- Ishirô Honda Screenplay
- Ishiro Honda & Takeo MurataStory
- Shigeru KayamaDirector of Special FX
- Sadamasa ArikawaStarring
Takashi Shimura ... Dr. Kyohei Yamane
Akira Takarada ... Hideto Ogata
Momoko Kôchi ... Emiko Yamane
Akihiko Hirata ... Dr. Daisuke Serizawa
I had intended to review and do a comparison of the Japanese and American versions but when watching the later, which I had not done in some time, I realized that would be near impossible! Thanks to some major, and often creative, editing these are two very different films.
So let me start with 1954's Gojira
. (pronounced nearly as 'Godzilla' which for sake of clarity I will use this spelling from now on as even the Japanese films adopt it for later films) This is the original Japanese theatrical release version. The plot:
Several mysterious ship wrecks and unexplained destruction of an island village spur investigation and the subsequent discovery of what appears to be a survivor of the Jurassic period. This monster, dubbed 'Godzilla', taken from a mythical beast that was said to hunt the ocean floor in the South seas, is an intermediary species. Related to both the land dwellers and the sea dwellers of the time. This explains his ability to stay submerged for long periods of time and still be able to walk on land.
It is hypothesized that recent hydrogen bomb test may have disrupted it's natural habitat and forced it to find food elsewhere. This is substantiated by further evidence of radioactivity found at the attack sight.
Dr. Kyohei Yamane, (Takashi Shimura) a highly regarded anthropologist tries desperately to convince the authorities that this creature should be studied not destroyed. Somehow this creature has absorbed lethal levels of strontium-90 radiation and survives. This accomplishment is of great interest to him considering the events that played out less than 10 years ago and the subsequent effects which are still being felt in 1954.
The Government and military decide that the safety of the Japanese people are highest priority and try to destroy the monster. This inevitably fails and leaves Tokyo engulfed in a sea of flames.
Meanwhile a scientist, Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) while experimenting with oxygen has inadvertently discovered and 'Oxygen Destroyer'. A device that can disintegrate all the oxygen in the water and vaporize any life. He confides this discovery to only one person, his long time friend Dr. Yamane's daughter, Emiko (Momoko Kôchi). She keeps his secret from her father and her fiance, a naval salvage officer, Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), until it becomes clear that it is only this weapon that can save Japan.
Serizawa is hesitant to use the weapon. Carrying the scars of WWII his fear, understandably, is that once the world sees what Oxygen Destroyer can do it will become the next super weapon and be used as such.
He is only convinced, even after Ogata and Emiko beg him, when he sees some television footage of the death and destruction caused by Godzilla's rampage.
Burning all his notes he agrees but this will be the first and last time the Oxygen Destroyer is to be used.
Using Geiger counters to locate Godzilla, Ogata and Serizawa dive down and plant the Oxygen Destroyer. In an act of self sacrifice to protect his creation from ever being used again Serizawa tricks Ogata back to the surface and releases the weapon.
Godzilla is destroyed at the bottom of Tokyo bay.
Dr. Yamane gives us a stark warning that if we continue to toy around with atomic weapons we may see more creatures like Godzilla.My thoughts:
I still think this film is a masterpiece of it's time. Very different from many of the Godzilla films that end up following it but we will get to that throughout the week.
"Godzilla" is less of a monster movie and more of a drama. The title character only makes brief appearances until the third act of the film, though when he does it is a stunning collection of civil destruction! The special effects won the Japanese equivalent of an Academy Award, and deservedly so I might add. (It was nominated for best picture but lost out to Kurisawa's "Seven Samurai")
As I mentioned in the plot synopsis, this film takes place only 9 years after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first and thankfully last use of an atomic weapon in a time of war. The cities are still be rebuilt and the lingering effects of the radiation are probably only being truly realized. Maybe it is just me, but I think one could easily see where a film whose main antagonist is the result of atomic energy could turn very anti-American. Surprisingly it makes great efforts to do just the opposite. Even going so far as to have an official at a intelligence briefing suggest that they keep the findings under wraps so not to enflame tensions and disrupt international relations.
I think this film was, while maybe not being entirely intentional, cathartic for the Japanese people and in a strange way an acceptance of their defeat in the war. They made a bid for world domination and despite their powerful army and navy, failed. In the end it wasn't a military that ended the war, but scientist. So it is mirrored in "Godzilla". Tanks, planes, bombs all fail to stop the monster, but science saves that day. It is this realization that domination of the world wont be done by might of hand, but by might of mind. This is a war many would argue that the Japanese nation has fought very well and may have won several times. (Many battles if not the war perhaps)
I've read that Ishiro Honda said in the years before his death that he had hoped that "Godzilla" would be a rallying point to stop atomic testing. It is interesting to think that a film that a man may have hoped would bring an end to an era gave birth to one of the longest lived and recognized film "stars".