MOVIE REVIEW | Gojira (1954)

At this stage, Godzilla has transcended the original movie that made the monster famous.  The references and parodies of the shonky man-in-suit aesthetic of the old school Japanese movies, the huge flopness of the big budget American attempt in the late 90s directed by Roland Emmerich.  The upcoming big budget, probable flop American attempt directed by Gareth Edwards.  Nothing can keep this radioactive infused big bastard down.  And it all started with a little ainti-nuclear weapons allegory, disguised as a schlocky B grade monster movie, 1954’s Gojira.

A fishing boat off a small Japanese island is attacked by something and sinks.  Soon several rescue ships are sent to help before they also sink one by one.  A little old dude tells his village it’s the ancient monster Godzilla.  They all think he’s talking crazy, until they see monster themselves, in all his awkward, ill fitted rubber suit glory.  Now it’s time for everyone to start thinking of ways to kill Godzilla while local scientist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura), who had figured out it’s all due to nuclear radiation from the American attack several years earlier, tries to convince them to try to preserve the monster and study him.

Godzilla basically goes on a rampage, attacking boats, villages and towns, but never really doing much more than wreck up the place.  There’s no rhyme or reason.  Meanwhile, Dr Yamane’s daughter, Emiko (Momoko Kochi), is breaking off her engagement with Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), another scientist and colleague of her father, who might have developed a weapon so dangerous, he won’t use it on Godzilla, for fear of the rest of the world learning of its existence.

Made so close to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gojira wears its anti-nuclear stance prominently on its sleeve and that’s totally understandable.  But it also tries to have its cake and eat it too.  The noble scientist is determined not to unleash his weapon of mass destruction on the world, even when it seems like the only solution.  But unlike the arms race kicked off by the use of atomic weapons by America, Gojira tries to find a way to justify it with a one and done approach.  

It’s weird seeing something for the first time, yet being so familiar with its look, its feel, its style and approach.  It’s also weird how effective the movie is.  Even with the comically ridiculous costume, the hokey effects and ludicrous surface story, the smaller, character moments generally work.  The anti-nuclear weapons message is plainly obvious, but never over baring.  And the performances are a little camp, but never too much.

It hasn’t made me want to dive into the whole Japanese kaiju world of giant monsters like Mothra and Rodan (who’s names  I think I only know of thanks to The Simpsons), but I am glad I’ve now seen where it all started.  With anything this iconic and enduring, there’s always a reason for that iconic endurance that leads to easy watchability.

Directed By – Ishirô Honda
Written By – Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama

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