There seems to be an abundance of life-sized recreations of giant robots popping up all over Japan at the moment, a trend that I fully support.  The latest of these is an 18-meter tall recreation of Testujin 28-go (鉄人28号) —  known as Gigantor in English — that was constructed as part of an effort to revitalize Kobe’s Nagata Ward, which lost some 80% of its population after the Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.  As a symbol of the reconstruction of the Nagata area, the statue is truly effective; not only is it actually made from steel (“Tetsujin” literally translates as “Iron Man”), but its guts pose definitely provides the proper sense of triumph over adversity.

As it turns out, the creation of Tetsujin 28-go by Yokoyama Mitseru was strongly influenced by another incredibly destructive event in the history of Kobe — the firebombing of Kobe during WWII that resulted in the deaths of over 8,000 people and the destruction of some 20% of the city.  The firebombing of Kobe also serves as the backdrop for the incredibly moving Isao Takahata film, Grave of the Fireflies (an adaptation of Nosaka Akiyuki’s novel of the same name).

I hope this trend of building life-sized replicas of the famous giant robots from Japanese manga and anime continues unabated.  I’d love it it every city had one or two of these robot monuments, and perhaps a couple of kaiju as well.  I look forward to the day that I can stroll through any major Japanese city catching glimpses of the Evas, Valkyries, Labors, and Mortar Headds that have been stitched into the urban fabric.

And speaking of stitching, how great is this Mike White mashup of Gigantor and “Iron Man”?

2 Responses to “gigantor”

  1. What I find particularly fun to think about is the ruin value of the statues. Kind of a weird conceptual linkage there, but I’ll run with it.

    I wonder if Gigantor would outlast the surrounding buildings, or would another disaster come along and erase it from the landscape a la the Colossus of Rhodes. The idea puts me in mind of Miyazaki – both Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky.

    It’s easy to imagine a scenario where civilization has collapsed and left only vague remnants behind for neo-primitive humans to re-discover. Stalking prey through the jungle one day, you come across this thing. What would you think? Would you adopt it as a mythical symbol? I would.

    I find this circular pattern of “future sculpting” more common in Japan than anywhere else I can think of. First the Japanese experience disaster. Out of disaster they create art, art which imagines post-apocalyptic landscapes salted with the cultural derelicts of ancient civilizations. They then take those imagined cultural derelicts straight off the page and out of the animation cell and realize them in meatspace. As you suggest in your post, in some sense they become wards against disaster. But in another sense, they insure that a hypothetical post-disaster Japan would leave a rich landscape full of inspiration for any group of people who organized to rebuild. The possibility then, is that fiction will become reality.

    Living in such an environment connects one with the past, present and future in such a fluid, powerful way. I don’t want to Orientalize Japan, but for me – since I have been steeped in Japanese art since early childhood – this “awareness potential” or “potential potential” is one of the things that makes the Japanese experience so different, and to an outsider, so magical.

    • 2 Trane DeVore

      I love the idea of viewing these giant robot sculptures from the vantage point of a ruined future as well. It’s easy to imagine them surrounded by crumbling buildings and coated with a patchy layer of fine moss, though the explorer who finds them and tries to start them up is going to end up being a little bit disappointed. There’s something so much more — dare I say it? — Romantic and lyrical about the idea of finding decommissioned giant robots among the ruins of history than, say, MX missile silos and barely functioning HAL-esque banks of computers designed by the CIA to track for ‘potential enemies’ of empire. I suppose it’s because giant robots are both monumental and mythic in a contemporary sense, and also because their form so closely approximates that of the human. A Colossus of Rhodes for the 21st century?

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