Saturday, October 17, 2009

HORROR EPICS: Gojira (1954)

This is where it all began. For decades, you had to be hip to Japanese-American theaters if you wanted to see the original version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters when it was occasionally brought back for a limited release. But it finally came out on DVD a few years ago, so now we can see what it’s like with subtitles and without Raymond Burr. The 1956 American version actually comes on a separate disc so you can make a comparison between the two. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, we encourage you to try to forget about Godzilla: Hokey Kid’s Matinee Hero. That nonsense doesn’t apply here. Instead, Gojira is the post-World War II nuclear nightmare and no friend to children, or anyone else. A prehistoric fusion of land and sea reptiles, awakened by American weapons testing in the Pacific Ocean. The horror of August 1945 is relived when the monster attacks the city of Tokyo, setting things aflame with his atomic breath and laying waste to everything else in his path. Gojira has more to offer besides some asshole in a rubber suit stomping all over a miniature version of Tokyo. Like Night of the Living Dead, the black-and-white photography gives Gojira a documentary-like quality that enhances the film’s somber tone. It’s not without its share of melodrama, but at no point do you feel like you’re watching a cheesy monster movie. There’s a more superior mind at work than that. The atom bomb metaphors are crystal clear, as are the questions the film raises about Japan’s psychological state in the early 1950s. One has to wonder how Japanese audiences reacted to the film upon its initial release just nine years after the traumatic events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you’re able to put aside the camp value of the American version and look past the obvious limitations in the special effects, I think you’ll find that Gojira is an excellent film. Surely you’ll agree that it completely deserves its status as the king of all “Kaiju” (fictional monster) movies.

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