Godzilla (Japan 1954)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (US Title)
Review Date: 7/12/02
Director: Ishiro Honda
Music: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Raymond Burr

The movie that started it all. This is a dark and vicious monster movie classic that raises a desperate plea for world peace and nuclear disarmament. Several ships have mysteriously disappeared near Japan, and a research team is assembled to look into the matter. The investigation leads to Oda Island, where they discover a giant radioactive monster who the islanders refer to as "Godzilla" (or Gojira if you prefer). Godzilla makes an assault on Tokyo, and it becomes clear that humans are utterly helpless against him. Fortunately for the human race, a reclusive scientist named Serizawa discovers a horrific weapon which he calls the oxygen destroyer, and ultimately uses it to kill Godzilla. But he'll be back for at least another twenty-five films...

It's interesting to note how different this film is in tone and execution than the kid-friendly franchise that would spring up in its wake. The film hasn't aged well, and while many of the visual effects are laughable by today's standards, they certainly have a no-nonsense intensity about them. Tokyo has never been so fully and horrifically flattened. Godzilla is an interesting combination of a man in a suit, a puppet, and a stop motion model, which is very different looking than the monster in the sequels. While the film's heavy-handed social and political commentary packs a heavy punch, it also drags the pacing to a stop and drains all of the fun out of the experience. The melodramatic dialog is also a bit over the top and tends to be unintentionally funny. The production values are decent for the most part, but a handful of really weird edits bring unwanted attention to themselves.

Notes On The American Version:
The American release of "Godzilla" awkwardly inserts footage of Raymond Burr as an American journalist stationed in Japan. He's horribly out of place in the film, and spends most of his time looking pensive and narrating the story. In its defense, I was pleased and fascinated by the amount of original Japanese material that was left intact. Nearly half the dialog is still in Japanese, and there's a definite feeling of respect and goodwill towards the material. This is particularly impressive considering the post-war time period when it came out.