Godzilla (1954)

DVD Cover (Criterion Collection)
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Overall Rating 74%
Overall Rating
Ranked #2,742
...out of 19,259 movies
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Connections: Godzilla

Japan is thrown into a panic after several ships explode and are sunk. At first, the authorities think its either underwater mines or underwater volcanic activity. The authorities soon head to Odo Island, close to where several of the ships were sunk. One night, something comes onshore and destroys several houses and kills several people. A later expedition to the island led by paleontologist Professor Kyōhei Yamane, his daughter Emiko, and young navy frogman Hideto Ogata (who also happens to be Emiko's lover, even though she is betrothed to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa) soon discover something more devastating than imagined in the form of a 164-foot-tall monster whom the natives call Gojira. Now, the monster begins a rampage that threatens to destroy not only Japan but the rest of the world as well. Can the monster be destroyed before it is too late, and what role will the mysterious Serizawa play in the battle? --IMDb
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Review by Crispy
Added: June 18, 2007
Before Japan was famous for anime, it's niche in the entertainment business was movies involving huge monsters called Kaiju rampaging through the city. The Toho company was the main force behind these movies, and indeed they were responsible for starting it all with 1954's Gojira. Known in the west as Godzilla, the creature has become one of the most famous monsters to appear on the big screen. He would go on to make another 27 movies after this (28 if you count Tristar's bullshit), but none would be as serious in nature as his first romp through Tokyo.

The waters near Odo Island have become a death trap. Two freight ships have been destroyed, the only evidence of something amiss was a flash of light beneath the waves before the boats burst into flames. Other ships sent into the area looking for both survivors and answers would meet the same fate. Furthermore, natives in the area haven't been able to catch any fish at all. An elder of the village is convinced that it is the sea-creature, Godzilla. Of course, the younger citizens scoff at this theory, but that night the village is attacked by a giant creature, leaving it in ruins. As a team of scientists, led by Dr. Yermaine (Takashi Shimura) are inspecting the ruins, they discover giant footsteps and a small crustacean that was thought to be extinct long ago. Along with the damage, the Geiger counters are going off the charts. They soon find out what caused the damage as the creature itself, a fifty-meter tall dinosaur-esque reptile, appeared on the hillside before escaping into the water. Investigating the crustacean and the sand from the footsteps, they discover it contains a high level of Strontium, proving the creature's origin was connected with an atomic bomb. Immediately, the powers that be put together plans to kill the beast, including an anti-Godzilla fleet armed with depth charges. Dr. Yermaine is extremely depressed by this news, as he thinks the creature should be studied instead of killed, but his protests fall on deaf ears. Godzilla has now become even more bold, moving into more urban areas, with the Japanese military discovering how helpless they are against the attacks.

The movie came out less than ten years after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In truth, it was much more than Japan's answer to the State's King Kong, but was actually a thinly veiled metaphor for the bombings. Director Ishiro Honda lived the attacks firsthand, and he has said himself that he hoped his film would somehow open the eyes of the world leaders to the incredible power of the weapon. For Honda, Godzilla was not a mere metaphor for the bomb's destruction, but a physical manifestation of it. He gave the creature all the characteristics of the bomb, including the power to level a city and cause unspeakable evil to its inhabitants, leaving even the survivors of the attack stricken with radiation. The special effects used were surprisingly good. Even now, over 50 years later, they're leagues ahead of the "b movies" of the current day and their bad CGI shenanigans. Sure, everything is obviously cardboard, but it's easily digested with just a small touch of suspension of disbelief. The creature itself was originally planned to be created using stop motion, however the tight production schedule forced them to use a quicker method. They decided on turning Godzilla into a guy in a suit, a decision that would prove to be a trademark of Toho's Kaiju films. While technically "inferior" to stop motion, it worked so much better in my opinion, giving it a more realistic feel.

Gojira is not an action packed movie. The majority of it is spent dealing with the humans' reactions to the creature's existence. Still, it never gets boring throughout its one hundred minute running time. The Godzilla theme too is also amazing. A simple, ominous score that backs up the creature's actions very well. If all you've ever seen is the Americanized version Godzilla: King of the Monsters I highly suggest you hunt this one down. Same goes for those put off by the cheese that made up the subsequent Godzilla flicks. This is a deadly serious portrayal of the consequences of nuclear warfare, only thinly veiled in its approach of using a giant monster. 10/10.
Ginose #1: Ginose - added June 21, 2007 at 11:08pm
This movie is everthing a monster movie should be and more. I'm sorry... whenever I think of it I get too choked up... just... everyone should see this atleast twice.
Tristan #2: Tristan - added September 16, 2007 at 2:52pm
Agreed. This is a classic, and must be viewed by everyone. I didn't know that it was based as the starting point for each separate series. In fact, I didn't know there was more than one series. 9/10
Greg Follender #3: Greg Follender - added June 21, 2009 at 7:34pm
I really should have submitted reviews myself for this particular series of Kaiju Eiga... still, they have been nobly represented by 385 for the most part, and I'm glad that younger folks still have an appreciation for these amazing films.

Without repeating what was said in the fine preceding review, let me at least point out one truly unique point behind this visionary monster film...

Behind the thinly veiled political epithet against the use of nuclear weaponry and the subtle anti-American allegory carefully excised from the state-side version of the film... there lies a peculiarly beautiful visual cue that was introduced within this film and continued to be even more prevalent with each new iteration of the series...

While Gojira himself represents the totality of post-nuclear Japan... (created through mankind's folly, a monstrous representation of what happens when one interferes with the natural order of things... a vengeful spirit bent on the abolition of such militant might)... he, too, is an actual physical representation of that nation's proudest landmark... Mount Fuji. He stands towering over the surrounding landscape, with a almost triangular appearance... from his small head to his large column-like legs. Both Honda and future Directors, Tsuburaya (the original special effects master of this series) and suit actors have often commented on the heartfelt feelings for this bizarre character and their unusual connection to the monster as a peculiar sort of national identity.

When I once met Haruo Nakajima at a Chiller convention (he was the first suit actor to portray Gojira in many of the original series
films) and asked him about the upcoming "death" of the character for the 1995 Heisei series, he actually had tears in his eyes when he told me that he felt like he was losing a very old and cherished friend. Funny thing though,.. for such an emotional and frail actor ( he was around 66 when I met him), he had a grip like an iron vice;)
Greg Follender #4: Greg Follender - added June 22, 2009 at 1:37am
As for my rating for this classic... I give it a solid 10/10 without reservation.
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