FROM WAR OF THE GARGANTUA
[Japanese people freak out during a monster attack. The city looks totally fake. Monsters attack.]
FROM KILL BILL
[Thurman's plane lands in Tokyo. Out the window the city looks completely fake. You can see it in the trailer
FROM OSCAR WILDE'S THE DECAY OF LYING
"No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. Do you really imagine that the Japanese people, as they are presented to us in art, have any existence ? If you do, you have never understood Japanese art at all. The Japanese people are the deliberate selfconscious creation of certain individual artists. If you set a picture by Hokusai, or Hokkei, or any of the great native painters, beside a real Japanese gentleman or lady, you will see that there is not the slightest resemblance between them. The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremely commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them. In fact the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people. One of our most charming painters went recently to the Land of the Chrysanthemum in the foolish hope of seeing the Japanese. All he saw, all he had the chance of painting, were a few lanterns and some fans. He was quite unable to discover the inhabitants, as his delightful exhibition showed only too well. He did not know that the Japanese people are, as I have said, simply a mode of style, an exquisite fancy of art. And so, if you desire to see a Japanese effect, you will not behave like a tourist and go to Tokio. On the contrary, you will stay at home, and steep yourself in the work of certain Japanese artists, and then, when you have absorbed the spirit of their style, and caught their imaginative manner of vision, you will go some afternoon and sit in the Park or stroll down Piccadilly, and if you cannot see an absolutely Japanese effect there, you will not see it anywhere."
Oscar Wilde would have enjoyed the hell out of Kill Bill, not the least because this scene in Kill Bill illustrates so fully what Wilde was talking about above. Uma Thurman does not land in Tokyo. She lands in the IDEA of Tokyo. Tarantino's IDEA of Tokyo. Thurman is basically flying into a new movie here, leaving the world of a knife fight in suburbia for Samurai craziness (yes I know the battle with Fox occurs chronologically after, but I am talking about how we experience the movie). And so the buildings she flies over look like miniatures, as they do in the monster movie above. Of course Tarantino's IDEA OF TOKYO is the Tokyo of monster movies like War of the Gargantua, not the Tokyo that any actual Japanese people live in.
(As a side-bar, this is also what the Simpsons do every time they visit another country -- they visit the IDEA of the country. On the flight to or from Japan they experience what the pilot calls "some mild Godzilla related turbulence." This is why it was so silly that Brazil got mad at the Simpsons for talking about the horrible monkey problems there: I think Brazil's objection was there were no monkeys at all there? Anyway, the Simpsons writers were not going to base their comedy episode in well researched facts about Brazil. The comedy comes from them bumping into every ignorant stereotype, the joke being that the you go halfway around the world and it is EXACTLY what you expected: the reverse of the painter Wilde describes. Also side-bar in the side-bar: The Simpsons Go to Japan features one of my favorite lines in the series: Homer complains he doesn't like anything Japanese and Marge says "You liked Rashomon" and he snipes back, "That's not how I remember it.")
In War of the Gargantua many of the buildings look like miniatures because they of course ARE miniatures. They have to be because their monsters are just actors in suits, and this is how they are going to make them look huge, and topple buildings. There are better ways to achieve this effect now, of course, but here, as elsewhere (e.g. some of the blood-spray effects) Tarantino WANTS the tech from movie history. Here he goes farther because he wants it like this just for pure STYLE. "He did not know that the Japanese people are, as I have said, simply a mode of style, an exquisite fancy of art," writes Wilde. Tarantino Tokyo buildings look miniature NOT because they are going to be knocked down, but because he wants to establish a STYLE, to distinguish the IDEA OF TOKYO he is using from the real tokyo EVEN THOUGH HE WILL MIX IN SCENES OF THE REAL TOKYO WHERE HE SHOT ON LOCATION. You have to enjoy the insanity of how fake the Tokyo Thurman is landing in looks, even though the actress will in a moment be shown in the real Tokyo. I have mentioned before that Tarantino alludes to movie history in order to present himself as the culmination of the tradition. The counter example is instructive here: Roland Emmerich's Godzilla used the best tech of the day to tell his story and now it is just one more junky monster movie. Tarantino is thinking about the history of movies, including that history in Kill Bill, and so he BUILDS upon the past, he is informed by the past in a real way, where Emmerich just sort of says "Hey here is that Godzilla movie you wanted."
"No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist," says Wilde. Tarantino's take on this is to see things are they are IN MOVIES. To embrace the way other artists saw, to accept their distorted reality as part (though obviously not the whole) of his movie. This is why it is inappropriate to ask, for example, how Thurman was able to spend hours and hours in Buck's truck in the hospital parking lot having just left his mangled body in the hospital. Did no one find him, or go looking for her? Are the POLICE after Thurman? This is not reality. This is a world where they will let you carry a samurai sword with you on a plane. The police showing up to arrest Thurman during her fight with Lucy Liu would be more surprising than the fight being interrupted by a Godzilla attack.
"If you desire to see a Japanese effect, you will not behave like a tourist and go to Tokio. On the contrary, you will stay at home, and steep yourself in the work of certain Japanese artists, and then, when you have absorbed the spirit of their style, and caught their imaginative manner of vision, you will go some afternoon and sit in the Park or stroll down Piccadilly, and if you cannot see an absolutely Japanese effect there, you will not see it anywhere." This is clearly Tarantino's process. Except the work of Japanese artists he absorbs is in monster movies.
Finally, part of what Tarantino is doing with the miniature looking Tokyo is drawing attention to the battle between Thurman and Liu as a kind of epic attack of two giant forces, not unlike the fight between the Gargantua that comes just after the clip above. Like the monsters, they are the larger than life -- larger than Tokyo -- figures battling it out and leaving scores of Japanese wounded and running and screaming for their lives. (in the House of the Blue Leaves). So in addition to the more obvious fusion of Samurai and Cowboy in the Thurman-Liu battle, you also have the fights between giant Japanese movie monsters in there. The house of the Blue Leaves fight is where ALL of the influences come together, and it is going to take FOREVER to talk about because there are so many things being alluded to in very quick succession, including as we have seen, Hitchcock's The Lodger and War of the Gargantua. But we have made another dent.