Monday, August 12, 2013


It was about time to finally have a KAIJU reviewed here!

Without further ado, let's have a look at the very first one, the movie that launched an entire sub-genre of the monster movie! The one behind it all!

The one and only... GOJIRA!!

Movie: Godzilla aka Gojira or also Godzilla 1954
Directed by Ishirô Honda
Release date 1954
Genre Science-fiction/Horror monster film
Country Japan

The original Godzilla was not only responsible for an entire new cinematographic genre but also a revived interest in creature features once exported outside Japan.

The 1954 classic not only marked an historical success for cinema but also the dawn of a new age. The post-World War II era and the millennium of the atomic age. This comes from the themes the movie directly treats about as well as the spectacular new special effects developed for the film.

Godzilla is a daikaiju film. Meaning, a movie about giant monsters - a spinoff the tokusatsu genre which was Japan's own B-movie trend to blend sci-fi/fantasy and horror (originally). Following Godzilla's success a lot of these came out to a certain success, even worldwide, in small theaters and TV including the Gamera film series or TV serials such as Kamen Rider and Ultraman.

Produced on modest budgets but requiring a certain know-how, a lot of studio creators made a career in the genre, such as Daiei Films, Kadokawa Pictures or here to be precise Toho.

Kaijus are kind of an offspring of the Monster Films genre of the old Hollywood. Only, giant in scope, as if the landscape had changed post-war.

The monsters weren't simply outcast vampires, revived zombies or reassembled Frankenstein creatures anymore. But much more ambiguous and ancient creatures awaken by mankind's mistakes. Reclaiming the world from us. Unstoppable forces.

Before beginning, I would like to say I'm reviewing here the original 1954 Japanese film "Gojira".

The story begins in the small fishing village on Odo Island.

A fishing boat has been attack by what appears to be a sea monster. They send other ships and all end up wrecked on the beach.

The village elders talk about a tale from earlier times. The legend of a creature named Godzilla/Gojira.

A paleontologist, Dr. Yamane believe it is a prehistoric creature that has possibly been awaken and/or mutated due to the nuclear radiation fallouts from the war.

They find prehistoric trilobites on the creature's footprints.

The creature surfaces near the city and destroy everything on its path, bringing memories back from the horror of war to an entire nation.

The military has quickly the situation out of control.

And in the middle of this? We have a love triangle between a Emiko (Momoko Kochi), Yamane's daughter, Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), a ship captain, and Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) to whom she was engaged. This little human drama might seem out of focus here but it helps put a more realistic situation in front of our monster of epic proportions.

Serizawa ends up having to use a creation he feared the worse would it fall in the hands of the wrong people...

He uses his Oxygen Destroyer, the only weapon that appears to be able to cause kill the monster.

Godzilla dies in the middle of the ocean... Serizawa dies along his creation.

But Ogata and Emiko fear the worse. If mankind continues this race of bigger and bigger weapons of mass destruction, this apocalyptic era might find another Godzilla someday...

Let's be clear about it, director Ishirô Honda wanted to make a film to talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But he also wanted to avoid discussing about this terrible subject directly. Not making it a direct war movie, yet still having a relevant message about human victims, death and the suffering of such a tragedy.

Instead he opted for a more metaphorical interpretation.

Godzilla takes obviously a lot of inspiration from the 1953 American film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. While Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was more about the fear of science gone wrong and risks of nuclear war (as well), Godzilla is more concerned for its victims and what it leaves behind. Godzilla actually contain several nods and little tributes to Beast (the shot of Godzilla coming out of the ocean,...).

And the film also draws a lot from the 1933 King Kong, following closely the same general ideas and even retelling a lot of its narrative (the encounter of the beast on its native island, the ceremony to keep it at bay, the rampage through the city and its destruction at the hands of man).

Honda originally wanted to have to make the creature in stop-motion, since he loved the impressive animation of King Kong. But it was too costly for Toho, and it would also take too much time.

