Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira?) is a successful landmark 1954 Japanese science fiction film directed and co-written by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, produced and distributed by Toho Company Ltd. In 1956, a heavily edited version was released in the U.S. as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. The original Japanese version is now available in the country under the title Gojira. It was the first of many "giant monster" movies (known as kaiju) to be produced in Japan, many of which also feature Godzilla.
Plot[edit | edit source]
This plot summary may be too long or overly detailed. Please help improve it by removing unnecessary details and making it more concise. (August 2009) The Japanese fishing boat Eikō-Maru is attacked by a flash of light from the water near Odo Island and sinks. A rescue boat, the Bingo-Maru, is sent out to investigate the accident, but meets the same fate. A second search boat is sent out and finds a few survivors in the area, and like the other two boats, is shipwrecked.
Meanwhile, on Odo Island, the natives of the fishing community are unable to catch anything.Then Godzilla must have done it, an elder says. According to legend, Godzilla is a giant monster that lives in the sea that comes from the ocean to feed on mankind. Whenever fishing was poor, the natives used to sacrifice girls to prevent Godzilla from attacking the village.
Later, a helicopter carrying investigative reporters arrives on Odo Island. The natives all believe that the recent disasters in the ocean were caused by Godzilla, but the reporters remain skeptical. That night the natives perform an exorcism in hopes that Godzilla will not attack again. As the natives are sleeping, a storm arrives and a giant monster attacks the small village, causing death and destruction.
The next day, the witnesses are brought to the Diet Building in Tokyo. Paleontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane requests that an investigative party be sent to Odo Island. The ship is sent out and arrives safely on the island. Yamane finds giant footprints contaminated with radioactivity, along with a trilobite. Suddenly, the village alarm is set off and the villagers run towards the hills. Godzilla pops his head over the hill and roars. The villagers discover that Godzilla is too large to fight and flee for their lives. Godzilla then leaves for the ocean.
Afterwards, Yamane starts doing some research and discovers that Godzilla is really a prehistoric hybrid of land and sea reptiles. He also discovers that the sediment from Godzilla's footprint contained a massive amount of Strontium-90, which could have only have come from a nuclear bomb. After Yamane's presentation, a man from the crowd suggests that the information should not be publicly known. Since Godzilla is the product of atomic weapons, the truth might cause some bad consequences, since world affairs are still fragile. However, a woman objects to Mr. Ōyama's suggestion because the truth must be told. After she insults Ooyama, chaos breaks loose in the Diet Building.
Godzilla's origins are then revealed to the public. An anti-Godzilla fleet is immediately sent out and uses depth charges against Godzilla, in an attempt to kill the monster. In his home, Yamane sits alone in the room with the light out. Yamane, being a zoologist, does not want Godzilla to be killed, but rather, studied.
That night, Godzilla suddenly rises in Tokyo Bay in front of a party ship. Within a minute, the monster descends back into the ocean, but his brief appearance causes nationwide panic. The next morning, officials ask Yamane if there is a way to kill Godzilla. A frustrated Yamane explains that Godzilla has already survived a massive amount of radiation, and believes that he should be studied to see what keeps him alive.
Yamane's daughter, Emiko, is engaged to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, a colleague of Yamane's. Emiko, however, is in love with Lieutenant Hideto Ogata of the Nankai Steamship Company. When Emiko visits Serizawa to tell him that she loves Ogata, and wishes to break off her engagement to him, Serizawa reveals to her his own dark secret. He had created a device that can destroy all life in the sea. This device is called the Oxygen Destroyer, and is more powerful than any nuclear weapon. He gives Emiko a demonstration in his lab, by using the device in a fish tank. All the fish are disintegrated, only leaving skeletons. Shocked by this discovery, Emiko leaves Serizawa, promising not to tell anybody of what she witnessed. She was unable to tell Serizawa about Ogata, or that she wanted to break the engagement.
That night, Godzilla appears again out of Tokyo Bay and attacks the city. While the monster's attack was relatively short, it had caused much destruction and death. The next morning, the military hastily constructs a line of 40 meter electric towers along the coast of Tokyo that will send 300,000 Volts of electricity through Godzilla, should he arrive again. Civilians are then evacuated from the city and put into bomb shelters. The military then prepares a blockade along the fence line.
