I had never seen the original Godzilla. Before you throw tomatoes at me in shame, in my defense, I had seen the American version, King of the Monsters many years ago. To be honest, I found it boring. I had only seen it once, and I've had the DVD all these years. It wasn't until not too long ago that I discovered American dubs often change the overall film it translates. Gigantis, The Fire Monster being a prime example. Criterion had released the Blu-Ray of Gojira back in January, so I was finally going to watch it later in the year when I purchased it. But just yesterday, the Turner Classic Movies channel had a night dedicated to Ishiro Honda, the director of this classic. The amazing part? They were going to air not the American version, but the original 1954 classic with subtitles. I took this opportunity to check it out. Gojira is the beginning, without it, a part of pop culture would be missing. The film is easily a masterpiece that holds up to this day.
Here's the official description from Classic Media:
The ocean's surface boils white-hot and a Japanese freighter mysteriously vanishes in the Pacific. Rescue boats meet the same fate, and the superstitious villagers of Odo Island fear an ancient legend has come true: the legend of Godzilla! Reawakened from eons-long sleep by an H-bomb test, the behemoth seeks revenge on the civilized world, turning Tokyo into a wasteland of atomic fire and rubble. Caught in the monster's path of destruction are young lovers Emiko and Ogata, who must betray their friend Dr. Serizawa, a brilliant but tormented scientist, in order to save the world.
It's extremely fascinating to check out this film in this day and age. After watching Godzilla being a hero, shaking hands with a robot, and playing soccer, (the latter is slightly a joke) it's very interesting to see Godzilla as a horror icon. The film's purpose isn't about a giant monster destroying a city, it's symbolism of why we shouldn't use nuclear weapons. The message still pertains to this day, making this film timeless. Ishiro Honda is a masterful director. No one can match his depressing tone for his films. Really, there is no other monster film like this. The fact that it's in black and white also helps. Honda's use of camera angles is a very nice touch, especially with Godzilla attacking the city. The scene with the humans and closeup of him stomping really gives the impression that this is a giant monster invading. Some of the later films in this era failed to do that. One of the famous characters in this film is Dr. Serizawa, the creator of the infamous Oxygen Destroyer. The characters actually hold up the film well, that's something the majority of the Heisei films failed to do. (You would think as the years went on they would get better, but not in the Heisei era.)
This film laid the foundation for the music of the series. Akira Ifukube was one of the most amazing theme composers of his time, all his music here really brings the film alive. Godzilla's familiar theme is first heard here. The intro with the theme playing alongside the TOHO logo (you can also hear Godzilla's footsteps and roar, amazing touch) is just utterly fantastic and prepares you for a film you won't be forgetting anytime soon. One cannot forget to mention the incredible work of special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya. For a film made in 1954, you just have to stand up and clap. Some of the miniature work actually looks better than a lot of the miniatures in the Heisei films! Originally Godzilla was going to be done using stop motion, like with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the original King Kong, but ended up being suit-animation However, despite the film's age, it looks really realistic thanks to smartly filmed camera angles. The actual look is great, I didn't remember it looking that good. The film has many iconic moments, such as the great and infamous scene with Godzilla holding a train in his mouth. You can see the heart injected into this film, it has such emotion. As the camera shows a destroyed Tokyo, the viewer feels a calming, yet sadness inside. The scenes with the casualties really set the depressing mood, especially with that song 'Prayer for Peace" playing. Godzilla rearing his head for the first time over the hill was simplistic yet extremely effective. The part where he rises out of the ocean is just great, it actually looks realistic. In the later Showa films, it just doesn't catch the realism the original film managed to accomplish. The effects are just amazing for a film that was made almost sixty years ago. (Even if you could see the flame thrower in Godzilla's mouth.) The ending is just unbelievable. As you see Godzilla, you just can't help but feel sorry for him. Maybe its the music, but for some reason, you just feel sorry for him as gets turned to bones thanks to the Oxygen Destroyer.
Overall, Gojira is a much different Godzilla film than the ones we're used to watching. It's fascinating to see how it went from being dark and depressing to having Godzilla team up with a robot against a giant cockroach and cyborg chicken. It's interesting to see how the films' tone changed as the years went by. This film will always pertain to an audience, even in today's world. Gojira is a film that introduced the concept of having a giant monster attack Japan. Thanks to its success, we would get a cash-in sequel in the form of Godzilla Raids Again. Thus was born one of the greatest franchises of all time. Gojira is a timeless classic and is a film everyone should watch at least once in their lifetime.