Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in Japan on November 3, 1954
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Ishiro Honda, Shigeru Kayama, and Takeo Murata
Cast: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai, Ren Yamamoto, Toyoaki Suzuki, Tsuruko Umano, and Haruo Nakajima as Gojira
A startling and frightening opening scene, where we see a Japanese freighter torn apart and sunk under mysterious circumstances, leads to Japan’s ominous statement against nuclear experimentation in Gojira, the mid-1950s kaiju horror classic from Toho Studios, and the first of over thirty productions starring the giant, dinosaur-like beast known the world over by its more popular moniker, Godzilla. And though this film was hardly trend-setting—the U.S. already had its atom-age ants, tarantulas, and deep-sea reptiles—at least Japan could now boast a radioactivity-tainted monster hero of its own.
And if the film’s title doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because this version was the original Japanese theatrical release of the more widely-recognized variation we’ve all seen a hundred times before, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, which was shown to stateside audiences with 40 minutes of footage excised, and new scenes added starring actor Raymond Burr as an American newsman. Both presentations feature the title monster in all his black-and-white glory, a creature who is loosed from a crack in the ocean floor by atomic testing, and who proceeds to crush his way through Tokyo, breathing fire and destroying virtually everything and everyone in his path.
For someone who spent a sizable portion of his childhood Saturdays watching every silly Godzilla incarnation and offshoot offered by local television—including Mothra, Gammera the Invincible, Monster Zero, and the dreaded Son of Godzilla—it was quite a revelation for me to watch Gojira as an adult and realize the people behind this production were quite serious with what they had to say, having conceived a sobering story that was mature and well-done considering the subject matter, and served as a metaphor for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and whatever other nuclear devastation might lie ahead.
Granted, the man-in-a-costume monster effects were no comparison to the work of Ray Harryhausen, and a lack of time and money perhaps contributed to the cheese factor of the rubber suit and miniature cityscapes, whose deficiencies for me were most noticeable during close-ups and daylight scenes. But I’ll admit, there were a few moments—where Godzilla was visible in long shots, or where he’d suddenly rise up over the ridge of a low mountain—that were flat-out chilling, and hinted to what might’ve been. And trust me, if somehow I was dropped into this movie’s reality, and was standing there in a crowd watching with disbelieving eyes as this towering lizard-thing stomped towards me, I’d be soiling my fundoshi right along with the rest of ’em. (6/10)