A 400-foot dinosaur springs to life in the wake of heavy nuclear weapons testing over the Pacific Ocean, and before long, the fire-breathing Gojira (aka Godzilla) makes a beeline for an unsuspecting Tokyo.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Let me make this clear. The original 1954 Japanese version of Gojira is much, much more than just about a dude in a cheap rubber dinosaur suit stomping on plastic and wooden models of Tokyo. Gojira is actually one of the most significant and timeless cautionary tales of the Atomic Age. Once again, scientists wander very close into the domain of the creator with the comfortable assumption they can do no wrong. They of course do go wrong and things get ugly.
Gojira, loosely translated into “Godzilla”, is full of metaphor and subtext. The monster is a large, destructive, and irradiated dinosaur that awakens to exist for the sole purpose of destroying mankind with his formidable radioactive breath and big feet. The reedited and remastered original Japanese version cut excises much of the newer shot Raymond Burr footage in the most common American version that is really just rigid, annoying and useless. The film is less campy, schlocky and Americanized with these scenes cut out. What we have is a powerful, emotional and noirish masterpiece. The film is beautifully photographed and there are great lingering pans of devastation and suffering. The Japanese see Gojira as a force of nature to be accepted if not reckoned with. At times the movie takes on an avant garde air. Akira Ifukube’s eerie music is hauntingly reflective and appropriate. There is one particluar scene that is so well done it can bring a tear to the eye. It takes place the day after Gojira’s first attack and the country is mourning. There is a beautiful shot of Japanese children singing in a large temple and the camera pans the destruction. Director Inoshiro Honda lets the scene play out slowly and emotionally with profound results.
I also would like to mention the strengths of the effects and the acting by the versatile Akihiko Hirata as the conflicted Professor Serizawa who in the end will eventually make a great sacrifice to save Japan and the world from the Atomic Age monstrosity. Every heavy footstep of Gojira sounds like a bomb going off and at times the film (with it’s obvious metaphorical innards) may be accused of exploiting the still fresh pain of Japan’s role in WWII, but is still a very astute and significant piece of film noir. Watch it late at night with some buttered popcorn and enjoy! Don’t forget to catch the Japanese uncut version on DVD and Blu Ray.