This article accompanies Classic Media's Collector's Edition of GOJIRA/GODZILLA, a
two disc DVD set that includes featurettes (like the making of the Gojira costumes).
THE ORIGINAL JAPANESE MASTERPIECE
THIS DVD IS DEDICATED TO
THE MEMORY OF GODZILLA'S
TSYBYRATAM, AKIRA IFUKUBE
KEITH AIKEN, ED GODZISZEWSKI,
YASUYUKI INOOUE, DAN
MARFISI, OKE MIYANO, TERRY MORSE, JR.,
TED NEWSOM, JOAL RYAN,
STEVE RYELE, STEVE VINCENT,
SHOZO WATANABE, ANDLISA BULL
A brilliant and tormented scientist awkwardly dons
diving gear and plunges to the bottom of Tokyo Bay, cradling in his arms a miniature doomsday weapon housed in a metal-and-glass
cylinder. Standing on the ocean floor, he pauses a moment and comes face to face with death, in the form of a 150-foot-tall
prehistoric monstrocity. Soft requiem strains are heard as man and creature float weightlessly in the depths, tow innocent
victims of the nuclear age, their fates intertwined.
In summer 2004, 50 years after its debut, the Japanese
classic GOJIRA played in cinemas all across the United States for the first time. Not the heavily re-edited version
starring Raymond Burr, but the original picture that first unspooled in Tokyo on November 3, 1954, and had rarely been
seen outside Japan since then. The critics called it a revelation, and praised the film's thinly veiled depiction of
a nuclear holocaust, its documentary-style realism, its overpowering sadness, and of course its monster-mash entertainment
value. A reviewer for Slate, the online magazine, said it best: "(GOJIRA) is the most emotionally resonant fake
monster movie ever made."
Gojira, or Godzilla as we know him, is a worldwide
pop icon and Japan's most internationally famous movie star. In this corner of the world, he's been considered litle
more than a holder from the time of atomic monster movies and drive-in theaters. In simpler days, Godzilla showed us
a fantasy world where gigantic monsters were an everyday fact of life and the struggle between good and evil routinely caused
catastrophic property damage. And because they were uniquely Japanese, Godzilla flicks possesed an aluuring and mysterious
quality that made Hollywood's vintage giant monsters just plain dull by comparison.
Still few people realized that Godzilla began as
something more than a man in a monster suit trampling a miniature Tokyo. Born just nine years after the Q-bomb was dropped
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and made by a director who had witnessed the destruction firsthand, Godzilla wasn't just Japan's
answer to KING KONG  but a grave warning about the dangers of the nuclear arms race, and a sobering reflection on the
devistation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It took 50 years, but GOJIRA can now be recognized not only as a vintage science
fiction movie, but an epic postwar tragedy.
"THE THEME OF THE FILM, FROM THE
BEGINNING, WAS THE TERROR OF THE BOMB. MANKIND HAD CREATED THE BOMB, AND NOW NATURE WAS GOING TO TAKE REVENGE ON MANKIND."
-PRODUCER TOMOYUKI TANAKA
The opening scene of GOJIRA must have been particularly
chilling for Japanese moviegoers in 1954. A small freighter trolls somewhere in the Pacific, when all of a sudden the
ocean's surface boils white-hot. The sailors jump up to take a look, and their eyes are blinded by a flash of light,
then the boat bursts into flames. A mysterious sea monster sinking a ship? Yes, but it was also an unmistakable
reference to The Lucky Dragon No. 5, a tuna trawler that strayed dangerously close to an H-bomb teast near the Marshall Islands
on March 1, 1954 and ignited an international controversy when its crew returned to Japan, sick with radiation poisoning.
Godzilla was born in the mushroom clouds of World War II but the tragedy of The Lucky Dragon, an incident now reduced to a
footnote in most history books if it is included at all, stirred his anger.