When night falls, Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay again. The monster easily breaks through the giant electric fence, with no pain inflicted. The bombardment of shells from the Japanese army also has no effect. As Godzilla breaks through the high-tension wires, he uses his atomic breath to melt the electric fences. The tanks and military are useless against Godzilla, who continues his raid well into the night. By the end, the entire city is destroyed and thousands of innocent civilians are dead, dying, or wounded. As Godzilla wades into the sea, a squadron of jets fire rockets at the monster but Godzilla is unscathed as he descends once again into Tokyo Bay.
The next morning, the city is in absolute ruins. Hospitals are overrun with victims, many exposed to heavy doses of radiation. As Emiko sees the many victims of Godzilla's attack, she takes Ogata aside and tells him Serizawa's dark secret, in hope that together, they can convince Serizawa do something against Godzilla.
Ogata and Emiko visit Serizawa to ask that they use the weapon against Godzilla. Serizawa refuses and storms down to his basement to destroy the Oxygen Destroyer. Ogata and Emiko follow him down in order to prevent him from doing so. However, this only results in a short fight between Ogata and Serizawa, with Ogata receiving a minor head wound. As Emiko treats the wound, Serizawa apologizes. Ogata tries to convince Serizawa that he is the only one who can save the world.
Then, after the argument, a grim television program appears on the air, showing the devastation and deaths caused by Godzilla, along with prayers for hope and peace. Shocked by what he's witnessing, Serizawa ultimately decides to use his last Oxygen Destroyer, but only one time. Serizawa then ultimately destroys his research, knowing that this weapon was almost as dangerous and destructive as Godzilla himself, and that destroying this weapon will be for the better of society.
The next day, a navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. Serizawa requests that he be put in a diving suit to make sure the device is used correctly. Ogata at first refuses, but soon gives in. Ogata and Serizawa then descend into the water, and find Godzilla resting. Seemingly unaware of the divers, the monster slowly walks around the ocean floor. Ogata then is pulled back to the surface while Serizawa activates the Oxygen Destoyer. As Serizawa watches Godzilla dying from the destructive weapon, he cuts his cord and dies with Godzilla, sacrificing himself so that his knowledge of the horrible weapon dies with him. A dying Godzilla surfaces, lets out a final roar, and sinks to the bottom, disintegrating.
Although Godzilla is destroyed, the tone is still grim. As the people aboard the ship look to the sun, it is uncertain whether the death of Godzilla is either the end or the beginning of an apocalyptic era.
Production[edit | edit source]
Development The basic story was inspired by an actual incident. A real Japanese fishing ship, the Lucky Dragon, had strayed too closely to a nuclear test site in February 1954. It was not destroyed, but several crew members later suffered from radiation sickness and at least one died six months later. This is alluded to in the opening scene, when the Bingo Maru was obliterated by Godzilla's first attack, and in later scenes, when survivors of other attacks are found with radiation burns. The original event played a major role in drawing attention to the hazards of nuclear fallout, and concerns were widespread about radioactively contaminated fish affecting the Japanese food supply (see Castle Bravo). The whole idea of Godzilla's climactic attack was actually meant to exemplify a "rolling nuclear attack": just like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only much more slowly. Honda had plotted it this way, having been shocked by the real devastation of those cities.
Design The monster story itself had been necessitated by an emergency. The producers had planned a completely different film, but that project had fallen apart. Toho demanded a film, any film, within a short time. During an airplane ride, one of the screenwriters had read of the Lucky Dragon incident, and was inspired. The monster angle was derived from the success of Warner Bros. Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Several monsters had been contemplated (e.g. an octopus). They finally settled on a mutated dinosaur, which looked like a cross between a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an Iguanodon and a Stegosaurus. The Godzilla suit had actually been a last resort. Director Ishiro Honda had been deeply impressed with the "stop-motion" method used in King Kong. However, that method was far too costly and time-consuming (stop-motion would be used briefly, in two scenes in King Kong vs. Godzilla, but Toho never tried it again). They decided that the easiest way to go was a stuntman, a monster suit, and a scale-model Tokyo. This also proved difficult. The first attempt at a Godzilla suit was far too stiff and heavy, nearly impossible to use. They finally hit on a design that worked; but even that was grueling. The stuntman would suffer numerous bouts of heat exhaustion and dehydration. The suit had to have a valve to drain the sweat from it. One of Godzilla's names during production was "Anguirus". That name was saved and later reused as the name of Godzilla's opponent in the sequel. Anguirus would later become Godzilla's closest ally in the series.
Filming Toho Studios had balked at the suggestion of filming Gojira in color. Ironically, the cheaper, grainy, black-and-white film had actually enhanced the special effects (e.g. hiding wires and other things in the shadows), and otherwise adding to the overall chill of Godzilla's nighttime attacks. Two years later, Toho would film Rodan in color, though the Godzilla sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, would be in black-and-white. From then on, Toho would use color. For a special effects shoot for the movie, Nakajima was placed in a swimming pool. Someone accidentally sent electrical charges through the pool. Masaaki Tachibana (an announcer of a scene in a steel tower) painted his face with olive oil to express that he was sweating with fear.
Japanese box office and critical reception[edit | edit source]
When Godzilla was first released in 1954, the film sold approximately 9,610,000 tickets, and was the eighth best-attended film in Japan that year. It remains the second most-attended Godzilla film in Japan, behind King Kong vs. Godzilla. It grossed approximately 152 million Yen ($2.25 million USD). Although Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the widespread devastation that the country had suffered in World War II, as well as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident that occurred a few months before filming began, as time went on, it gained more respect in its home country.
North American versions[edit | edit source]
Initial limited release In 1955, the original Godzilla was released in the United States with subtitles and was confined to theaters catering to Japanese-Americans. This same version was later released in the 1960s, then in the '80s and as recently in 2004 through Rialto Pictures. In the fall of 2006, Rialto lost control of the distribution rights to the film as the original version was released for the first time on DVD in North America via Classic Media.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters
In 1956, Jewell Enterprises re-edited the film for American audiences by combining the original Japanese footage of Godzilla with new, American-made footage of Raymond Burr as an American reporter covering Godzilla's arrival. The film was retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. This version was released in Japan in 1958, and was surprisingly popular. Restored re-release On May 7, 2004, the original edit of the film was re-released into two theaters in North America. It grossed a commendable $38,030 USD ($19,015 per screen) in its opening weekend and remained in release until December 2004, never playing on more than six North American screens at any given point. By the end of its run, it grossed $412,520 U.S.. The film played in roughly 60 theaters and cities across the United States during its seven and a half month run. It had previously been reissued in the mid-1960s.
The 2004 North American re-release of Godzilla was highly praised by many critics who had never seen the film in its original form without Raymond Burr. Its approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is currently at 93% (and 88% among the "Cream of the Crop").
In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Glieberman, who gave the film an A- rating, wrote: "Godzilla, an ancient beast roused from the ocean depths and irradiated by Japanese H-bomb tests, reduces Tokyo to a pile of ash, yet, like Kong, he grows more sympathetic as his rampage goes on. The characters talk about him not as an enemy but as a force of destiny, a "god". The inescapable subtext is that Japan, in some bizarre way, deserves this hell. Godzilla is pop culture's grandest symbol of nuclear apocalypse, but he is also the primordial spirit of Japanese aggression turned, with something like fate, against itself." In the Dallas Observer, Luke Y. Thompson wrote: "A lot of people are likely to be surprised by what they see. The 1954 Japanese cut is shot like a classic film noir, and the buildup to Tokyo's inevitable thrashing is quite slow by today's standards. The echoes of World War II are very strong, and the devastation wrought by Godzilla (played by Haruo Nakajima) is not sugar-coated; it eerily mirrors that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the deaths and injuries are dwelt upon. The monster himself is not fully revealed for quite a while, and even when he finally shows up, he's a malevolent black predator with glistening skin, who stays mostly in the shadows, many times more fearsome than the green-skinned cookie monster who showed up in the various sequels to layeth the smacketh down on the candyasses of numerous alien invaders in ugly leotards."
One of the few recent negative reviews was written by Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert admitted the film was "an important one" and "properly decoded, was the Fahrenheit 9/11 of its time", but he also said: "In these days of flawless special effects, Godzilla and the city he destroys are equally crude. Godzilla at times looks uncannily like a man in a lizard suit, stomping on cardboard sets, as indeed he was, and did. Other scenes show him as a stuffed, awkward animatronic model. This was not state-of-the-art even at the time; King Kong (1933) was much more convincing. When Dr. Serizawa demonstrates the Oxygen Destroyer to the fiancee of his son, the superweapon is somewhat anticlimactic. He drops a pill into a tank of tropical fish, the tank lights up, he shouts 'stand back!', the fiancee screams, and the fish go belly-up. Yeah, that'll stop Godzilla in his tracks."[