Godzilla (Gojira, 1954) 50th Anniversary
at the Castro (2005 release)
Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski
Godzilla is back.
For a two-week run. The one, the only, the original--uncut, subtitled, in its original edit and with lots and lots of footage
never before seen in America--and it’s terrific!
face it. Most people are familiar with Godzilla--either
from the long series of poorly dubbed, rather cheesy color films showing him battling every manner of monster and menace to
society, or from that unfortunate 1998 American remake with Matthew Broderick which was both a misfire and miscalculation.
is the original Japanese-language film, Gojira, or Godzilla, from 1954, shot in black and white, which is the key to Godzilla’s well deserved popularity and
enduring appeal. The film, directed by Ishiro Honda concerns a giant 400 foot creature
resurrected from the ocean’s depths by repeated atomic testing. That original film is a serious, powerful, artistic
creation which has stood the test of time. The movie created a sensation when initially released in Japan. In order to give the film an American
release, an American producer rearranged and re-cut the film, dubbed it into English, and added scenes filmed in Hollywood
with an American actor--a young Raymond Burr, who later achieved television fame portraying Perry Mason.
film was called Godzilla: King of the Monsters and it is the only version of the
original Japanese film that has been shown in the United States. This version has been called unrelentingly grim as it begins
with documentary footage showing the aftermath of Godzilla’s murderous rampage as narrated by a news reporter, played
by Burr. The rest of the story is told in flashback and includes Burr traveling to
Tokyo and later investigating events as they unfold.
the American version is shorter than the original and alters parts of the story, the American version is a fine achievement. Most viewers never guess that Burr was not really in the film, so cleverly (for the most
part), is footage of him intercut into the film. Burr’s grave demeanor further
suits the noir-ish cinematography style and the almost documentary realism of the original film. When Godzilla starts destroying Tokyo with Burr watching
and reporting from an office building window, Burr looks up at the precise moment that a snarling Godzilla looks down at him
before bringing the office building down on him. The effect works nicely.
on its 50th anniversary, viewers finally have a chance to see the famous original Japanese version (without Burr)
which contains 40 minutes of footage not seen in the American release. Where the American version starts with the massive destruction, the Japanese version very skillfully builds up
to it. The subplots involving the four principle characters are more fully developed,
and the film’s anti-nuclear theme (toned down in the American version, which also contained a different ending) is eloquently
developed here. Godzilla is, after all,
a metaphor for the Bomb itself.
is more: humor not found in the other version, and a stark poetic quality--a very Japanese sensibility and an epic grandeur. Everything you love about Godzilla is here: those slow lumbering movements as the giant
monster is seen in the distance--the famous Godzilla roar--the pounding Godzilla footsteps--the way the dorsal fins on his
spine light up whenever he emits his incendiary radioactive breath. The nightmarish
dreamlike quality of the film just draws you in as the monster moves throughout Tokyo. The magnificent restored musical score by Akira Ifukube featurs the naval
forces march, the destruction music, the tragic aftermath themes and the famed Godzilla motif. There is even an homage to
King Kong as Godzilla destroys a commuter train much like Kong demolished the elevator
train in New York City.
special effects vary in quality but there is a sincerity and purity about the original Godzilla film that is irresistible.
It’s a classic. Maybe we all recognize something in it about ourselves that
we would rather not look at, and yet we can’t look away.
Godzilla is back
restored and uncut. He’ll be stomping civilization for two weeks at the Castro
Theatre beginning May 7th. He’s bigger, badder, and yes, better than ever!