While the tragic story of the little tuna boat was
unfolding, an ambitious movie producer was dealing with a crisis of his own. Tomoyuki Tanaka (1920-97) was quickly rising
in stature at the Toho Motion Picture Company. But his latest project, a Japanese-Indonesian co-roduction, was in disarray
and Tanaka was now under tremendous pressure to come up with a replacement. As the story goes, Tananka was rturning
to Tokyo from a meeting in Jakarta. Nervous and sweating, he looked out the plane window at the ocean below, and an
idea came to him.
Inspired by the clamor surrounding the Lucky Dragon's
misfortune, Tanka approached his bos, Toho's powerful production chief Iwao Mori, and said he wanted to make Japan's first-ever
giant monster movie. Tanaka had no story and no idea what the monster would look like, but he had a premise: what
if a nuclear explosion stirred a monster from an eons-long sleep on the ocean floor and that monster ventedits wrath on Japan?
It was hardly an origianal concept. The year before, Warner Bros. had a killing with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953),
which helped start a spate of giant monster pictures, mostly of the low-budgeted pedigree, that lasted through the late 1950's.
The formula was predictable: an atomic explosion or radiation experiment produces an outsized reptile, sea creature,
insect, or even human being (as in THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN ). On the surface, GOJIRA might look like just another
Cold War-era monster film, but its haunting mood and imagery, evoking memories of the atomic bombings and the Tokyo fire
raids that killed hundreds of thousands, place this film in a category all by itself.
Chosen to direct was Ishiro Honda (1911-93), who
began his career in the early 1930s as a cameraman and ascended through the studio system, learning the craft of directing
alonside Akira Kurosawa, his lifelong friend. Honda had a personal stake in the subject matter, and he believed the
monster should represent the horror of nuclear war and the lingering anxieties of past-Hiroshima Japan. In 1936, Honda
was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army and forced to put his film career on hold. Over the next eight years he
was a foot solder in Japanese-occupied China. After Japan's surender, Honda traveled thourth decimated Hiroshima on
his way home, and experience that haunted him forever. The son of a Buddhist priest. Honda was a quiet, cheerful
man and a skilled director with a humanist streak; for Honda, Godzilla was not a metaphor for the bomb but a physical manifestation
of it. "Most of the visual images I got were from my war experience," he said years later. "After the war, all
of Japan, as well as Tokyo, was left in ashes. The atomic bomb had emerged and completely destroyed Hiroshima.
If Godzilla had been a dinasaur or some other animal, he would have been kiled by just one connonball. But if he were
equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn't know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied
them to Gozilla."
SAID IT WOULD TAKE SEVEN YEARS TO MAKE GODZILLA BY USING THE SAME STOP-MOTION METHOD AS KING KONG, AND I'M HIRING YOU BECAUSE
I NEED TO FINISH THE MOVIE IN THERE MONTHS."
STUNT ACTOR HARUO NAKAJIMA
By the mid-1950s, special effects were a major part
of Hollywood filmmaking, from big-budget studio productions to lwo-budget indies. The state of the art in big-scale
motion picture magic was perhaps Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956), which evolved construction of massive sets
and intricate matte photography. Producer George Pal won an Oscar for the awesome destruction depicted in WAR OF THE
WORLDS (1953) and spent more than $1 million on the effects alone, twice as much as on the drama scenes. Ray Harryhausen
took stop-motion animation to the next level in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and other films. But Eiji Tsuburaya (1901-70),
the man who was given the job of designing, creating, and filming GOJIRA's special effects, had only a fraction of the time,
money, and equipment that his American contemporaries did. What he did have, however, was a vivid imagination, a willingness
to experiment, and an opportunity to fulfill a dream.
The challenge of creating Godzilla was tailor-made
for Tsuburaya, who began his career as a cinematographer in the early 1920s and had longed to make a monster movies of his
own ever since he first saw KING KONG. But questions remained. For one thing, what did Godzilla look like? Several
concepts were discussed during the planning stages. At one point, Godzilla was described as"a cross between a gorilla
and a whale." Early sketches showed an odd creature with mamalian features and a stubby head. Tsuburaya dusted
of an old idea, a story about a gigantic octopus attacking Japanese ships. Producer Tanaka passed on all of them and
eventurally took another cue from THE BEAST OF 20,000 FATHOMS, deciding GOdzilla would be a dinosaur-like creature.
