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The original, Japanese version of "Gojira" is the best giant monster
film I've ever seen. Some fans get carried away and call it one of the
best movies ever made; I wouldn't go quite that far, but it's damn
This film is quite different from the 20+ sequels that followed. Here, Godzilla is not so much a creature as he is a walking incarnation of the atomic bomb. His death ray, which became a rather amusing cartoon laser blast in later films, is here depicted as a sort of radioactive mist that sets its victims on fire. These "radioactive horror" images still resonate today - and imagine the impact they must've had on Japanese audiences fifty years ago.
From a production standpoint, the film holds up well. Godzilla's costume is much more convincing than the silly monkey suits that featured in the 60s and 70s Toho films, and due to the grayscale photography, the model cityscapes look convincing in most shots - or at least respectable. Ifkube's music score is stirring (you know it has to be good, as they kept recycling it in later movies), and director Honda makes great use of camera angles and imaginative special effects to give Godzilla a genuine aura of menace.
For once, the human characters don't let the side down. There's a compelling love triangle, and a dramatic sacrifice made at the end of the film that adds enormously to its emotional impact. The American version ("Godzilla: King of the Monsters") cut out much of the character development, and is thus clearly inferior; but never fear, Rialto is apparently releasing "Gojira," in all its original glory, sometime this year (2004).
In the later Godzilla films, the destruction he causes is almost incidental. Here, it's the whole point - he's a force of nature. Impressive.
So this is where it all started!
Of course, as Godzilla is my all-time favorite character, I admit to being raised on the heavily edited US version starring Raymond Burr. But when viewing this film in its original form, it not only looks more like a Golden Age Toho fantasy as we all know it, but it's a very powerful masterpiece, as it stands in the history of world cinema. Here in 2004, 50 years ago today after its release, American audiences finally get to see the film in its entirety, thanks to its long-awaited subtitled theatrical release by Rialto Pictures.
Technically, Japanese monster movies began with the now-lost 1934 period fantasy, KING KONG HAS ARRIVED IN EDO (EDO NI ARAWARETA KINGU KONGU), which was obviously produced upon the success of the 1933 American classic, KING KONG. But it was GODZILLA (or GOJIRA as the Japanese call him) that truly made it over. Clearly inspired by the success of the 1953 hit, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (released to Japan by Daiei early the same year), with a bit of KONG thrown in, Toho set out to make their own monster movie, not knowing that they would create a phenomenon that would last to this day!
What more can I say? This movie pretty much set the standard for Japanese monster movies as we all know! Watching the Japanese version is an amazing experience, and a hauntingly epic one!
The special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, as low-tech as they were, had minor flaws (notably visible wires and missiles shooting against a background), but even for a first try in the monster genre, they still looked spectacular, as is the photography! Even though the effects work improved in future films, this is still the landmark of things to come.
The music by Akira Ifukube is memorable. From his stirring main title music, to Godzilla's destructive, ponderous theme music, to the poignant ending. Again, Ifukube's work for this film sets the standard for his work in the fantasy film genre.
The main cast is top-notch, as you'd expect. Akira Takarada (20 at the time) stars as salvage officer Hideto Ogata, the main character. Veteran actor Takashi Shimura plays Dr. Kyouhei Yamane, the eccentric paleontologist, who serves as the Godzilla-expert. Momoko Kouchi plays Yamane's daughter Emiko, who's in love with Ogata. But the best character by far (and my all-time favorite human character in a Godzilla film) is the tormented, eyepatch-clad scientist Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, played by Akihiko Hirata. When watching the Japanese version, other supporting characters share the spotlight, especially the newspaper reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai), radiologist Tanabe (Fuyuki Murakami), the Ooto Island fisherman Masaji (Ren Yamamoto) and his younger brother Shinkichi (Toyoaki Suzuki). They just come off as mere background characters in the US version, but if you watch the Japanese original, you'll be totally surprised. Their performances were really dazzling, just like you'd expect from actors in a Toho fantasy film. Some of these actors would appear in future Godzilla films, as well as other SPFX fantasies from Toho.
