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~Ephesians 5:16

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gojira (Godzilla) Review


I had never seen the original Godzilla. Before you throw tomatoes at me in shame, in my defense, I had seen the American version, King of the Monsters many years ago. To be honest, I found it boring. I had only seen it once, and I've had the DVD all these years. It wasn't until not too long ago that I discovered American dubs often change the overall film it translates. Gigantis, The Fire Monster being a prime example. Criterion had released the Blu-Ray of Gojira back in January, so I was finally going to watch it later in the year when I purchased it. But just yesterday, the Turner Classic Movies channel had a night dedicated to Ishiro Honda, the director of this classic. The amazing part? They were going to air not the American version, but the original 1954 classic with subtitles. I took this opportunity to check it out. Gojira is the beginning, without it, a part of pop culture would be missing. The film is easily a masterpiece that holds up to this day.

Here's the official description from Classic Media:
The ocean's surface boils white-hot and a Japanese freighter mysteriously vanishes in the Pacific. Rescue boats meet the same fate, and the superstitious villagers of Odo Island fear an ancient legend has come true: the legend of Godzilla! Reawakened from eons-long sleep by an H-bomb test, the behemoth seeks revenge on the civilized world, turning Tokyo into a wasteland of atomic fire and rubble. Caught in the monster's path of destruction are young lovers Emiko and Ogata, who must betray their friend Dr. Serizawa, a brilliant but tormented scientist, in order to save the world.

It's extremely fascinating to check out this film in this day and age. After watching Godzilla being a hero, shaking hands with a robot, and playing soccer, (the latter is slightly a joke) it's very interesting to see Godzilla as a horror icon. The film's purpose isn't about a giant monster destroying a city, it's symbolism of why we shouldn't use nuclear weapons. The message still pertains to this day, making this film timeless. Ishiro Honda is a masterful director. No one can match his depressing tone for his films. Really, there is no other monster film like this. The fact that it's in black and white also helps. Honda's use of camera angles is a very nice touch, especially with Godzilla attacking the city. The scene with the humans and closeup of him stomping really gives the impression that this is a giant monster invading. Some of the later films in this era failed to do that. One of the famous characters in this film is Dr. Serizawa, the creator of the infamous Oxygen Destroyer. The characters actually hold up the film well, that's something the majority of the Heisei films failed to do. (You would think as the years went on they would get better, but not in the Heisei era.)

The film has a few focuses. Unlike a lot of the characters later on, these guys just feel 'genuine,' There's a certain realness to them that makes their screen time not boring to watch. Ogata is a simple character, but the viewer likes him. There's Dr. Yamane, a familar face in these films. His fixation on Godzilla doesn't feel forced, and by the end, he's the one that gives the overall massage of the film. His daughter Emiko is the female lead. While some of her scenes with her shouting was overdone, she remained a lovely and genuine character. Her relationship with Oga was just cute and innocent. You don't see romance portrayed like that anymore. Dr. Serizawa is by far the most interesting of the characters. I think the film should have made him more of a focus from the start, it also should have talked more about his backstory. With that said, well, how can one not find this guy interesting? It appears he's a bit of a mad scientist, but it goes deeper than that. His death was really felt. There is really no other character like him in the rest of the Godzilla movies.

This film laid the foundation for the music of the series. Akira Ifukube was one of the most amazing theme composers of his time, all his music here really brings the film alive. Godzilla's familiar theme is first heard here. The intro with the theme playing alongside the TOHO logo (you can also hear Godzilla's footsteps and roar, amazing touch) is just utterly fantastic and prepares you for a film you won't be forgetting anytime soon. One cannot forget to mention the incredible work of special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya. For a film made in 1954, you just have to stand up and clap. Some of the miniature work actually looks better than a lot of the miniatures in the Heisei films! Originally Godzilla was going to be done using stop motion, like with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the original King Kong, but ended up being suit-animation However, despite the film's age, it looks really realistic thanks to smartly filmed camera angles. The actual look is great, I didn't remember it looking that good. The film has many iconic moments, such as the great and infamous scene with Godzilla holding a train in his mouth. You can see the heart injected into this film, it has such emotion. As the camera shows a destroyed Tokyo, the viewer feels a calming, yet sadness inside. The scenes with the casualties really set the depressing mood, especially with that song 'Prayer for Peace" playing. Godzilla rearing his head for the first time over the hill was simplistic yet extremely effective. The part where he rises out of the ocean is just great, it actually looks realistic. In the later Showa films, it just doesn't catch the realism the original film managed to accomplish. The effects are just amazing for a film that was made almost sixty years ago. (Even if you could see the flame thrower in Godzilla's mouth.) The ending is just  unbelievable. As you see Godzilla, you just can't help but feel sorry for him. Maybe its the music, but for some reason, you just feel sorry for him as gets turned to bones thanks to the Oxygen Destroyer.



Overall, Gojira is a much different Godzilla film than the ones we're used to watching. It's fascinating to see how it went from being dark and depressing to having Godzilla team up with a robot against a giant cockroach and cyborg chicken. It's interesting to see how the films' tone changed as the years went by. This film will always pertain to an audience, even in today's world. Gojira is a film that introduced the concept of having a giant monster attack Japan. Thanks to its success, we would get a cash-in sequel in the form of Godzilla Raids Again. Thus was born one of the greatest franchises of all time. Gojira is a timeless classic and is a film everyone should watch at least once in their lifetime.

9/10

7 comments:

  1. This is definitely a classic. Good review.

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  2. Good review. After not having seen King of the Monsters since I was a child, I watched both it and Gojira (I think both versions are still on Netflix Instant) in the last few months, and the difference is amazing. I guess you can take any classic movie and make it boring by re-dubbing the entire thing with documentary-style narration. (Imagine Star Wars re-edited with C-3PO providing voiceover the entire time, describing his adventures with Luke, Han, and Leia. Or maybe I shouldn't give Lucas any ideas). Anyway, I just watched Godzilla vs. Destoroyah today, and it makes numerous references back to the original, including the Oxygen Destroyer and the main characters (one of which has a cameo by the original actress).

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    1. Some of the earlier Godzilla films greatly suffered with the dubbing. Ah, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. That is my third favorite entry, a perfect finisher.

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    2. Godzilla 2000 is my second favorite. It has my favorite Godzilla design, and I just like the atmosphere and scope. The final battle is a cinematic masterpiece.

      My favorite is actually one of the more disliked ones, Final Wars. That film is just a blast right from the start.

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  3. Finding an original unimproved copy of Gojira was a Holy Grail for me for a long time -- I was ecstatic back when I bought my first videotape, Godzilla, and I was even happier when I found Gojira in Japanese. One of my favorite films! Great page.

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