who suffered under this system. We were not the comfort women who suffered, nor were we the Chinese or Korean, among many others, people who have to deal with the aftermath of such actions. In the end, it is not our place to forgive Ishirō Honda.
This is not to say that Honda needs to be “canceled”, nor that we should stop enjoying his works. As I mentioned, Ishirō Honda’s works were what helped me through my own experiences with sexual assault. His works have deeply powerful meanings about the goodness of humanity and the horrors of war. Messages that shouldn’t be forgotten. However much like Shusuke Kaneko put forth in his own Godzilla film, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, if you forget what happened it will only come back much worse.
To forget what Ishirō Honda was involved in is to forget the suffering of the comfort women who dealt with this under his watch. The place for forgiveness of Honda is any living comfort woman’s to give to Ishirō Honda. Not the Godzilla fandom.