AKA: Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Director: Ishiro Honda
Writer: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Ishiro Honda
Cast: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai, Ren Yamamoto, Toyoaki Suzuki, Toranosuke Ogawa, Akihiko Hirata
Running Time: 96 min.
Ishiro Honda was a great director. As Akira Kurosawa’s assistant director and right hand man, Honda no doubt learned a lot from the man, and it shows, particularly in this 1954 effort. Gojira is a stark and uncompromising film, filled with nightmarish imagery, but, much like Kurosawa, Honda infuses the film with a hopefulness and humanity that saves it from being too difficult a viewing experience.
It’s a shame American studios had to buy and re-edit this film, because Gojira itself is one of the great Japanese films. Gojira, the giant nuclear powered dinosaur, IS the atomic bomb. This is one of the best films that conveys what the Japanese went through during the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The images of destruction in this film are harrowing. Tokyo on fire, buildings leveled, trains smashed, innocents running and cowering in fear, all filmed in a harsh, newsreel-ish black and white.
The hero of the film, in both versions, is Hirata’s Dr. Serizawa, who, reminiscent of the kamikaze pilots and traditional samurai, perishes in order to set things right. Serizawa also makes a gesture no doubt meant as criticism towards the US. When Serizawa decides to destroy Gojira with his antimatter device, he burns the blueprints. “These shall not fall into the wrong hands.” Look at the world today. Nearly every country on the face of the Earth is armed to the teeth. More than a few have fallen into the “wrong hands.” We have the capability to destroy this planet a thousand times over. And they say we humans are the smartest of all the Earth’s animals. But I digress.
The great Takashi Shimura, star of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai among others, has a substantial role in this film.
The American re-edit is about 20 minutes shorter and has a bunch of inserts making Raymond Burr a substantial part of the action. “Godzilla vs. Perry Mason”…it’s worth seeing for the kitsch factor alone! But really, even in it’s chopped up American version, Gojira is a must-see. Both feature the Serizawa story and the horrific footage of Tokyo’s destruction.
Hate all those lame Godzilla movies with giant moths and aliens and little singing chicks you can hold in the palm of your hand? I don’t, but no need to worry, this is nothing like the sequels. Whereas the proceeding films were campy and aimed at children, the original is surprisingly adult and though provoking, and a true classic of Japanese cinema.
Skip the American remake. A better remake is Godzilla 1984, which was also chopped up it’s source and spliced footage in featuring Perry Mason for the American release.
Good theme music, too.
All in all, required viewing. A surprisingly classy and intelligent film. The effects are much better than one would ever imagine, as well. There is even some stop-motion animation. The acting is strong, the script is great, and the visuals nightmarish.
After you watch this, be sure to check out Honda’s 1963 effort Matango, which tackles drug use and is equally frightening.
Woody’s Rating: 10/10 (for either version)