© Toho Company LTD
Maybe it's all changed since then, of course it's all changed, how could it not have all changed it's been so long, but each time you flip through the channels, you see that nothing at all has changed. Which is maybe one of the reassuring features of the movies, since the first one came out in 1954 (it opened the same day as The Seven Samurai, and all you ever need to know about Japan—except for the incredibly scary Hello Kitty—is in one or the other of those films), up to the very last one that you didn't see because really, maybe you've changed yourself, and it's hard to say if that's good or bad, but either way, you stopped watching them at least ten years and five or six movies ago.
The trope is a set piece anyway: pretty Japan, appearance of monster, utter destruction, triumph through the ruins. The inevitable ruins.
You've got the idea. You had it a long time ago.
And because you know nothing has changed while everything has changed, it's impossible to say exactly when this all actually happened, a date you can't do more than ballpark, '89 to '92, because that's when you were living in the danchi overlooking the harbor, the water where the monster always comes from, always rising like a wave, like a ripple, like a crusted bubble, like that time you remembered for the first time in a very long time all that time you spent, arms wrapped around her, leaning against a car.
So it doesn't matter. What matters is the four-room apartment in the danchi where you came in, kicked off your shoes, kissed the person who, far too long, you pretended you were in love with, the apartment where you dropped your backpack and turned on the TV and watched the building you had left just an hour ago, the building where you had just spent all day trying to convince a parade of students there really was such a thing as the present progressive tense—come on, there's an exact equivalent in Japanese, ∼shiteimasu or ∼shite iru to your friends (never mind that your own best Japanese more or less ends with translating the three lesson books or talking about sex and Buddhism, and let's not get into the fact that you speak like a teenage girl in Osaka dialect, because that's who's teaching you these things; "I speak Japanese like Rosie Perez speaks English" is how you'll eventually end up explaining all this)—and wondering why you ever thought this was a good idea.
All things are present progressive, all things go on and on and on.
Maybe it's why even after so much time, there is no straight way to tell this story, because you've never quite let go of the place, never entirely switched tenses, lost in the expression of memory of a life that was never quite your life. "Dear ~," the letters home read, "I wake up, I go to work, I come home, I watch TV, I go to bed."
You are used to everyone's disappointment.
Then you see the horse standing in the back of a pickup truck as it goes by, tie-downs lashed over its dappled back. Or that Denny's is stuffed with girls in kimono, sleeves fanned like hair on a pillow. A neighbor you've never met hands you a persimmon simply because the sun is shining and the fruit is ripe and you realize that any time you want to see something new, there is something new to be seeing, to be doing.
By this time, you have lived in Japan long enough that you bow when you talk on the telephone. You are not surprised by the predictions of the fortune teller who reads everything over the horizon by how you squeeze her breasts; you expect the newspaper reports of a woman calling the police because the Madonna concert was loud enough she could hear it from her house, and if all that noise didn't stop immediately, she was going to her mother's.
And how could there not be a rash of costume thefts, shopping malls that now will not be opened to their full ration of fanfare? The first monster suit, the one in the first movie, weighed about two hundred pounds; modern technology has cut that in half, but still, stealing one is a commitment, a lifestyle choice in small Japanese apartments. What do you do with it once you have it? Do you hide it in a closet, do you enter the professional circuit for costume parties and hope to make a living off prizes?
Do you put it on and dream of destruction, a way of burning down your own life and the present progressive of memory?
Anyway, you're in the danchi, and on the TV, green claws rip through your office building, English texts flying out of the windows like broken winged birds.
You glance at the phone, wondering if anyone will call and tell you not to come to work tomorrow. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe like the couple of times someone has jumped in front of your train to commit suicide—you get an excuse note from the railway company so your boss won't think you're showing up late on purpose—it's all just going to be business as usual, life in the ruins on a slight time delay.
Because here's what Japan knows: whatever you build, whatever you make, whatever life you choose to piece together like a puzzle of pure white, some monster is just going to destroy it. Tokyo Tower, Osaka Castle, blah, blah, pick a landmark.
And now where you spend your own days.
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