In the autumn, I reviewed Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the Big Guy’s debut as we in the west remember it. That film, of course, consisted of re-edited footage from the Japanese original, with new sequences added. This week’s Saturday Review looks at the original Japanese film.
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Director: Ishiro Honda.
Writors: Ishiro Honda, Shigeru Kayama.
Atomic testing in the Pacific awakens a prehistoric beast, altered by radiation and bent on destruction. Dr. Serizawa develops a weapon which may destroy it, but that weapon may be as monstrous as Gojira.
As I wrote in my Godzilla review, the concept of the original– even in the American re-edit– works in a way which may be startling to those who have never watched the first film. Gojira begins with a realistic horror and gradually builds to the first appearance of the monster, and then to its rampage. We see hospitals and traumatized children and burn victims. The cause may be phantastic, but the consequences are entirely believable and all too familiar.
The film features a public meeting sequence that devolves into very silly and dated comic relief.
Originality: 4/6 While obviously influenced by King Kong and The Beast from 20000 Fathoms, Gojira manages to be a fairly original take on the giant monster, a far more serious outing than the others. According to the notes accompanying the Deluxe Collector’s Edition, the studio had hoped to use stop-motion animation, but realized it would not be possible in the time they had. Instead, they put someone in a rubber suit, and gave birth to the Kaiju genre.
Effects: 4/6 Godzilla is obviously someone in a rubber suit and in some places, the wires holding model planes can be seen. However, the effects are more impressive than those used in the next two decades of Kaiju films. From the start, Toho made great model cities. The costume and puppet people used a couple of different heads for Godzilla in order to get various expressions and movements. The monster attacks at night and this decision, combined with the black and white film, eliminates a number of problems that become obvious in later films that show their monsters by day and in colour.
The opening sequence– not included in the American version– has a grim edge, and it echoes a contemporary incident, wherein a Japanese boat sailed too close to a Hydrogen bomb test. The effects, however, include less-than-convincing animation.
Story: 5/6 The somewhat choppy flow of Godzilla, King of the Monsters did not just result from re-editing; it may be found, in places, in the original. The American version provides us immediately with a single point-of-view character to tie the events together. The central characters of Gojira, however, have the time to develop, and the script neatly links their personal conflicts with the major plot.
The major plot echoes earlier monster films and has been copied many times since, but rarely has it been handled with such grim seriousness.
Production: 4/6 The filmmakers did well on a relatively low budget.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall: 6/6. Godzilla has serious themes about war, science, and responsibility, and it towers above the other examples of the genre it created.
Gojira receives a total score of 33/42