Compared to other incarnations, this film (as well as GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN) had the creepiest Godzilla ever, and that was just the way he was supposed to be! Almost like a black silhouette with bright, white staring eyes. Godzilla was not just a mere animal, he was basically a modern god! A raging, destructive demon with the power of the hydrogen bomb that affected him. Although Godzilla is inspired by the Rhedosaurus from BEAST, he was a completely different entity. He was virtually indestructible, and had an awesome power - a white-hot atomic breath! Godzilla became the archetype for many Japanese giant monsters to follow.
But exactly what is Godzilla? As explained in this film (it's explained better in the Japanese version), he's a huge amphibious bipedal dinosaur that lives in caverns under the sea, feeding off of smaller sea animals. He was feared as a "god" on Ooto Island, and many young virgin women were sacrificed to him to appease his hunger. Hydrogen bomb tests affected his habitat, giving him unbelievable radioactive power & strength (and a towering size of 50 meters, 164 feet). And a sleeping giant was awakened . . .
Makes you think more about those nuclear tests, doesn't it?
Lastly, while the Japanese original played out more smoothly, the American version starring Raymond Burr (of PERRY MASON fame) as the visiting American reporter Steve Martin (not to be confused with the famous comedian!) is still very effective. The epic scale of the original still manages to shine through what the US producers could allow, and Burr (who was hired for a whole day for filming the added scenes) still did a serviceable job. American fans of the original version can at least be thankful for this US version, without which America could not accept Godzilla.
As for the movie's story, I'd rather not go into it in detail. If you haven't seen it, please do so! Be it the original Japanese version (which I recommend the most, especially subtitled), or the edited US version!
Here's to 50 years of a classic movie, and a classic character I will love forever!
This one started it all: the first and original Godzilla (Gojira)
movie, and also serves as the beginning to a long line of sci-fi and
monster (kaiju in Japan) movies from Toho Studios. We have a story
where Japan is thrown into a panic after several ships explode and
sink. An expedition of law enforcement officials and lead scientist Dr.
Yamane (Takeshi Shimura) head to nearby Odo Island to investigate.
There, a legendary mythical creature called Gojira, alleged to be
responsible for the ship disasters, make his first appearance and
begins a rampage on hapless Tokyo, threatening all of mankind.
This dramatic film with its thrills and horror has all the monster movie elements: a fire-breathing creature, toppling buildings, wall of flames, fleeing and screaming citizens, storms and seas, tanks and the army and frantic scientists and government officials - trying to figure out how to defeat the horror they see before them.
The love triangle between the character leads blends in very well with the monster plot. Godzilla, making his first attack on Tokyo, created haunting scenes of death and destruction and poignant moments of dismalness in the aftermath of his wake. Director Ishiro Honda did his finest and composer Akira Ifukube scored one of his best film music masterpieces. A compelling story by Shigeru Kayama, marvelous screenplay by Takeo Murata and superb special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Actors Takeshi Shimura, Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi and Akihiko Hirata gave outstanding performances. And, Haruo Nakajima, Katsumi Tezuka and Ryosaku Takasugi did a terrific and realistic job on portraying Godzilla.
It is clever that the grave consequences of atomic bomb testings are depicted in this film, which sends a vital message to the real world. This is a creative way to explain Godzilla's origins.
Every element in this movie are throughly connected, leaving no room for loose ends and plot holes. While the plot's pace is steady, all the on-scream drama and action will grab the audience's attention.
Above all, this film is not just a "monster-on-the-loose" movie. It's a true classic, one that stands out above many sci-fi movies in cinema history. A great movie to begin a long and successful (in most cases) line of Godzilla and other monster/sci-fi films from Toho Studios.
Finally, I had the pleasure of finally seeing the original Japanese version of this classic and I have to say that it is much better than the "Raymond Burr" version. This film pretty much makes one think about what we are doing to mother Earth with all the pollution and war going on. Perhaps the thing that made this film great was that not only did it have great effects, but it also had a great story that made a great social commentary on what could have happened if the arms race continued to go unchecked. Besides the story about Gojira, you also had a pretty decent love story. Akihiko Hirata, does a good job of playing Serizawa, who is really the tragic figure in this film who must decide whether or not to use his weapon, which potentially was more dangerous than the monster itself. This film is definitely one of the all time classics and fortunately the original version will be released on DVD in September 2006.