Tsuburaya would have preferred to film Godzilla
with animated models, but the tight production schedule allowed just a few months for the entire project, and he soon decided
the only way to accomplish his task was to film an actor in a monster costume. Even if the man-in-suit method was technically
inferior to stop-motidon animation, in a strange way it was an inovation. No one had done anything quite like this before:
they had been a few American-made dinosaur movies with actors wearing T-rex costumes, but GOJIRA, as it turned out, would
be a prototype for a new genre. The Godzilla suit, in concert with all the other effects that Tsuburaya's team of craftsmen
had mastered during and since their days making war films, was a feasible, effective, and simple way to portray the monster's
size and power.
Once Tsuburaya and his artists had finalized Godzilla's
design (based on a cocktail fo various dinosaur species), they built a costume. An inner frame was built of bamboo and
wire, covered by wire mesh and cusioning, and topped with several cats of molten rubber. When it was finished.
Tsuburaya and his crew give the monster a screen test, but the results weren't very promising. The costume wighed about
200 pounds and felt like a straijacket. Breathing was nearly impossible. The huge tail dragging behind like a
dozen sandbags. Godzilla stunt actor Haruo Jakajima (b. 1929) remembers, "I and Tatsumi Tezuka (the other Godzilla actor)
tried on the suit in front of Mr. Honda. Mr. Tsuburaya, Mr. Tanaka and members of the staff," Nakajima said. "But
the suit was so heavy, so stiff. I thought, "This is going to be impossible." A more flexible costume was made,
enabling Godzilla to successfully complete his film debut. Nakajima suffered blisters and fainting spells and dropped
about 20 pounds under the blazing studio lights, but he relished the role and would play Godzilla and other monsters in dozens
of Films before retiring in 1971.
Nakajima should have won an Oscar for Godzilla's
final attack, a 13-minutes-long nocturnal rampage through the pitch-dark streets of Tokyo. The ominous, psychologically
striking music of composter Akira Ifukube underscores the dread as Godzilla advances like a slow-moving nuclear explosion,
the force of the blast slowly incinerating the city. Stragglers are trampled under outsized feet. Tanks hur artillery
shells at the giant, and retaliations is swift and deadly, Famous landmarks crumble, including the Nichigeki Theatre
(Tokyo's answer to Radio City, a victim of the wrecking ball years later), the clock tower atop the Wako Building in Ginza,
and the Diet Building, Japan's house of parliament. As the destruction builds to a crescendo, a ring of fire encircles
the metropolis from the streets are buried under rubble, and a thick smoke layer hangs above, a doctor tests a child for radiation,
and the Geiger counter goes berserk. A little girl wails as she watches her mother die of terrible burns.
Are these images the stuff of science fiction, of a B-movie? With even just a glimmer of understanding about the filmmakers'
intentions and the political climate of the time, GOJIRA emerges as one of the great antinuclear films comparable in its power
and pacifism (if not its approach to the subject) to Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) or Stanley Kramer's ON THE BEACH
(1959). This is not an angry film and not, as some have suggested, not a simplistic indictment of the United States
for the events of August 1945. It is a powerful condemnation of the atomic age and a plea for nuclear powers to end
the march toward oblivion.
IN TOKYO TIME HAS BEEN TURNED BACK TWO MILLION YEARS. THIS IS MY REPORT AS IT HAPPENS."
GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS
GOJIRA was a risk for Toho Studios. It was
the first of its kind. its man-in-suit special effects were unproven, and its budget (roughly between $175,000 to $250,000
in today's funds) was about three times that of the average Japanese feature. BUt Toho, spurred by the creative and
productive climate of the day, was taking a lot of risks. Also released in 1954 were the historical drama MUSAASHI MIYAMOTO,
budgeted about $500,000, and THE SEVEN SAMURAI, bugeted at about $560,000 and three-plus hours long, making it the longest
and most expensive Japanese filme to date. These gambles paid huge dividends. All films ranked among the years's
Top 10 box office draws, MUSASHI MIYAMOTO won the Oscar for Best Foreign film, THE SEVEN SAMURSI is considered one of the
greatest films of all time, and GOJIRA launched a legendary franchise.
