During Godzilla's rampage through downtown Tokyo, one of the buildings he destroys is the Toho Theater. In fact, some fans who were watching the film in that theater actually thought the theater was being attacked and tried to run out of the theater.
The sound department tried numerous animal roars for Godzilla but felt they were unsuitable for an animal of such immense size. Akira Ifukube came up with Godzilla's roars by rubbing a coarse, resin-coated leather glove up and down the strings of a contrabass (double bass), and reverberated the recorded sound. Also, Godzilla's thunderous footsteps were made by beating a kettle drum with a knotted rope.
The electrical towers that Godzilla melts with his radioactive breath were actually made of wax. The special effects crew melted them by blowing hot air on them, as well as shining hot studio lights on them for the white-hot effect.
One of the most famous legends regarding the production of this film has Ishirô Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya on the observation deck of what was then one of Tokyo's skyscrapers. They were planning Godzilla's path of destruction. Other visitors on the deck became concerned when portions of their conversation were overheard. The pair was stopped by authorities and questioned.
Stop motion animation in the style of King Kong (1933) was rejected because of the time it would take and the subsequent cost. Also, according to special effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya, there was simply no one in Japan who was skilled and experienced in doing that kind of stop motion animation.
SERIES TRADEMARK: In the Japanese version, right after Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) makes his first appearance (at the conference for the Oto Island survivors), he is embarrassed to notice that his tie was loose, and tucks it back into his jacket. This scene, perhaps one of the film's only bits of comedy relief, has become a pop-culture reference to Godzilla fans in Japan. The film Godzilla 2000 (1999), pays tribute to this predicament when the character Shiro Miyasaka (played by Shirô Sano) straightens his loose tie back into his jacket at a military briefing.
The film received a Japanese Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but lost to Seven Samurai (1954). However, the film did win the award for Best Visual Effects. It is the only Godzilla movie to receive a nomination for Best Picture.
The movie's opening scene was inspired by the Lucky Dragon incident, where the fishing boat known as the Lucky Dragon strayed too close to what was named the most powerful nuclear test ever and was contaminated with radiation. A crew on board a fishing boat, going about their normal day, suddenly a bright flash of light catches their attention, and they are soon bombarded with radioactivity. The only difference is that the boat catches fire and sinks in the movie. Also, if you look closely at the life preserver, you will see the marking "No. 5". This was a reference to the ship Lucky Dragon No. 5, which was one of the inspirations for the film.
Originally when Gojira (Godzilla) makes his first appearance, there was supposed to be a bloody cow in his mouth. After reviewing the test shots, Masao Tamai, the cinematographer, felt it was far too graphic and convinced director Ishirô Honda to re-film the sequence without the cow.
There was a common misconception that the name "Godzilla" was Americanized by its US distributors from Gojira. The name Godzilla was actually the idea of Tôhô and its international sales division. "Godzilla" or "Go-dzi-la" is the proper pronunciation of "Gojira" in its native Japanese and Godzilla (1954) was described by Tôhô as "Godzilla" in their 1955 English language sales catalogue, a full year before finding an American distributor. The film even played briefly in Japanese-American owned theaters in Los Angeles and New York that year under the title of "Godzilla", before being picked up by Transworld and released in an Americanized version featuring Raymond Burr that following year as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956). Tôhô has since been the sole owners of the name Godzilla.
The name Gojira is a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla (gorira) and whale (kujira). The monster was so named because his original design was that of a gorilla-whale monster, which is recounted by people who worked on the film. 'Shigeru Kayama' (who was hired by Tomoyuki Tanaka to write the original story) recounted in a book of memoirs he published in Japan, that Tanaka told him the creature would be a sea monster that was "a cross between a whale and a gorilla". After producer Tanaka saw the American monster film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), he got the idea to turn Godzilla into a dinosaur monster. Despite the physical change the name of the monster was kept. There has always been a legend that Godzilla was named after a hulking man nicknamed Gorilla-Whale who worked at Tôhô, but this is untrue. Not only is there no evidence of this man even existing, but the various stories about him kept changing through the years (he worked as a stagehand, he worked as a PR man, etc.). According to Kimi Honda, wife of Ishirô Honda, the Gorilla-Whale man was just an inside joke between her husband and various others on the Tôhô lot - specifically producer Tanaka.
Since no film like this had ever been made in Japan, they had never attempted a suit like the one needed for Godzilla. Much of the attention on the first version was on visual design. They had neglected to consider the requirements of the performer inside. Some of the poured latex was very inflexible. This factor in the 6 1/2- foot tall and over 200-pound suit made it almost impossible to move. A new suit had to be constructed that would be somewhat lighter and more flexible at the appropriate points.
When Godzilla (1954) was first released in Japan, the press had universally panned the film, saying, "Why is Japan bothering to make special effects movies? Special effects are only in the realm of American filmmaking." (This explained why the few Japanese special effects fantasies made before 1954 were mostly forgotten.) But nevertheless, "Gojira" became a huge box-office success, and put the "tokusatsu" (Japanese term for "special effects") medium on the map.
During filming in September of 1954, rain contaminated by a Soviet nuclear test began falling in northern Japan, contaminating vegetables and well water. This may have inspired the scene where Professor Tanabe (Fuyuki Murakami) warned the Oto Island villagers not to drink water from the well.