Essentially a Japanese remake of Hollywood's 1953 classic 'The Beast
From 20,000 Fathoms', 'Gojira' took the same formula and became so much
more than simple giant-monster entertainment.
Both films told stories about a pre-historic creature released/mutated by atomic testing. 'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' followed the appearance of a dinosaur released by an atomic blast. This dinosaur proceeded to destroy some stuff, turned up in New York, and destroyed New York too. Fun, but that was it, and not much more (I'm not saying its a bad film).
On the other hand, 'Gojira' used the same idea, and had a great impact in Japan. Gojira represented a real threat, a danger that Japanese of the time knew all too well. The message behind 'Gojira' was warning of the dangers of nuclear testing and nuclear weapons. Conversely, the message of 'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' is one for aspiring comic-book writers: exposure to radiation is a cheap but easy way to explain your character's freaky superpowers.
'Gojira' starts off with several boats going missing. One old man claims that Godzilla has returned, and in surprisingly un-Godzilla movie like fashion, no one believes him. I can understand this, Japan wasn't accustomed to giant-monster attacks yet. Anyway, Japan asks an imminent paleontologist, Dr. Yamane, to investigate the disappearances around Ohto Island. He discovers a two-million year old shellfish and lots of radiation. Oh, and a dinosaur the locals have dubbed Gojira. Back in Japan, Dr. Yamane is convinced that Gojira has been released by atomic testing, and that it should be isolated and studied. Obviously, no one else shares his view, and they all look for a way to destroy Gojira.
The key to Gojira's destruction lies in the hands of Dr. Serizawa. You can tell he is mad scientist because of his eye-patch. He is arranged to be married to Emiko Yamane, but she is in love with Hideto Ogata, a naval officer. Meanwhile, Gojira is turning Tokyo into a fiery crater.
Story-wise, its pretty similar to any irradiated monster movie of the 1950s. However, what all the other movies lack is the gripping images of destruction. Gojira is depicted as an evil force of nature - instead of wanting to see cities get crushed, we see Tokyo in Gojira's wake: it resembles a nuclear wasteland, and then we are treated to hospital scenes where medical staff try their best to deal with the scores of Gojira's victims. I can only imagine how terrifying scenes like those would have been so soon after World War Two. These are scenes we don't to see, in contrast to the sheer joy of watching two giant monsters have at each other in a big metropolis with no apparent consequences (see: nearly every other Godzilla movie ever made, for starters) Interestingly enough, Godzilla was only 50 metres tall in this, and he left radioactive fallout wherever he went. Somewhere along the along the line in the following movies, he got significantly taller, and lost the radioactive fallout. I guess it was a good career move seeing as he wanted to become a super-hero later on.
Great film, worthy of a 10/10
The original "Gojira" is one of the best. Unlike the American version with Raymond Burr, this one is very haunting, with the eerie images of destroyed Tokyo, and the music score is unbelievable. While the American version is good, this one is superior, with good acting, and the special effects were much better than then those that were to follow. The whole documentary feel is what really stays with you, and it is a powerful message against nuclear war that remains once the film is over, not the monster-destroys-city-people-destroy-monster idea. Far and away much better than the 1998 update, even with it's black and white photography and 50's era special effects. An absolute must-see, not only for monster fans, but for people who want to see the nuclear warning message from Japan's point of view. A true classic.
