GODZILLA (1954) & GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) – The Dungeon Review!
My final review for Eisenhower and the Horror Movies is a film that is very close to my heart; Ishirô Honda’s 1954 Japanese monster epic Godzilla. The film that would go on to spawn a number of sequels and other successful creature features for Toho Studios. Godzilla was quite literally the first film I ever seen. My parents brought me home from the hospital on a Sunday afternoon and sat holding me in their arms as they watched Godzilla on television. My mom told me that I use to pretend I was Godzilla when I was a toddler making growling noises and stepping on my toys. I don’t remember that to be honest, but Godzilla was certainly a huge part of my childhood. I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that it was my dad who introduced me to horror films. He was passionate about classic horror and I watched tons of it growing up. When I was a kid there was no such thing as VCR’s, DVD players or the internet. You either watched movies on television or at the theatre. They played Godzilla and other Toho Studio monster flicks on television regularly in the 1970’s. I have fond memories of watching these films on rainy Sunday afternoons. I admit, I get a little sentimental when it comes to Godzilla. I watched quite a few creature features over the last two months and while I enjoyed some of these very much; nothing but nothing tops Godzilla.
A fishing boat goes missing off the Coast of Odo Island. A second boat sent to investigate also suffers the same fate. One night Odo Island is hit by a storm that brings with it more than just heavy winds and rain. The Odo Island residents believe the destruction and death was caused by a creature of their folklore called Godzilla. Archeologist Dr. Yamane along with a team is sent to investigate. Dr. Yamane discovers an alarmingly large footprint. Inside the footprint he finds a 3-lobed creature called a trilobite that has long been extinct. Godzilla soon appears, going on a rampage; leaving death and destruction behind. Attempts to destroy Godzilla fail and Japanese officials are desperate. Meanwhile Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko has been keeping a secret that could save the world. Daisuke Serizawa confides to Emiko that he has created a device that could destroy the beast. Serizawa refuses to divulge his discovery to others fearing it would be used for evil. Will the world be destroyed by a two million year old monster?!
Watching all these monster movies in close succession made me realize just how awesome and ground-breaking the effects in Godzilla really were. The action sequences are elaborate, lengthy and numerous. There is so much detail in the models; power lines, boats, cars, dozens of unique buildings constructed only to be smashed. Godzilla is an amazing creature. His menacing size, scaly back, powerful tail, fiery breath and mighty ancient cry cuts an imposing figure. The giant reptilian creature walking away from a city ablaze and in ruins is pretty damn spectacular! The awesome flawless way Godzilla interacts with his environment brings it all to horrifying life! It is awe-inspiring what these filmmakers were able to achieve with a guy in a lizard suit. Apparently the Godzilla suit was quite the nightmare to deal with. They spent a great deal of time and money on the creation of the suit only to discover it was unusable. Godzilla is the centerpiece of the film, so needless to say this was a huge set back. The issue was a person could not move once inside the rigid and heavy costume. They recreated the suit with a lighter material and while there were still issues they made due. The suit was still heavy and the actor would sweat buckets, so he could not stay inside long. They made the best of it and even found a use for the original suit. They cut the legs off and used it for foot smashing close-ups. The effects are remarkable, but that is not the only reason to appreciate Godzilla.
Godzilla also has a story to tell. The opening scene where a boat mysteriously disappears in the ocean is a wonderfully ominous start. Right off the bat we are filled with wonder. The anticipation steadily builds as we move along to that first Godzilla citing. Godzilla is the result of nuclear radiation; a horror experienced first hand by the Japanese in 1945 when The United States dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. There is one particularly intense scene in a hospital overflowing with victims of Godzilla’s rampage. Not only are they injured but some are suffering from radiation poisoning. According to Wikipedia “Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the widespread devastation that the country had suffered in World War II”. Others embraced Godzilla which was actually one of the most attended Japanese films in the year it was released. Godzilla deservingly won the Japanese Academy Award for best special effects.
I love DVD special features. The DVD I rented had both the original 1954 version of Godzilla and the 1956 made for America/Raymond Burr version. Apparently Godzilla’s Serizawa character was supposed to be an evil scientist type; unsympathetic creepy guy that kept to himself. Instead he is a handsome dude with an eye patch who appears to be on the losing end of a love triangle. Emiko and Serizawa seem to have history but Emiko is in love with Ogata. Serizawa has been particularly secretive as of late so Emiko decides to give him a visit. It turns out Serizawa has created a way to split oxygen atoms into fluids. When the oxygen is disintegrated the living organisms around it die of asphyxiation. He calls it the oxygen destroyer and it has the ability to kill en mass. He has been keeping his discovery secret, fearing it would be used as a weapon. Meanwhile at Counter-Godzilla Headquarters Dr. Yamane is working with officials but would rather study the creature than destroy it. The central characters are really a likeable lot and the actors do a good job of making their interactions natural and believable.
In 1956 Toho reworked Godzilla for American audiences. Godzilla, King of the Monsters is literally the Godzilla 1954 version with Raymond Burr scenes added. Raymond Burr plays an American reporter covering the monster’s activities. I actually found the Burr version a bit painful to watch after the original. The opening sequence has Burr lying on the ground wounded and completely stomps all over the original version’s great early suspense. When watching the two versions back to back it is hard not to notice how poorly executed the added scenes were. There are scenes where Burr is called on to interact with the original film’s characters. They show the back of a look-a-like’s head and dub their voice. The awkward shot concentrates squarely on the back of the head and really draws attention to it. Other times Burr is called on to interact with groups. He sporadically pops up like a mole in that whack-a-mole game behind groups of Asian actors. Finally the dubbing drove me to drink. I am mystified as to why they would not have just dubbed the whole film. They only dub the central characters which was sometimes illogical for the scene. During an excavation scene Dr. Yamane surrounded only by Japanese people speaks to them in English. I understand he might speak English to Burr but why would he speak English in this scenario? Other times they leave the Japanese dialog and Burr narrates over it. I don’t really have a bone to pick with Raymond Burr himself. Burr was okay. There really is no reason to watch this 1956 version when you can watch the original.
I have loved Godzilla my entire life. I have seen Godzilla a stupid number of times and it always thrills me. Godzilla is a visual extravaganza, with a compelling story, suspense and great action. It also has the most ass-kickinest, stompinest, fire-breathinest awesome monster ever to grace the silver screen! Many have tried but no one has really been able to duplicate Godzilla. Even Toho themselves haven’t created a monster flick to top it. Godzilla is in a class all its own. Highest of recommendations!
Japanese with English subtitles.
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Ishirô Honda
Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai