In 1954, science fiction in cinema was forever changed. Giant monsters and dastardly ghouls were no stranger to the silver screen and audience would flock to films about Dracula, The Wolf Man and The Creature of the Black Lagoon. Yet, no one expected something the likes of Ishiro Honda’s classic Gojira.
Gojira, also known as Godzilla, was a turning point in Japanese cinema and shaped a new sub-genre in pop culture. Before this feature, the first big monster film was all the way back in 1933 with King Kong which did help shape some influence into this film as well. The film itself has continued to inspire and create a legacy beyond what most would have thought.
Godzilla was inspired by the great paranoia and panic that swept the nation of Japan after the atomic bomb testing. The atom bomb destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki affected the region by devastating an entire city, killing thousands of people and leaving a wasteland behind. These are the only two known uses of the atomic bombs and delivered a terrifying message to the world that what they can do is cause ultimate apocalyptic devastation. Godzilla himself is born from the remnants of atomic bomb and nuclear testing. The film itself serves as the perfect allegory for the widespread confusion of the situation by using Godzilla to represent the disastrous device.
Starting off, a local fishing boat off the coast of Odo Island is attacked by an unseen force of nature. The island sends another boat to investigate only to get attacked as well. Luckily, Ned Land and a ragtag group of explorers discover the Nautilus…oh, dammit, it can’t be this easy to reference 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea can it? One of the locals exclaims that the legend known as Gojira (Godzilla) has been attacking the boats. A ship captain by the name of Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada) gets involved after having to investigate the tragedies alongside Professor Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura). As this goes on, witnesses come forward to reveal their stories in Tokyo to convince the two to come and take a look at the damage done to the region. Upon investigation, they come across radioactive footprints and come face to face with our title character.
With the new information at hand, they realize Gojira was born from the use of nuclear weapons in the region and grew to be the Kaiju we know and love. A debate erupts whether to announce the existence of Gojira to the public or to keep it under wraps. If they keep it under wraps, civilians and the rest of the world will wonder what the hell it is. If they reveal it, panic would sink in, other nations would help fight it and Godzilla can be defeated. Luckily, they make the news public and, as it would, panic, paranoia and hope to kill Godzilla begin to go around.
But wait, this poster has a couple on it holding each other close? What about them? Yes , dear readers, this film has a romantic subplot because why the hell not. Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kochi), daughter of Prof. Yamane and owner of the most badass Japanese female first name, wants to cut off her arranged marriage to the possibly mad doctor Dr. Daisuka Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) in order to be with her true love Ogata. Serizawa shows her the experiment he is working on in order to defeat Gojira causing her to freak the hell out and leave without calling off the engagement.
When Emiko gets back to Yamane and Ogata’s place in Tokyo, Gojira returns to do exactly what you’d expect…destory Tokyo as only Gojira would.
TOKYO IN FLAMES: A GODZILLA 1954 TRIBUTE by GojiraEiga on YouTube
Gojira uses his atomic fire breath to burn down buildings, crushes buildings with his tail, eats subway trains and cause as much damage as The Avengers did in the last half hour of that movie except more badass since it is one monster leveling a city. The next night, the Army builds a big electric fence to stop Gojira from its reign of terror, but that doesn’t work because the sucker is nuclear to the point he is resistant to it. Gojira returns to Tokyo again and, for lack of a better word, makes it his bitch once more. The next day, the destruction and damage is made clear as people are taken to the hospital and radiation poisoning has stricken some as the region hopes for peace with the haunting ‘Prayer for Peace.’
This causes Emiko to tell Ogata about the experiment Serizawa has been working on known as the Oxygen Destroyer that would disintegrate Gojira to nothing but bones. They try to convince him to help them out with Serizawa going full Kurt Rusell, refuses and proceeds to kick Ogata’s ass. After that is said is done, he agrees to help because that is how that works. Trust me, getting beaten the crap out of sometimes will make you have a clear mind.
Ogata and Serizawa head to find Godzilla’s location under the sea as Serizawa realizes that Emiko no longer has affection for him. As they find Gojira, he tells Ogata to go to the surface as he unleashes the Oxygen Destroyer so no one can ever make it as he sacrifices himself. Gojira dies roaring as Serizawa dies with him. To be honest with myself, Gojira’s death made me more sad than Serizawa. With Gojira dead, Prof. Yamane wonders if another Godzilla monster is out there somewhere to return for 27 sequels and one very shitty remake.
Gojira‘s legacy is unmeasurable. It has been parodied, paid homage to and celebrated with Godzilla having a star on the Walk of Fame. Toho made a name for themselves by creating a collection of monsters further down the road with Rodan, Gigan, MechaGodzilla, Mothra and King Gidorah all going toe to toe with the King of the Monsters. America made it connect to themselves by adding Raymond Burr to the mix in 1956, which I have yet to see. The acting in the film is phenomenal with all the actors capturing the essence of paranoid nature and worry that Gojira caused. The effects work and use of the ‘man in the suit’ method is effective with realistic models being destroyed and set ablaze. Also, the undertones of the film are poignant and straight to the point showing the negatives of nuclear testing and giving the audience a reminder of what Japan went through in the wake of the atomic bomb. This film resonates even more today after the near destruction of the region by the recent earthquake and tsunami. Gojira captures this aspect beautifully and made me even think about the aftermath of disaster and what the people must do to prevent any mass devastation like the one cause to ever happen again. Gojira is just brilliant. How brilliant?
Next week, Film A Week returns to Friday for a very special week celebrating my 21st birthday by covering my second favorite film of all time, 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. Get ready as we cover discover why this movie is a masterpiece of animation.
Film A Week 24: Sleeping Beauty (1959) 21st Birthday Special
Friday, June 21st