Briraka’s Blunt Breviews – Godzilla (1954)

The year is 1954 in Japan, just a decade after the Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now the filthy gaijin are at it again by turning the fish gay with their goddang nuclear bomb tests. So, what did the good boys at Toho do about it? Well, they made a movie about the horrors and tragedy of nuclear warfare disguised as a giant monster flick, of course.

Disturbed from it’s natural deep sea niche by hydrogen bomb testing, a giant monster known by Odo Island folklore as “Godzilla” begins causing a series of shipwrecks along the sea of Japan. As the J.S.D.F.enacts countermeasures against Godzilla, they all prove ineffective at deterring the beast. Godzilla then turns the heart of Tokyo into a sea of flames with it’s atomic breath and spread radiation wherever it went. Only one man hold the secret to slay the monster, but he is reluctant to share his discovery, as he fears what mankind may want with it once they have witnessed it’s terrible destructive power…

It’s a great movie and a true classic of the kaiju genre. The characters are basic, but not two-dimensional, the drama surrounding the events of the story is surprisingly treated seriously and humanely compared to most monster films, and the black and white cinematography compliments the film’s dreary tone quite well. The film’s anti-war message and social-political themes, while they obviously revolve around the issues of the time that the film was made in, I personally feel still have some relevance sixty plus years today. Although, I’d say even say without those it’s still a good watch. The way they build up to Godzilla’s reveal on Odo Island and the eventual destruction of Tokyo never felt like the movie was unnaturally teasing the audience like a lot of post-Jaws movies tend to do.

There’s only a few minor nitpicks I have with the film. First, there’s the inaccuracy of some of the science portrayed in the movie. In his report to the Diet about the discovery of Godzilla’s existence, Dr. Yamane explains that Godzilla came from only two million years ago during the Jurassic period. Godzilla’s ability to spread radiation as a result of coming into contact with nuclear fallout is likely rooted with the misconception at the time that radiation was like a disease that could spread from person to person. They would go on to retcon this ability as a by-product of Godzilla’s internal biological machinations in later incarnations of the character. And then there’s the special effects, while not as bad as just gluing fins on to an iguana, there not exactly Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion level either. It’s somewhere in the middle where there’s some great shots with the actor in a suit, but the beady-eyed puppets used for spraying Godzilla’s atomic breath kind of take you out of the experience with how off-model they are with the suit.

In America, the film was re-edited and new scenes featuring actor Raymond Burr as American reporter Steve Martin were added in. Released in 1956, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is what I would say is probably one of the better Americanizations of a kaiju movie at the time. Burr’s character scenes were cleverly edited into the movie in a convincing manner, which is impressive compared to other Americanizations where they stick a few white dudes in a room and have them boringly comment on the action. Some are critical towards the 1956 re-edit for cutting out a lot of the social commentary, but I would say it was necessary at the time considering that the internet wasn’t a thing, so you couldn’t just look up the “Top 10 Secret Hidden Meanings Behind Godzilla”, so a lot of it would be lost on American audiences. And the stuff they did cut, I feel wasn’t too instrumental to the movie’s message and themes. If anything, that’s a compliment to the original movie that the anti-nuke message is so engraved into it’s craftsmanship that it could survive cutting the fluff.

If you would like to watch the movie and support the official release, Criterion has a Blu-ray set containing both the original Japanese version as well as the American edit that you can buy here:

Posted by Briraka

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