With the latest incarnation of Godzilla getting nearer it seems a fitting time to go back 60 years and take a closer look at the original Japanese movie which launched the iconic monster onto our screens. Released nine years after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the opportunity was seized to use this radioactive lizard from beneath Tokyo Bay to serve as a symbol for the horrors of nuclear holocaust.
Godzilla has come and gone in many guises but nothing can get close to beating this original black and white Toho Studios version which, as an English speaker, needs to be watched with subtitles for maximum impact of the Japanese perspective. There’s no messing about from the offset and it’s straight into the action with fear and panic hitting Japan as an “underwater volcanic eruption” happens in the sea causing some fishing boats to capsize near Odo Island.
A research team led by Dr Yamane head to this pacific island off the Izu Peninsula; a fictitious isle with the scenes actually filmed around Toba city at the entrance to Ise-Shima National Park on the Shima peninsula. On discovering huge radiation emitting reptilian footprints in the sand, rumours abound that it must be Godzilla to which a woman replies saying its just a legend. Little did she know how true her words would become as Godzilla morphed into a worldwide cultural icon.
The gigantic amphibious bipedal dinosaur lives in caverns under the sea and comes ashore to prey on humans when it can’t find fish in the sea and many young virgin girls were sacrificed to appease his hunger and keep him from coming ashore. However, hydrogen bomb tests disturbed its peace and so it looked for a safer place which happened to be Shinagawa and Ginza!!
Affected by the radiation, it managed to gain an unbelievable destructive power and strength as well as white-hot atomic breath; an archetype which followed in the form of many on-screen monsters both good and bad with perhaps the worst featuring in ‘Monster‘ (2008). Two Zillo Beast episodes in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ (S02E18/19) played homage to what the Japanese call ‘Gojira‘.
Dr Yamane senses that atomic testing is behind Godzilla’s emergence and he (and he only!) thinks that it should be isolated and studied. The eye-patch wearing Dr Serizawa and his oxygen destroyer are key to sending Godzilla back to the depths of the ocean. He is arranged to be married to Emiko, but she is in love with some naval officer and it’s this love triangle which is pivotal in the monster plot.
I think I’ve been quite critical in the past about this film but on watching it again for this feature I have actually grown much fonder of it. It’s duration is an ideal length (90 minutes) and it’s quite a dramatic film with all the monster movie elements we now take for granted; a fire-breathing creature, stormy oceans, tanks and officers, mad scientists, frantic decision making, government officials, flames, fleeing citizens running for their lives and buildings being toppled. Of course, it was just three metre high miniature set pieces that were used to replicate the capital city whilst a man wearing a heavy rubber suit stomped all over them. Having most of Godzilla’s scenes at night probably helped make it a bit more convincing. I think, given the age of the film and its budget, the effects are pretty good and the sequence where Godzilla goes on the rampage in Tokyo is still superb both technically and artistically,with a genuine sense of dread. The residents run for their life, as they do throughout, which has parallels to the real life horror and devastation in Japan by way of atomic bombings, tsunami and earthquakes.
‘Godzilla’ rightfully deserves to be called a classic despite the ending which is perhaps one of the most blatant examples of not-quite finishing a movie and leaving it open to a sequel as Dr Yamane stands aboard a ship and says “I don’t think that was the only Godzilla. If they keep experimenting with deadly weapons….another Godzilla may appear…somewhere in the world!” The perfect way to set up the potential of another movie and what do you know but only half a year later there was another one by the name of ‘Godzilla Raids Again‘ (1955) and the series limped on for an incredible 26 more Toho-made films as well as four American productions including the forthcoming one directed by British filmmaker Gareth Edwards.
If you thought we were running out of films ‘set’ in Japan to review then using the original Godzilla film (a Japanese production of course but included in this series due to its huge impact on the Western world) opens up the possibility of extending it for another few years with reviews of the never-ending dross churned out in this franchise.
Beyond The Movies Rating 7/10