Godzilla (1954)

Class: User
Author: Cow
Score: (4/5)
August 22nd, 2006

The first film in a saga is always the best. Or at least that is the case in most sagas in popular culture. This is not an exception with Godzilla, the movie that started the entire craze for giant monsters that King Kong had created. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was inspired by said film, and by The Beast From 20000 Fathoms, to create an allegory of the nuclear deployment on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which still haunted the Japanese back in 1954. For that he assembled a legendary trio, comprised of director Ishiro Honda (who was the assistant director for Akira Kurosawa); special effects technician Eiji Tsuburaya (later responsible for the Ultraman saga), and composer Akira Ifukube, who is considered by some as the John Williams from Japan. The result was this amazing movie, which still looks good today, and quite dark for that matter.

It appears that numerous fishing boats are mysteriously disappearing near Ootojima Island. While the Japanese Government believes underwater mines could cause this, the natives of the island state that the responsible party is Godzilla, a giant monster that is supposed to live beneath the ocean. An expedition is sent to the island, and they find the monster, which appears to be a prehistoric sea reptile, awakened from his slumber by the hydrogen bomb tests in that area. Soon, the self-defense force unleashes all its weaponry, bent on destroying Godzilla, but when the beast arrives at Tokyo, all of man's efforts seem useless against it, as the creature begins ravaging the city.

One could first think this is just a monster movie, but it's really full of analytical content, and the plot is full of anti-war messages and resolutions. It's noticeable that still after 9 years, Japan was still in its post-atomic crisis, as nuclear fears become present throughout the whole film. The acting was nearly superb, only lacking in the absence of a real main character, but every cast member really put effort in their roles; especially Takashi Shimura, whose character, besides being quite interesting, also looks very real. Akira Takarada had also a strong performance; he would also appear in many other kaiju eigas, with this sort of strong character. Akihiko Hirata gives a very dramatic role, as the tormented Dr. Serizawa. As for the special effects, much is to be said; Tsuburaya was a real genius, and managed to demonstrate that talent makes movies, not money. This is shown, of course, in the impressive suit used to portray Godzilla; it's full on details, and most important, it looks alive. The soundtrack was also powerful, fitting flawlessly with film's dark images. Ifukube composed some memorable marches and themes that would be used in the later films of the saga. He also created Godzilla's trademark roar, making his presence in all those movies. The bad point here is that the editing and length of some scenes makes the film pretty slow at sometimes, and the semi-love story wasn't needed at all.

In 1956, Godzilla was released in the US under the appropriate title of Godzilla, King of the Monsters. This version, however, varied a lot from the original. Some footage was cut, and reorganized, and scenes featuring Raymond Burr were added. The resultant movie lacked the same intensity on the film's premise, as it was meant to appeal American audiences. There was also another version in 1977, when Italian director Luigi Cozzi, decided to use the American version as a source material, and crudely colorized the film. But none of these versions will ever be as good as the original, which by today's standards looks dated.