The idea for Gojira (aka Godzilla) was spawned after producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was forced to cancel a planned Japan-Indonesia co-production called Eiko kage-ni (Behind the Glory). The story was inspired by a real-life nuclear accident in which a Japanese fishing boat ventured too close to an American nuclear test and was contaminated.
One of the original Godzilla designs was a monster with a head shaped like a mushroom, intended to recall images of mushroom clouds. A sketch of this design can be seen on the special edition "Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece" DVD, and on the 2009 Godzilla (1954) Blu-Ray release.
In 2004, Rialto Pictures released the original Japanese version of Godzilla (1954) in the U.S. for the first time since 1955. The release included a new print in the original Japanese with new English subtitles.
In one of the early script drafts, Doctor Yemane was written as a very dark and sinister character. In fact, one of the original ideas was to have Yemane sneak into the control room that controlled the electrical towers and sabotage the attempt to electrocute Gojira (Godzilla).
The scenes of Godzilla underwater were filmed "dry for wet" with an aquarium (complete with fish) placed between the camera and the monster-suited Haruo Nakajima. Actual underwater footage of divers was combined with additional "dry for wet" footage of Ogata and Serizawa.
Haruo Nakajima could walk about thirty feet in the original costume, which weighed over 200 pounds (91 kilograms). Later costumes were a little lighter but all of the costumes were very heavy. It was also very hot inside the costume. All of the costumes after the first one were easy to work with, as they were made to fit Nakajima, whereas the one that had been built for Godzilla had not been made for his body size.
Because the entire film was storyboarded, additional sketch artists had to be hired for the production. Also, since the actual look of Gojira hadn't been decided upon, the creature's appearance varied throughout the storyboard, depending on who did the individual sketch.
Some of the designs for the Godzilla suit were similar save for the texture of the monster's skin. One Godzilla's skin was very warty, while another was more like that of an alligator. The final design, giving Godzilla his familiar rocky hide, was meant to suggest that the nuclear bomb blasts which awakened him had burned him.
Knowing that this was going to be a very expensive production, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka tried to build it on a solid foundation by hiring Shigeru Kayama, one of Japan's foremost writers of thrillers of the early 1950s to write the story upon which the later screenplay would be based.
There were three cables coming out of the back of the costume. Two were for the operation of the eyes, and one was for the operation of the mouth. Kaimai Eizo was responsible for the movement of the eyes and the mouth. Batteries were installed in the Godzilla costume that was made for Godzilla Raids Again (1955). They were for the operation of the eyes and the mouth. The batteries made the costume even heavier than the one that had been constructed for the first Godzilla (1954) film.
There were supposed to be more scenes filmed on Odo Island. One was to have Dr. Yemane, Emiko and Ogata visit the graves of those that died during the typhoon when Gojira (Godzilla) came ashore. That scene was to have helped to establish the previous relationship between the Yemani's and Shinkichi's family. Another scene was to have been filmed on the beach and in that one Emiko and Ogata become frightened when the get their first glimpse of Gojira (Godzilla) as they see his tail splashing in the water.
The workload on the special effects department for this film, as well as the other productions underway at Toho, resulted in a shortage of necessary personnel. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya was able to get his son, Hajime Tsuburaya, his first job in the industry as a camera assistant.
Akira Takarada was originally cast as Dr. Serizawa and Akihiko Hirata was to play Ogata. It was reportedly director Ishirô Honda who felt that Hirata was more suited for the darker tragic hero of Serizawa. Honda had the actors switch roles.
Godzilla's general design was partially based on the work of Czech painter Zdenek Burian, specifically his outdated, early 20th century reconstruction of the dinosaur Iguanodon. Godzilla's posture, the way he holds his hands and to a degree his skin texture were taken directly from Burian's artwork. Interestingly, the dinosaurs in Burian's pieces also have folds in their skin, much like Godzilla due to him being a rubber suit.
Although some earlier Japanese movies (most notably Rashomon (1950)) have made it to a few foreign markets and were met with positive reception, Godzilla was actually the first Japanese film to receive widespread notoriety practically all across the world. It gained a huge pop-cultural status and opened the gates for later Japanese media products to spread over the globe. This success can partially be attributed to the movie's American recut, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), which was its most widely distributed version.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
There was another ending considered for the film: a scene with Emiko and Ogata (presumably after they had gotten married) flying over Tokyo Bay in a helicopter and throwing a floral wreath in the water in memoriam of Serizawa. However, that ending was scrapped because Honda felt that they had already paid tribute to Serizawa after he sacrificed himself to destroy Godzilla.
The movie's scenes of destruction and human panic effectively replicate the appearance and feel of real life news-film scenes of war time devastation that would have been painfully familiar to audiences in the 1950s and 1960s, providing these scenes with a resonance and verisimilitude that modern viewers will not experience. The best way to experience that replication is to watch actual news-reel films of World War II devastation in Europe and Japan before watching the film.
To audiences who could still remember World War II's toll on civilians and soldiers, Godzilla's movements would have been recognizable as eerily similar to the movements of a burnt and traumatized soldier or civilian undergoing a severe episode of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, wandering in a confused daze rather than consciously causing devastation. This casts a tragic, sympathetic, even victimized light on Godzilla that sets him apart from the majority of cinema giant monsters or kaiju eiga.