A lot of work went into designing Godzilla itself. He almost was an Octopus-like creature or a more ape-like being at some points. They finally opted for a giant dinosaur, its overall shape reminding of bomb specially amidst the city in flames.

The film was obviously inspired by the US testing the hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll. The image of Godzilla marching through Tokyo in flames being very reminiscent of a nuclear attack.

Another incident prior to the film also marked Japan and helped jump start the plot. That of Lucky Dragon No. 5, a fishing vessel bathed in radioactive fallout which would go to inspire the creation of Godzilla directly.

Godzilla was going to cost a bit too much for Toho so Ishirô Honda ended up filming the picture in much cheaper black & white film. This ended up really helping the film, since the special effects came out that much nicer, it also helped hiding wires. It also gives the film a very powerful terrifying tone putting it close to the old Universal Monster classics.

Don't mistake Godzilla for a simple war movie "in disguise". It's neither about America, not simply Japan.

It's a film about war victims. The ones that really suffer the tole of war, not the governments behind wars or their soldiers. But the people left behind, the unwilling participants, the ones that actually suffer to live through the catastrophe, the collateral damage.

There's a very powerful scene during Godzilla's second rampage where a mother is left with her child, waiting to "join daddy in heaven". Shortly after, Godzilla is electrocuted by the army and shot at before putting Tokyo in flames with his newfound atomic breath.

You can't get any more powerful a metaphor, despite having a man-in-a-suit basically stomping around cardboard buildings!

Japan's capital Tokyo is destroyed by a revived monster. Children end up in the hopsital setting off geiger counters. The city in flames. Is Godzilla the real monster?

He doesn't move that much, thanks to the simplistic suit they could afford. But he's that more terrifying, like an unshakable force. It really gives the monster an impressive size and mass on such a modest budget, even for the time. (Toho was simply being cheap.)

Godzilla is like the embodiment of destruction, atomic bombings given a creepy eerie silhouette. But he's also a mindless killing machine, with no personality originally. Showing no remorse for his actions.

His footsteps sound has since became legendary and synonymous with Godzilla.

Akira Ifubuke’s superb score gives a great dense atmosphere to the film. The soundtrack is quite heavy, slow, dark. It really gives a sense of dread through the entire experience. Sometimes they simply left the sound effects carry the scenes.

Let's not forget the terrrific work from the folks on the crew from its star Akira Takarada, to the fantastic suit actor Haruo Nakajima and the special effects from Yohio Irie & Eizo Kaimai.

But as Godzilla screams in pain, his body melting in the end.... We are left to wonder... Were we not the ones to awaken Godzilla in the first place? Surely all he wanted was to be left alone beneath the ocean.

Overall, Godzilla is probably one of the greatest Japanese films of all time.

It is more than simply a monster movie. One of the most beloved films ever made, the 1954 Godzilla transcends its boundaries. As we witness this giant creature quietly, slowly, relentlessly destroy everything on his path... 

Godzilla was mostly known for its American "translation".

The film would finally arrive in the United States in 1956.

In an edited cut re-titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and with additional footage directed by Terry O. Morse.

The film was dubbed in English (and other languages), recut and added the character of the American reporter Steve Martin (interpreted by Hollywood actor Raymond Burr).

Like a strange sequel to the original, the story begins in a devastated Tokyo in the hospital scene. What follows is then a documentary-style film with flashbacks thrown in of several scenes of the original.

And it actually .. worked pretty well and fared a lot better than usual edited versions of foreign films. The new footage was thoughtfully inserted and it obviously respected the original material. Toho liked it so much the film aired again in its US edition the following year!

This Americanized Godzilla is the film responsible for giving Godzilla his label of "the king of monsters".

Anyway, the film went on becoming an amazing impressive success which gave Godzilla several sequels of.. varying quality. Godzilla's legacy went on strong for many, many years. The series went on several episodes and revivals.

And a first American remake back in 1998, Hollywood-style. And a promised return to the roots for next year 2014.

I give it:
3 / 3 Gojiras!

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