Around this time, Japanese movies were getting their
first international exposure with films by Kurosawa and other directors winning prizes at film festivals. Seizing an
opportunity, Toho opened an office in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles, offering movies to distributors in
the U.S. and other countries. Meanwhile, Hollywood was swept up in an era of exploitation-movie madness. In the
shadows of the big studios, independent producers and filmmakers were rapidly cranking out low-budget filks, most of which
had littel socially redeeming value but compensated with lots of monsters, violence, rock 'n' roll, and titillation.
these were the days when legendary B-movie men such as Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman, Bert I. Gordon, and the illustrious
Ed Wood earned their rightful place on the fringe of cinematic history. Godzilla was brought to America by a small group
of producers and businessmen, chief among them Harold Ross and Richard Kay, two Hollywood botttom-feaders whos biggest success
thus far was UNTAMED WOMEN (1952), an un-epic story of soldiers marooned on an island inhabited by cave girls.
Ross and Kay weren't artists, but they were shrewd
producers. GOJIRA's appeal was the star monster, but almost everythig else about the film was problematic. It
had been just over a decade since Pearl Harbor, since Japanese Americans were sent off to live in camps, since movies like
BATAAN (1943) depicted "the Japs" as buck-toothed homicidal moaniacs. To merely add English-language dialogue ad release
GOJIRA to the U.S. market would risk a monster flop. But the producers had a savvy idea: they would give Godzila
an American point of view, inserting a reporter who visits Japan during the monster's raid. The task of assembling this
new version, from a patchwork of original Japanese footage and newly filmed scenes, was given to journeyman Terry Morse, whose
reputation as a "film doctor" made him uniquely qualified. Cast in the leading role was Raymond Burr (who,
in those days, was playing heavies like the wife-killer in REAR WINDOW ), who assumed the role of protagonist via is
the use of body doubles, clever editing, andohter tricks to create the illustion that he was interacting with the Japanese
cast. Entire sections of the original movie were excised, and the new material was spliced in. The whole thing
was done on the cheap: All of Burr's scenes, according to one version of events, were filmed in one, long, grueling
day (it's more likely, however, that it took several days). Asian actors and extras were hired to play Burr's Japanese
interpreter and various bit parts.
Ross and Kay dealt half their interest in Godzilla
to Joseph E. Levine (1905-87), a Boston-based distributor who had a knack for exploiting gimmick films with loud, obnoxious
publicity campaigns. LEvine (who later produced THE GRADUATE  and other movies) launched an advertising blitz
boasting that Godzilla made King Kong "seem like Peter Pan by comparison," and with the audacious, attention-grabbing new
title GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, the movie made its debut on April 4, 1956 in a big Times Square movie palace.
Levine was so confident he had a major hit that he simultaneously booked the film in hudreds of theaters, a rare feat at the
time. The reviews were terrible, but it didn't matter. GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS grossed about $2 million,
not bad for a low-budget, independently released, black-and-white picture in those days.
GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is a different animal
than its Japanese counterpart. The story is told in flashback, through the eyes of Steve Martin (Burr), and at about
80 minutes, this versio is considerably shorter (the original clocks in at about 98 minutes), and numerous scenes were deleted,
shortened, altered, or reordered. Only about 60 minutes of material from the Japanese cut remained, much of it devoted
to Godzilla's rampages. the movies's antiwar conscience, through not completely silenced, is heavily muted. The
result is a film that remains entertaining as a piece of sci-fi nostalgia, but is hardly insightful or thought-provoking.
