Godzilla (Gojira) 1954

Robin Clifford
Robin Clifford 
Godzilla (Gojira) 1954
Laura Clifford
Laura Clifford 
In 1956 the American public was wowed when Japan’s Toho Pictures released the westernized version of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” starring Raymond Burr. The man-in-a-rubber-suit monster flick went on to spawn 20+ sequels over a couple of decades. But, did you know that there is an original, Japanese version of this cautionary tale that eschews nuclear weapons testing, has subtitles and not one bit of our beloved Perry Mason in it? If not, you will soon get the chance to see the original story about the monster that terrified Tokyo in “Godzilla.”

I have been a fan of the original Americanized “Godzilla” since I was a kid and learned, a long time ago, about that film’s own roots. About ten years ago, a friend got hold of a copy of the Japanese language film, first titled “Gojira,” and lent it to me. The tape had been duped down so many times that it was nearly unwatchable, but I sat really close to the TV and was able to make sense out of the fuzzy images. I stuck with it and was amazed to see that the original film had almost nothing to do, story wise, with the bastardized American version.

By cutting out about 40 minutes of footage from the original and plunking in a bunch of scenes with Raymond Burr, the producers of “King of the Monsters” succeeded in taking any social relevance the original offered and turned it into nothing more than a monster movie – albeit one that has given kids a lot of pleasure for a lot of years. The scenes with Burr are often woefully mismatched from the rest of the film and the cautionary tale of man’s self-destruction from the H-bomb is virtually eliminated as “The End” pops up on the screen.

The far superior original film - starring Akira Kurosawa-regular Takashi Shimura, Akira Takarada, Momomoko Kochi and Akihito Hirata (not a Caucasian face to be seen) – immediately places nuclear weapons testing as the cause of the rise of Big G. The radioactive creature from the deep has been released from his lair following H-bomb tests in the Pacific. A hapless freighter is his first victim with all hands lost at sea. Soon, the angry critter is heading, inexorably, toward Tokyo Harbor where he will lay waste the island capital. Every military resource is brought to bear on the marauding monster to no avail and Tokyo is almost totally destroyed.

The city is paralyzed by Godzilla wanton destruction and the government and military are helpless to stop him. One-eyed scientist Serizawa (Akihito Hirata) is enlisted in the life-and-death battle but he must be convinced that his invention – a formula that will destroy the oxygen in water – will be used for good and not as a weapon against mankind. Serizawa finally, and reluctantly, agrees to use his discovery against Godzilla but sacrifices himself, too, to ensure that his creation will die with him and the monster. As the picture draws to an end, wise old scientist Yamane (Takashi Shimura) leaves us with the plea to stop nuclear testing or the world will undoubtedly face the terrible destruction of another Godzilla set free by technology run amok.

“Godzilla,” even in its original form, is not a great film. It is, after all, about a man in a rubber suit kicking the stuffing out of a bunch of Tonka toys and a miniature Tokyo. But, the warnings put forth in the film, at a time when nuclear war was very much a possibility, have a poignancy that is palpable and very real. The film appeared less than ten years after the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and those horrific events carry resonance in the film. Having grown up during the worst years of the Cold War, “Godzilla” still has an emotional impact, even today.

Fans of the “Godzilla” franchise, while not getting the same monster story that they know and love, should get a huge kick out of having the chance to see the original, very different version of the creature-from-the-deep yarn. Kudos to Rialto Picture for making the effort to bring to light a true classic. Helen (of Troy) may have had the face that launched a thousand ships, but Godzilla sure had the puss to launch decades of franchises and remakes. It may not be great filmmaking but it sure is an original. I give it a B+.

Off the coast of Japan, the ocean begins to 'explode' and all manner of boats, mostly fishing vessels, begin to disappear into Japan's own version of the Bermuda Triangle.  The natives of Odu Island speak of a legendary monster that many claim to have seen - "Godzilla."

On its fiftieth anniversary, Rialto Pictures rereleases the original, uncut Japanese version of "Gojira" and film geeks everywhere should rejoice.  From the opening logo of "Toho Company Ltd." through the radically different ending, this version is a richer experience than the butchered American "Godzilla: King of the Monsters."

The recut American film includes only sixty of the Japanese version's ninety-eight minute running time, padded with an additional twenty minutes of an awkwardly incorporated Raymond Burr. Additionally, the message of the original film is an anti-nuclear one responding to the bombing of Japan during World War II.  Godzilla, in fact, rampages through Tokyo shooting laser beams and flames in a manner that can only recall the atomic bomb.  Additionally, Daisuke Serizawa-hakase (Akihiko Hirata), the scientist who wears a black eye patch, hides his discovery, the 'Oxygen Destroyer,' as he believes it will be used for the wrong reasons (indeed, against his better judgement, it proves Godzilla's undoing when all attempts to destroy him by the military fail).

Still, it's hard not to feel affectionate towards the big destructive lug.  In 1954, Director Ishirô Honda was working with a massive budget for the time, yet the special effects have a childlike crudeness today.  Watch for a forced perspective shot of a broken toy helicopter in the foreground with Odu Island in the 'distance.'  The repeated gong sounds which signal Godzilla's approach were surely Spielberg's inspiration to cue his T Rex in "Jurassic Park," even though Honda's sound effect eventually becomes unsynchronized with Godzilla's footsteps.

In many ways "Gojira" laid down standards of the monster pic genre.  It was a forerunner of the Cold War films, released the same year as "Them!,"  where H-bomb testing mutated ants in the desert.  Officials in "Gojira" don't want to warn the public, citing panic just as small town Long Islanders do in "Jaws" years later.

"Gojira" will be a revelation to those who have only had the Raymond Burr experience.  It's about so much more than cheesy effects.

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