When one thinks of all the schlock that has come out of Japan when it comes to monster movies, many which use the Godzilla figure, one forgets that this was a pretty darn good movie. I remember as a child, watching it on late night television, in 1960. It was New Year's Eve and the adults were out doing whatever it is they did. The presence of Raymond Burr gave me a sense of comfort (Perry Mason was a staple at our house). I realize he was added for American audiences. It didn't matter to me. Unlike so many of its successors, this was nicely paced, didn't bank on Godzilla being a matinée idol (some of the films are so stupid where the thing becomes a friend to Tokyo, a form of defense). This film has the terror of "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms." The sets were much better. The battle scenes truer than the cheaper things that came later. The monster was a force. I have always enjoyed that scene where one goes over a hill or a rise just before a beach, and on the other side is the monster. The scenes of him wading into the harbor. This is a striking presentation for the early days of monster movies. Of course, it's all based on radiation and the nuclear threat. This stuff enlarges things and makes them rampage. I hope to purchase the Japanese remastered version from 2004. I'd like to see it the way it was intended to be seen.
Along with the 1933-version of "King Kong", this original Japanese
release of "Gojira" is THE most essential giant monster movie ever and
one the very few horror movies that every film lover in general has to
see at least once. Why? Because, it's so much more than just silly
drive-in cinema with a cheap looking monster! This is dark and
apocalyptic Sci-Fi with a nearly allegorical rant about nuclear warfare
and the honest fear for new types of weaponry. But I really don't feel
like going into the deeper meaning behind "Gojira", as it primarily is
an adrenalin rushing and overpowering action classic that doesn't need
intellectual defense at all. One of the many reasons why I love this
film so much (and same goes for "King Kong") is that we don't have to
wait a dreadfully long time and/or endure a large amount of tedious
speeches before we see the monster we want to see! Godzilla makes his
highly memorable first appearance after approximately 20 minutes (by
stretching his neck over a cliff!) and, from then on, this is
deliciously hectic and paranoid monster-madness! The little bugger is
presumably the result of too much H-bomb radiation and lives in the
depths of the ocean, near the island of Odo. But now he's heading for
Tokyo with his unnameable strength, fiery breath and oh yeah
insatiable appetite for destruction! Particularly this extended
sequence in which Godzilla blasts his way through the Japanese capital,
crushing buildings and setting monuments on fire, is very impressive
and legendary. The actor-in-monster-costume works a lot better than any
form of computer engineered effects and the carefully imitated Tokyo
sets are truly enchanting. The absolute best aspect about this
production is its powerful score, which makes Godzilla even more
threatening. Great stuff!
This milestone simultaneously meant the go-ahead for an innumerable amount of quickly shot sequels ("Son of Gozilla", "Godzilla vs. Mothra"), spin-offs ("Godzilla VS. King Kong"), remakes ("Godzilla 1984", the hi-tech American version) and of course an overload of pathetic imitations ("Reptilicus", "Monster from a Prehistoric Planet"). I still have to see all the direct sequels but don't really know what to expect from them. I guess that even if they're only half as good as this original, I'll be very satisfied.
It's been fifty years since Ishiro Honda and the gang at Toho made the
first Godzilla movie, and looking back on it, it's plain to see why
this film has become more than just a cult sensation. It's mix of raw
human emotion, fantastical story, and menacing precautionary messages
help to deliver one of the silver screens greatest films. Akira
Ifkube's foreboding score adds just the right amount of dark edge to
Honda's masterpiece,as does Akihiko Hirata's performance as jaded
scientist, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. The suitmation and set designs used in
this classic are superb as well, giving a certain level of realism
missing from many later monster films. And, of course, veteran actor
Takashi Shimura exceeds all expectations as Dr. Yamane.
Looking back on this film, taken in it's entirety and without the added American scenes, Godzilla (Gojira) truly is a film that will last the ages.
Gojira (not Godzilla, King of the Monsters, with Raymond Burr), stands as
one of the best monster movies...and one of Japan's finest and most allegory
pieces of cinema. The original version of the movie has a lot of
anti-nuclear sentiment that the US editors dropped from the Raymond Burr
version. A woman on a subway noting that is seemed like she survived Nagaski
only to die from Godzilla is an offhand but telling comment on Japan's
unique view of the use of nuclear weapons.
The story itself is makes a bit more sense than the patchwork used with Raymond Burr (though that version is also quite good for the genre that it helps perpetuate). The effects are (I think) still great...the grainy, documentary feel of the movie makes it seem a lot more real.
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