This. This right here is the reason why the letter G is my favorite letter when it comes to movies. If there has ever been one constant in my life, it is my being a massive fan of Godzilla for over 30 years. I asked my dad once why I became such a huge Godzilla fan and his response was that I liked dinosaurs and it just sort of transferred over. Godzilla is one of, if not THE biggest, pop culture icon to come out of Japan, having been featured in almost 30 movies, cartoons, books, video games, and more. I personally, aside from owning every one of the movies that Toho has produced, have collected all sorts of memorabilia revolving around Godzilla, from comic books and novels to video games and toys. And it all started because of a Japanese movie called Godzilla (Gojira).
The plot: Late one night, a Japanese fishing boat is destroyed by a mysterious burst of fire that seems to come from under the ocean. When a second ship is sent to investigate, it meets the same fate. When some survivors wash ashore on nearby Odo Island, reporters fly there to continue investigating, and are told by one of the village elders that the disasters are the work of Godzilla, That night something comes ashore during a massive storm and destroys several village huts, as well as the reporters’ helicopter. Noted paleontologist Dr. Yamane leads an investigation to Odo island where they discover massive radioactive footprints as well as a trilobite, a prehistoric animal that was long believed extinct. Suddenly, an alarm is sounded as Godzilla appears on a nearby hill. The villagers flee in terror as Godzilla makes its way back to the ocean. Upon arriving back in Tokyo, Dr. Yamane delivers his report to the government and theorizes that Godzilla had been brought to life by the repeated nuclear tests performed in the area. The navy sends ships out and attempt to kill Godzilla by using depth charges. Meanwhile, Emiko, Dr. Yamane’s daughter, is attempting to end her arranged engagement to Dr. Serizawa, by telling him that she is in love with Ogata, a ship’s captain. Before she can say anything, Serizawa shows her a demonstration of his latest experiment, the Oxygen Destroyer. Emiko is horrified by what she sees and, after Serizawa swears her to secrecy, she leaves without ending the engagement. That night, Godzilla surfaces in Tokyo Bay and attacks the city. The next day, the JSDF constructs a line of electrical towers in the hopes that they will deter Godzilla, but Godzilla easily breaks through the blockade and attacks the city again. After witnessing the destruction that Godzilla has caused, Emiko tells Ogata about Serizawa’s invention and the two of them go to try and convince Serizawa to use his invention to kill Godzilla. Serizawa refuses at first but after watching a program about the tragedy, Serizawa agrees, but destroys all of his notes so that no one would be able to build another device. A navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to where Godzilla is located and the two men dive down with the Oxygen Destroyer. As Godzilla approaches the two men, Serizawa has Ogata head back to the surface while he activates the device. As the Oxygen Destroyer begins to work, Serizawa cuts his air hose and line back to the ship, then with his last words, tells Ogata to take care of Emiko. Ogata, Emiko, Yamane and the rest of the crew are left to mourn while Godzilla thrashes in the ocean before being completely dissolved by the Oxygen Destroyer.
When Godzilla was released in 1954, it was met with mixed reviews in Japan, with many critics saying that the events of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Lucky Dragon Incident were still too fresh on the people’s minds. However, Godzilla would go on to be the 8th most attended film in that year. It is also the second most profitable movie of Toho’s Godzilla franchise, only falling behind King Kong Vs Godzilla. As for American critics, most of them had never seen the original Godzilla, having only been exposed to the Americanized version with Raymond Burr. However that changed in 2004 when, as part of the 50th anniversary of Godzilla, Rialto Pictures showed the film as part of a traveling tour limited release in various cities in the U.S. And yes, I did go see it in the theater when it was shown in Atlanta. The critics were highly positive about the movie, as evidenced by the 93% rating it has on Rotten Tomatoes.
I love this movie. It has always been one of my top five Godzilla movies (I think it is currently #3). When watching this movie, the main focus should not be on the actors, or even Godzilla. This movie is all about the imagery. The people of Japan have experienced one of the worst events that have ever occurred in modern history. They actually experienced an atomic bomb detonating in not one, but two cities. All of the destruction, pain, suffering, and helplessness that they experienced is shown in Godzilla. But this time, it is not some “evil” country that is attacking them, but rather a giant monster. Godzilla is described as not necessarily being evil, but merely a force of nature a theme that would regularly be used throughout most of his movies. As for the actors, they all did a good job in their roles. I think Akihiko Hirata (Serizawa) and Takashi Shimura (Yamane) were probably the best two performers. Of course you also have to mention Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka, who are responsible for playing this legendary character. You also have to give credit to Akira Ifukube for the music in the film as it made the somber tone of the movie feel even more human.
I had been debating on whether or not to do two separate reviews for Godzilla and the Americanized version, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters. In the end, I decided to just review the original but point out the differences. Obviously, the biggest difference is the appearance of Raymond Burr, which was to make the audience able to connect more with the movie. They also cut about 30 minutes of original footage, including several of the political, social, and anti-nuclear themes. Since they filmed new footage with Raymond Burr for this movie, the way they tried to splice his character into the original movie was to use look alikes but have their backs to the camera so you could not see their faces as they interact with Raymond Burr. They also got rid of the original soundtrack and used music from other movies, such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon. While this did help American audiences relate to the film better, it also is the reason why many critics considered Godzilla a low grade film.
So one of the greatest monster movies of all times but I recommend you watch the original version if you have the opportunity.
Rating: 5 out of 5 (Godzilla) / 3 1/2 out of 5 (Godzilla: King Of The Monsters)