Last week I reviewed the 1954/55 classic, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, which is a cut, Americanized and edited version of the 1954 Japanese original, Gojira (Godzilla). Today before I movie on to the next movie in the franchise I want to to review the original Japanese version.
Directed by Ishirō Honda and featuring the special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, Gojira starred Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata and Takashi Shimura. It was an instant box office smash in Japan. Although many elements are similar to the American version the structure of the story is different. The film begins with the mysterious destruction of a couple of ships near Odo Island. When people come to investigate the occurrences they experience some type of attack at night during the height of a hurricane. Then the scientists arrive to study Odo island where they encounter a giant reptilian monster standing over the hill roaring at them before fleeing to the ocean.
The story also revolves around the human characters, such as the lead scientist Archeologist Kyohei Yamane, his daughter Emiko, who is engaged to her father’s colleague, Daisuke Serizawa, but is in love with a salvage ship captain, Hideto Ogata. A core scene and plot point of the movie is the break up of Emiko and Serizawa. Before she can break off her engagement to Dr. Serizawa he shares with Emiko his secret weapon he invented, a device which can destroy oxygen in water. After witnessing the horror and the destruction that this device can do to living things Serizawa has Emiko swear to reveal his secret to no one.
Amidst these interpersonal relationships Godzilla begins to attack Tokyo and with each attack being more destructive than the last. Emiko is overcome with grief as she views the destruction Godzilla has brought to her city and nation. She also nurses a her wounded boyfriend, Ogata, who survived Godzilla’s rampage. With the government unable to defeat Godzilla and fearing more death and carnage Emiko betrays Dr. Serizawa and reveals his secret of the Oxygen Destroyer. At first Serizawa refuses to use his weapon. After being convinced of the wisdom of using the weapon Serizawa burns the research papers.
The Japanese Navy brings Ogata and Serizawa to Tokyo Bay to use the weapon to destroy Godzilla. Once the weapon is deployed and Godzilla writhes in agony and is dieing Serizawa cuts the chord to his oxygen tank to sacrifice himself so that the secret of his weapon dies with him. Emiko and Ogata witness the demise of both Serizawa and Godzilla yet there is no comfort in their victory due to the loss of Serizawa coupled with the awareness that the atomic age has released forces that may strike again.
For myself both the original Japanese version and the adapted American version are equally good movies. There is a somberness to the tone of the film and an urgency along with despair and helplessness that would never be repeated in the franchise again. As Godzilla evolved into a more child friendly franchise Toho studios did not attempt to recreate the seriousness of this first film for many years. Once they did try to a more serious attempts at a Godzilla movie in the late 80s and beyond they could never achieve the the same mood and tone this one set. One of the reasons, in my opinion, that the later movies failed to recreate the same mood is that all Godzilla movies has Godzilla fighting another monster (except the 1984 reboot) and those rampages by the big guy seem more motivated toward defeating a threat by another monster than Godzilla being a threat himself. In the original movie Godzilla was something mankind had brought upon himself and was reaping what he sowed. That was not the message in these later films. I also think the black and white cinematography and the distinctive musical score by Akira Ifukube also helped set the mood. When Toho begins to make Godzilla movies once again, or if the planned American movie gets made, I hope they take lessons from the one that started it all.