DIRECTOR: Ishirō Honda
I was first introduced to Godzilla in cartoon form in the 1980’s as a child, but it wasn’t until 1998, with Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster reboot that I had seen the infamous beast on the pearl screen. I had also seem bits and bobs of the many original sequels as a child and they had made absolutely no impact on me what so ever! But I became aware of the significance of this, the original, only recently and it was due to this discovery that I hunted down the best copy available.
I ended up with the 2005 Region 1 release, which also includes the U.S. reworking from 1956, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters!. I could not have imagined that a the 1954 version of Godzilla, or more litteraly, Gojira, could have been so mature, so sombre, or so tempered with its sledgehammer philosophising. Produced just nine years after the devastating nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which effectively ended the Second World War, Gojira takes up the mantle on doing what Science Fiction does best, and created the cypher in the form of Godzilla, to represent the devastation left over from the nuking of these cities.
Godzilla is a nuclear beast, affected by U.S. nuclear tests and is now toxically radioactive and upon landfall on Tokyo, rains down, literally, nuclear destruction up on the city, in a manner not dissimilar too that levied upon either of the cities, Hiroshima or Nagasaki. But its not just about that. It about the creation of the next WMD which would ultimately be used against Godzilla but poses and moral dilemma that Robert Oppenheimer himself would appreciate, as to whether such a creation should be allowed to be developed. It also looks quite seriously into establishing the potential evolution of a creature such as Godzilla and uses plausible palaeontological arguments to justify his existence.
The pacing was good and though Godzilla strikes from almost the opening frame, there is a sense of an ongoing crisis rather than an impending apocalypse, with news outlets reporting throughout as plans, both military and civilian are sited.
All in all, this is not just the birth of the massive and largely corny and cheap Godzilla series, it is a striking, intelligent, moving and incredibly well judged masterpiece of 50’s cinema. But I should have known. Most rubbish franchises began with an inspired first movie, something to break the mould and this does the job perfectly.
But it isn’t without its flaws. The special effects, though not all bad, are below par even for the time, but effective as for telling the story, some were very good with ALL being well conceived and ambitious. Some were very poor though, such as the model ships, which were unnecessarily below the standards and look like bath toys. But the cinematography was wonderful, with Honda shooting this in a classically manner. Tension was built brilliantly and the action rose to several crescendos and the excellent score by Akira Ifukube was not overused but brought to perfect effect when needed.
The acting was first-rate as well, proving Japanese cinemas reputation. But this was my first real foray into Japanese cinema, and what a treat it was. Many would look at this and see a cheap old film and others will see a film that whist let down by some less that brilliant visual effects and the fact that a lot of people, certainly in the U.K. find subtitles difficult, as a masterpiece not only of Eastern cinema but of cinema full stop. Truly realising its narrative and spirit, its cause and message. This was about a county in mourning not only for the hundreds of thousands lost by Fat Man and Little Boy, but for the war full stop. The 1950’s were a time of great political fear and reconstruction after WW2, and this is a film which taps into the brewing Cold War and fear of annihilation from human behemoths which once released can never be returned.
HIGHLY recommended but not for children as they will bore, miss the point, get put off by the subtitles, black and white and quite frankly its a mature and bleak film and not the 1998 remake. And thank God or Godzilla for that!
Originally posted in 2011