Friday, December 26, 2008

#9 All time Favorite Movie: Gojira (1954)Japan AKA Godzilla

What if you had only heard a rumor of a film for 30+ years and in in 2004, through Rialto Pictures, the rumored film had finally become reality? If you have waited to see a lost film, then welcome to my #9 all time favorite film "Gojira/Godzilla"

Now before we go forward something needs to be stated about this film and the 1956 American remake film Godzilla, King of the Monsters! For many years while I was growing up in the USA, they would only show the 1956 version of this film. Whenever TV stations would have a Saturday or Sunday monster movie marathon the 1956 version was the only one that would be shown. It was not until I have graduated college that I first heard that their was actually a earlier Japanese version of the film that did not include Raymond Burr.

This was before the internet and massive print media that we have today. I had looked for a bootleg copy of the 1954 version but all I could find was the 1956 version. This is why for many years, I believed that this film was a myth. No one in the USA where i went to could get me the 1954 version. I had just about stopped looking for the film that was until I heard that a small American film company, Rialto Pictures, would be re-releasing the uncut 1954 version of this film.

To this day I have no idea how I did it but I won a free ticket to see this film. I remember being very anxious to see this film. My fear was that after waiting 30+ yeas to see the original, that there was no way that the film could possible live up to my expectations. As you can see by my ranking, It was even better that even I could imagine.

For many years I wondered why was Raymond Burr even included in this film if he was not in the original 1954 version. After seeing the 1954 version there was not anymore question of why their had to be 2 versions of this film.

Now for the back story of Godzilla. You must remember this was Japan 1954, This county has just ended being occupied by the US Military. They had lost World War 2 and 2 cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had been attacked with atomic weapons. There were in the middle of 2 huge nuclear powers (USA AND USSR) who were both doing atomic bomb testing. With a total sum of all of their fears, it was not hard to believe that Japanese cinema could come up with a warning to the so-called civilized world.


Now the 1954 version opens up with a boat seeing a huge flash and then the boat is destroyed. One old fisherman, tells everybody "Godzilla must have done it". Godzilla is a monster god that lives in the sea that comes from the ocean to feed on mankind. Whenever fishing was poor, the natives used to sacrifice young girls to prevent and to feed Godzilla from attacking the village because he was hungry and the fish were gone.

Without Raymond Burr in this film, this film was taking on a different tone and even though I had seen the 1956 version numerous times, I was still unsure of what was going to come next.

What struck me next was the scene where Dr. Kyohei Yamane discovers that the sediment from Godzilla's footprint contained a massive amount of Strontium-90, which could have only have come from an nuclear bomb. So this monster was made by atomic weapons but from which countries test and why has this monster decided to attack Japan only?

The scene of chaos that broke loose in the Diet Building about do we keep the Strontium-90 secret or do we tell the world as a warning was a classic with both sides tying to convince the diet that they are right.

What really stuck me next and was not included in the 1956 version was a ladies reaction to Godzilla, "She was not going back into the bomb shelters, she had survived the atomic bomb so she could survive Godzilla" Her words appeared to me and others in the audience as a direct shot against the USA. I remember thinking "Wow, well I know know why this was not in the 1956 version"

The other major part of this film, that I never could grasp from the 1956 version was the 3 way love triangle between Emiko,(Dr. Kyohei Yamane daughter) is engaged to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, a colleague of Yamane's. Emiko, however, is in love with Lieutenant Hideto Ogata of the Nankai Steamship Company. Emiko was engaged to Dr. Serizawa, but he was seriously injured during WW2 and has lost one eye and his ability to love.

Now, normally, every time I see an Asian love triangle story, I want to puke. This was one of the rare times that it was actually needed in a film. Because Emiko is Japanese she hold a promise to a loved one very dear and when she is given a demonstration in his lab, by using the "Oxygen Destroyer" device in a fish tank. All the fish are disintegrated, only leaving skeletons. Shocked by this discovery, Emiko leaves Serizawa, promising not to tell anybody of what she witnessed. The part where she tells Ogata about the weapon her face of betraying his trust and he reaction of shame is what was making this film into a great one.

What I noticed about the 1954 version was a much better telling of why the Dr. actually allowed the weapon to be used against Godzilla.

Ogata and Emiko visit Serizawa to ask that they are allowed to have and use this new weapon against . Serizawa basically screams hell no and storms down to his basement to destroy the weapon. They both follow him down in order to prevent him from destroying the weapon and losing any chance of killing Godzilla. However, this only results in a short fight between Ogata and Serizawa, with Ogata receiving a minor head wound. As Emiko treats the wound, Serizawa apologizes, and explains: "If the Oxygen Destroyer is used even once, politicians from around the world will see it. Of course they'll use it as a weapon", Serizawa says. "Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all. As a scientist - no, as a human being — I cannot allow that to happen."

Ogata tries to convince Serizawa that he is the only one who can save the world. "Humans are weak animals", Serizawa argues. "Even if I burn my notes, the secret will still be in my head. Until I die, how can I be sure I won't be forced by someone to make the device again?" Serizawa also worries about the weapon "falling in to the wrong hands." Ogata finalizes the situation stating "You have your fears, which may become reality. And you have Godzilla, which is reality." (From the subtitled 1954 Australia Mad Man Co Ltd in Region 4 DVD)

This scene set ups the end of the film and when its over, I could not believe how the ending was changed from the 1956 version.

"I can't believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species", Dr. Yamane ponders. "If we keep on conducting nuclear tests, it's possible that Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world, again." It was a warning to any nation and these words were not included in the 1956 American remake.

As I was watching this movie, I was the little kid again and he was wanting to watch a classic monster movie. i saw a lot more that i was expecting and I now shun the 1956 version entirely. When I give an introduction to films from Japan I always include the 1954 and 1956 version on 1 DVD, in the 2nd round of the introductions, so they can see a classic and a joke of a film together.

Now for the bad thing that the 1956 version and other Japanese monster films had on me was that I only believed for about 20+ years that Japan could only make monster or low cut Samurai film. I also believed that same thing for other Asian countries films. I did not change my opinion until the early 2000's when the Korean and Japanese films started to gather notice on

Now a tab bit to Korean film trivia to end this movie review. This film was released in South Korea on 17 May 1960. This was the first film from Japan to be shown in Korea since the end of the occupation of Korea by Japan in 1945.

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