Pacific Rim: Across The Pond

There's something fascinating -- intriguing -- about a Mexican director making a film that is subtextually all about the spiritual/cultural nexus between the USA and Japan, our blood sister 'across the pond' as the British say, but in this case the pond is the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic. Being from the East Coast, I always thought Japan was as far away as possible: Europe, Russia, China, then finally Nihon. Looking at Googlemaps, I see that from a West Coast POV, Nihon is just across the sea. From the shore of Malibu, Sarah Palin could claim to see the coast of Sendai. The Pacific is our nexus. Indeed, from an Atlantic POV, you can't understand the Asian front of WWII. That war was about the Pacific Ocean.

I don't think there is any other country besides the UK with as large a presence in American popular culture as Japan.  I don't think that's a coincidence.  Pacific Rim references martial arts*, anime, Transformers, but most of all Godzilla. And like Gojira, Rim is a monster movie that aspires to philosophical depth. (That Del Toro harmonizes the original Gojira masterpiece with the superficially silly Toho rubber suit spin-off franchise is the topic of a film studies master's thesis; those movies about Godzilla being kidnapped by martians aren't as infantile as you might remember them.) Of course, Rim must bow to its great and massive progenitor: Gojira is Hiroshima and Nagasaki filtered through Japanese dragon mythology. That is some deep shit. I know of no scene in cinema more intellectually profound than Serizawa's epiphany. What topic, other than God, is more significant than self-inflicted human extinction?

Rim is also about global apocalypse, though not self-inflicted. To credit Del Toro's skill, he evokes the end of the world more distressingly than any other blockbuster -- more than Deep Impact. This ain't the Death Star, motherfucker, this is The End. What does it mean that in Rim, nuclear weapons are humanity's only hope? What does it mean when an African-American tech warrior emerges from a cloud of apocalyptic dust to rescue and then adopt a Japanese girl?

And, my heavens, what does it mean that a Japanese woman and American man can mind-meld instantly in 'the Drift?' All the other Drift partners are blood relatives -- Chinese triplets, Russian twins, Australian father & son. Idris Elba can drift with non-blood only because he is long-experienced in the neurally/psychologically overwhelming drift technology to co-pilot the giant robots. Mako Mori is a Drift novice, but seconds into a psychological kendo test, prototypical Yank Raleigh Beckett knows she's the one. Remember Matrix II: you never really know someone until you fight them.

You never know someone until you fight them. America and Japan fought. And not just on land. We fought in our national souls: we fought in the Drift. We didn't fight Hitler in the Drift. The Third Reich was not the German soul; Germany had gone temporarily insane. Looking back to Bismarck, you wouldn't foresee Nazism emerging from the heart of Aleman. But Japanese militarism was not an episode. It was an embedded national trait, rooted in the prior century, just like American militarism and expansionism. We were two hyper-aggressive military superpowers on perhaps an inevitable warpath over our shared ocean. Japan is the only nation to suffer nuclear attack, we're the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons. You never know someone until you fight them. In the Drift, America is Nihon, Nihon is America. And the Kaiju are fucking dead.

Man, Pacific Rim is some deep-ass shit. I'm not even going to touch on what this film might be saying about 21st century geopolitics. No, I am not going there.

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