Gojira: King of the Monsters

Gojira_1954_Japanese_poster

See what I did there? No? Well then!

In 1954 the Toho film Gojira was released to a Japanese audience. In 1956, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was released to an American audience. It was cut up, re-edited and starred Raymond Burr(yes, Perry Mason himself!). For the longest time the only version you could find was the Americanized one. But in 2004 Toho released a DVD set containing both, and that’s what I watched.

Just recently I’ve completed a little bit of a dream. I am now in possession of all the Godzilla movies released, and it’s my goal this year to watch them all and report to you, my trusty readers.

It’s a little lofty, with there being 28 films(not including the American Godzilla), but I think I can do it. Hell, that’s less than 1 a week, I should be able to squeeze that time in right? Right!? We’ll see.

So for today, we’re going to start at the beginning and watch Gojira and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Gojira(1954)

When most people think Godzilla, they think of a guy in a rubber suit, trampling Tokyo, with cheap special effects, totally camped out. They’re not serious films, just silly popcorn movies. Gojira is not that film. Yes, there is a guy in a rubber suit stomping on Tokyo, and by todays standards the effects are cheap(but hey, it won a Japanese Oscar for Best Effects but lost Best Picture to Seven Samurai, but who wouldn’t) but there is no intentional camp here. This, by all accounts, is a serious film. It was released less than 10 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and just a couple of months after the Daigo Fukury? Maru incident(Japanese fishing boat that caught radiation fallout from a US H-Bomb test).

The film starts with the sinking of a fishing vessel and two rescue ships under the same mysterious conditions. It then skips to Odo Island, where the legend of Godzilla, the great sea monster, is revealed. The village on this Island is later partially destroyed by another mysterious force, and an investigation is launched. During this investigation Godzilla is spotted and they determine that, he’s both from the cretaceous period and dosed with a high level of radiation, from an atomic bomb!

The movie has all the tropes(or did it start them all?) of giant monster movies:

  • genius scientist with a terrible discovery that he doesn’t want used as a weapon
  • fleeing people
  • buildings toppling
  • ineffective military might
  • passionate scientist that just wants to study

But what you won’t find here, as I mentioned, is the camp of a lot of monster movies.  And if you’ve seen some of the later films before this one, it’s going to have a very different tone and feel to it. There is real suspense here, real drama and the feeling of hopelessness that comes with any unstoppable force. Most of all, there’s sadness. In the final scene, when Godzilla is finally defeated, you actually feel sad for the monster.

Overall, Gojira is a near retelling of the bombings at the end of WW2. Same devastation, same fallout, same scientist using a discovery as a weapon. The aftermath scenes show depth and despair, and yet a hope for peace and happiness.

For a giant monster movie, it’s really very touching.

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species. If we continue nuclear testing, very soon, another Godzilla might appear, somewhere else in the world, again…”

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

This is the Americanized version. At first mention, you might think that it would be re-edited to be more action like and less meaningful. But it’s just as meaningful as the original. While the movie is chopped up and some scenes are moved around, the majority of the movie is still there. Only the perspective has changed to that of a field reporter from the States. Yes, there’s a lot of Fake Shemp moments for the Japanese characters talking to Raymond Burr, but overall the effect works. It also adds a little something as he narrates what he’s seeing and how he’s feeling. It’s like he’s the voice of the music(if that makes any sense).

While I would suggest you go watch the original, the Americanized version is good in a pinch. And, as mentioned, it doesn’t actually change the movie(unlike Godzilla 1985, but we’ll get to that later).

Next time it’s Godzilla Raids Again. I’ve never seen this one, at least, not to my knowledge, so it’ll be a real treat Smile

And now for some fun stuff:

Godzilla Main Theme
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