Pop culture, and the films that followed in the series have been less than kind to Gojira (or Godzilla as he is known to most North American audiences), so I was glad to actuually settle in and watch this film when it showed up on my 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.
It’s played straight, and coming in 1954, only 9 years after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, must have been especially terrifying to Japanese viewers.
Nuclear detonations have woken something deep in the ocean along the coastline of Japan. We know something is wrong right from the start as a number of shipping vessels are lost in the same stretch of water, sinking into the depths, some ablaze first.
Then there are reports of something coming ashore, and a team of scientists are sent to investigate. I do like that there are some varying opinions amongst the heroes, some realize that whatever the creature is, it may very well be the last of the kind, and they should study it. While others are worried about the cost of lives and damage to Japan, that is still recovering from the horrors of World War II and think that the beast should just be destroyed.
With this backdrop, two lovers Akira (Hideto Ogata) and Emiko (Momoko Kochi find their way to one another, but because the young man believes Gojira should be destroyed and not studied, he is at odds with the girl’s scientist father, Kyohei (Takashi Shimura).
It’s easy to look on the film with the eyes of today, with the knowledge of pop culture and special effects that we have, and think you’re going to be giggling and laughing at a man in a monster suit, but like I said, they play it straight, and the effects and modelwork are impressive for the time.
The film never descends into the camp, and the two scientists with their vying viewpoitns, Kyohei and Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata)both make valid arguments for their points of view.
Serizawa’s is a little more poignant, he served in the Japanese army, and lost an eye during the war. He tries to remain logical and focussed on the task at hand. His work leads him to the discovery of something that could be perverted into a super-weapon, and guarantees the destruction of Gojira. If it’s used however, the world will know the possibility of this weapon exists, and they won’t leave him alone until he reveals its secrets.
This leaves him with a moral dilemma, does he uses his knowledge to stop Gojira from destroying countless lives or does he keep his information secret to stop it from being used as a weapon.
The film moves along at a great pace, and I learened something about Gojira that I did not know… or had simply forgotten over time, the ridges on his back glow as he builds up his fire breath! That was just cool. I don’t remember ever having noticed that before.
The film was released in 1955 Stateside with subtitles, but was later recut and re-edited to include an American reporter played by Raymond Burr and released in North America as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
I say stick with the original, it was fun, serious (as a monster movie can be), the effects are surprisingly good, and the story and the characterers are genuinely engaging.
Have you seen it?