The original 1954 version of "Godzilla" - AKA "Gojira" - evades the implications of its B-movie exteriors. Here we have a monster movie that is not really just a monster movie. If it were, it would not have been remembered. Instead, the film impacted those who saw it during its original run. It took a few years for it to hit overseas in America; and under an alternative name (with the subtitle "King of the Monsters") and different footage. But once the world got familiar with the name Godzilla, it never faded from our cultures. It is an important film and an impressive technical achievement for its time. But aside from the effects, which were great for their time, it contains some of the most relevant social commentary out of any contemporary monster movie or horror movie in general (although I wouldn't call "Godzilla" that exactly; think disaster film).
In Japan, a fishing boat disappears one night at sea, seemingly swallowed up by an ocean that engulfs the vessel in roaring water. Another ship is sent out to respond to the distress signal that was sent, and that one disappears as well. Nearby on Odo Island, the villagers are experiencing a bad season for fishing and wonder whether it is because the ocean God they know as Godzilla is in fact damning them. The island's inhabitants then perform rituals to try and keep Godzilla away from their island, and just as they are doing this; the reporters start flocking in by the numbers. Then, a storm hits the island; although something far more sinister - and as one of the villagers says, "alive" - is brought along with it to do the most damage. In the aftermath, the footprints of a large beast are found in the sand.
The people are of course hysterical. They talk, they banter, they debate, and they eventually theorize that nuclear bomb testing was what released Godzilla from its prison underground in the darkest depths of the ocean. But the talking will get them nowhere. The beast continues to strike various locations; destroying bridges and buildings and even parts of Tokyo. Loved ones are being lost every day. There's a particularly sad scene where choirs of young children sing a hymn for those lost in the destruction caused by the monster that reminds us of just how important it would be to stop its primitive rage. A one-eyed amateur scientist is currently developing an Oxygen Destroyer, which could be used to stop the monster dead in its tracks, but at the same time it could also be fatal to the humans if it backfired onto them.
"Godzilla" is an interesting movie because it lingers on the humanity of the people involved in the decision-making. In a sense, it is a movie about decision-making in itself. Are those pushing the buttons willing to risk the lives of others to destroy a great beast from the deep? Would it be possible to capture Godzilla for further observation? There are probably a few great scientific discoveries to be mad here. But the authorities don't seem to care. That's where the individuality and determination of the smarter citizens comes in. And that's also where the film is at its most interesting and entertaining. For a movie featuring a gigantic monster destroying shit, it's surprisingly clever in its plotting and is more story-centric than most movies of the genre that it more or less kick-started (although monsters have always been popular in most cultures around the world on cinematic terms).
It's difficult to look at the film and not be reminded of the Hiroshima attacks and the effects that WWII had on Japan. The film itself was intended as a grim reminder of the nation's past. We can't forget the most devastating of tragedies; and cinema is a great medium for the preservation of such things. Why would we want to "preserve" tragedy? Because once in a while, you know, we tend to learn from our mistakes; and with every great tragedy comes something learned, or so I would hope. So I see "Godzilla" as an evocative piece on the countries societal deterioration at the time. There are true artists behind this film - in part, director Ishiro Honda and screenwriting partner Takeo Murata - who observed and loathed the times and decided to express their feelings through a 400-foot tall rubber-suit reptile.
This film alone has inspired an entire legacy of sequels, spinoffs, and rip-offs. I wonder if any of them actually carried the tradition of provocative social commentary, or whether most of them simply cashed in on the titular monster for an excuse to showcase the latest in computer technology that can be used to digitally destroy parts of the world as we know them. The effects have indeed aged, from the fires to Godzilla himself, but there's a charming antique quality to even the most effects-heavy sequences and therefore it's consistently engaging. Over time, Godzilla has evolved in appearance and probably in background as well. The end of the film should have ended the very concept of the beast itself, but one of the motives behind a monster movie is the ignorance of man; so it's never really over. But "Godzilla" isn't so much about stupidity as it is how the cores of our being keep us united in even the most catastrophic of times. That is why it resonates on such a personal level with those who chose to view it as history rather than merely entertainment that is better forgotten than savored.
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall (ryguy4738)
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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