To understand the drastic differenced between GOJIRA
and GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, fast-forward to the final scenes of the American version, Serizawa detonates the Oxygen
Destroyer and the ocean rumbles. Godzilla serfaces, roars in agony, and sinks to its death. Aboard the ship, Serizawa's
air hose is reeled in, but it's been severed, and the scientis's shocked friends shed tears of grief. Steve Martin remains
off to the side, a near-blank expression on his face. Everyone stands at attention, doffs their hats, and Serizawa's
self-sacriface. "The menace was gone," Martin says in voice-over. "So was a great man. but the whole world
could wake up and live again." Fade out.
The events are nearly identical to shose in the
original cut, but Dr. Yamane's warning that "if we continue testing H-bombs, another Godzilla will one day appear" is replaced
by Raymond Burr's suggestion that everyone "wake up and live again," aping American atomic-monster vovies and their upbeat
endings (with the military victorious, the monster dead). Throughout GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, other references
to nukes were negated in simlar fashion. A fiary debate in the Japanese senate (should Godzilla's connection to H-bomb
tests be kept secret, to avoid a panic?) was cut. A lively chat among subway commuters, all survivors of wartime devastation
("I hope I didn't survive Nagasaki for nothing," says a woman), was cut. One man's insistemce that Godzilla be killed
because the monster is "a menace to all Japanese, like the H-bomb," was cut. So was a heartbreaking moment alluding
to the war, if not the bomb specifically, when a young widow comforts her terrified Daughter ("We'll see Daddy in heaven,"
she says) as Godzilla approaches.
It's been speculated that te producers of GODZILLA,
KING OF TE MONSTERS were politically notivated, erasing all those A-bomb allusions to avoid offending American audiences.
But rather than politics, Godzilla's American handlers were driven by bottom-line considerations. They made a movie
that was both profitable and durable, even if GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS isn't any deeper than other 1950s sci-fi films
using big monsters, flying saucers, or body-snatching invaders to evoke the Red Scare, the Cold War, and the bomb.
"I can't believe Godzilla is the only survivor of
its species," Dr. Yamane warned in 1954, and his suspicious were correct. The success of GOJIRA meant more Godzillas,
and on April 25, 1955, less than six months after the first film made in it's debut, the hastily made sequel GODZILLA RAIDS
AGAIN  was released in Japan, and a new Godzilla and a second creature called Angurus decimate some exotic architecture
in the city of Osaka. The sense of urgency was gone, and it seemed Godzilla was a one-shot atomic allegory, so the monster
went on hiatus while Toho tinkered with the formula in films like RODAN (1956, starring a giant pteranondon) and MOTHRA (1961,
a gigantic insect with decidedly feminine traits).
During the sixties, in sequel after sequel, Godzilla's
apocalyptic origins faded. The character transformed from a nuclear terror into a run-of-the-mill monster on the loose
and finally into a super-hero. Kids adored the big lug, and in one movie, Godzilla gave his bashful son a lesson in
fire-breathing techniques; in another, Godzilla flew througth the air. MOst of the films were pre escapist entertainment,
while a few added some heavy-handed moralizing about issues of the times. The much-maligned All MONSTERS ATTACK (aka
GODZILLA'S REVENGE, 1969) is actually a pretty good children's film, while GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) serves up a gigantic,
living pile of sludge as a ham-fisted symbol of rampant pollution. The first cycle of Godzila films ended in 1975, followed
by a second series from 1984 to 1995, and a third from 1999 to 2004. In the later films, Godzilla was mean and nasty
once more, a malevolent god reluctantly defending its homeland against even more terrible treats.
Perhaps director Ishiro Honda was a bit naive.
In 1991, two years before his death, Honda said he had always hoped that Godzilla could help bring an end to nuclear testing
and arms proliferation and lamented that he had failed. Indeed, the situation has grown over more dangerous since Godzilla's
first rampage. More and more countries are going nuclear, and terrorists covet the bomb. A monster movie can't
change the world, but Godzilla is a lasting reminder of the Pandora's Box opened in August 1945. Born in the hellfire
of a mushroom cloud, the King of the Monsters warned man to shut that box and extinguish the fire. If we can't look
beyond the rubber suits and the flaming Tokyos and stare the monster in the eye before it's too late, perhaps we're all a