Godzilla (1954)

"Essential"

Godzilla (1954) Review


Godzilla turns 50 this year, and there is much cause for celebration. For the first time, American moviegoers get have the privilege of seeing this essential firebreathing classic in the fully restored and original version that transfixed Japanese audiences back in 1954.

It's about time. Deemed unsuitable for American release in 1956, distributors chopped 40 minutes out of the film, dubbed the rest of it poorly, and then added 20 minutes of Raymond Burr in the new role of an American journalist observing the action and adding his own absurd commentary.

What was the problem with the original version? Well, now we know. Godzilla is much more than the rampaging monster fest that inspired a thousand more rampaging monster fests. It's a trenchant anti-war and anti-nuclear testing screed (with some implied anti-Americanism tossed in) that would have been way out of sync with the catch-the-Commies Cold War vibe of mid-'50s America. Watch a movie that suggests H-bomb testing is a bad idea? Hell, no! We gotta build a bigger bomb before the Russkies do!

It all begins with a mystery. Ships off Japan are being destroyed, and only after a survivor washes up on shore do the authorities get a hint that some kind of "monster" may be involved. Eager young marine salvage expert Ogata (Akira Takarada) and his skittish girlfriend Emiko (Momoko Kochi) are soon on the case, as is her father Yamane (Takashi Shimura), a paleontologist with some interesting theories.

An investigation team heads for an island where a village has been destroyed by something that definitely wasn't a typhoon. Scientists find giant footprints, and their Geiger counters go crazy. Bad news: Whatever it is, it's big and it's radioactive. Godzilla ("Gojira" in Japanese) then makes his first appearance by peeking demurely over a mountaintop. The team beats a hasty retreat and heads back to Tokyo with their findings. It's obvious the monster has been awakened from his hibernation by underwater H-bomb testing.

Watching the government officials frantically debate what to do is fascinating, and their questions echo across history to our own troubled times. Should the public be told everything? Will panic ensue? What's the best defense against an unknown attacker? Yamane argues that Godzilla should be studied rather than killed, but he has few supporters. The military sets out to build the world's largest electric fence and sends all its artillery to the harbor shore. Meanwhile, like today's airline passengers stuck in long security lines, the Tokyo citizenry seems more annoyed than frightened. In one funny/scary scene, commuters on a train bitch and moan about evacuation. What a hassle! It's always something!

Eventually, of course, Godzilla lets loose on Tokyo, using his famously hot breath to torch large swaths of the city with epic destructive power that must have reminded 1954 moviegoers of the Tokyo firebombings of just nine years earlier. The special effects are as primitive as you remember, but it's impossible not to admire the craftsmanship that went into them, and a true sense of horror builds as the masses panic in the streets. (As other reviewers have pointed out, some of these extras were acting from personal experience.) A young mother cowering with her two children and awaiting certain incineration says, "Don't worry. We'll be with Daddy soon." You have to wonder how 1950s audiences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki responded to these scenes.

Discussion turns to a mysterious gadget called the Oxygen Destroyer created by Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), a brilliant scientist (and Emiko's ex-boyfriend) who carries his own physical scars from World War II. He knows it can be used to stop the beast, but he's afraid to go public because he knows that once "politicians" see its power, they'll want to weaponize it and compel him to build more. His moral dilemma is written all over his face. Should he save the city but endanger the world?

Godzilla is a movie way ahead of its time. It presages the kinds of disarmament debates that didn't pick up steam until 20 years after its release. The edited version may have thrilled and scared Americans, but it didn't tell them anything. Over time it became something of a joke, a situation exacerbated by the increasingly cheesy string of color sequels that introduced a whole menagerie of rubber monsters who fight amongst themselves, destroying everything underfoot in the process.

This golden anniversary is the perfect time to go back to where it all began in beautiful black and white, to understand the filmmakers' original intentions, and to appreciate the storytelling power they brought to bear in unleashing Gojira on the world.

Aka Gojira; Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

Godzilla smash!



Facts and Figures

Genre: Horror/Suspense

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.