With the big guy coming back onto our screens in just a few short months I thought it would be fun to spend some time viewing some of the classic movies that introduced us to the character. And the more I thought about it, the more I was excited at the prospect of actually going through and watching all 28 Toho films between 1954-2004 and reviewing them on the blog. And it’s only appropriate to start from the beginning, so I’ll attempt to do them in order. Afterwards, I want to rank each of the films from best to worst. Geeks like myself love ranking stuff.
Going into the movie my expectations were decidedly low. I had seen some of the Japanese Godzilla films back when I was a kid, and from what I remembered they were all pretty campy. I didn’t think that this one, being the oldest of the lot, would hold up. Boy was I wrong. From the very moment the opening credits began rolling, and Ifukube Akira’s brilliantly minimalistic but extremely powerful theme music started, the hairs stood up on the back of my arms. Actually, every time that theme music played throughout the film it gave me chills. The film’s being in black and white as apposed to color actually helped keep the film from aging as much – black and white, although a product of an era long ago, gives certain films the salt and pepper flavoring they need to get the tone right. Wouldn’t have been nearly as realistic looking with color. That is, realistic to 1954.
Several themes popped up throughout the expanse of the relatively short film (an hour and a half). It’s very clear that Ishirō Honda and his team were attempting to incite and capitalize on the still recent aftermath and fear of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as they made it very clear that Godzilla was a symbol for the nuclear destruction that was caused. Early on they determined he was actually a species of dinosaur they hadn’t yet known about from 2 million years ago, that lay dormant under the crust of the sea, until H-bomb testing in the ocean awoken him. I was surprised by how close to home they chose to go with the theme, showing the kaiju (Japanese term for giant monster/strange creature) literally destroying and putting to flame Tokyo. Although it’s clearly just fiction, and a guy in a rubber suit, it struck a chord with me. It’s no wonder the film was hit with criticism upon its release.
Unfortunately, the most unenjoyable part of the film were the humans trying to cope with the situation. A lot of over the top acting, and occasionally no acting whatsoever. The plot revolved around a paleontologist father, his daughter and her boyfriend, caught in the midst of the unfolding madness. I just couldn’t stand Emiko, the daughter. She must have broken down sobbing eight times…maybe nine. The really interesting character in my opinion was the mysterious one-eyed scientist who had created a special weapon by mistake in which he called the Oxygen Destroyer, capable of removing all oxygen from the water. It was their only shot at destroying Godzilla, so they took the chance with it. The last 8-10 minutes of the film were extremely touching, emotional, and beautifully done.
I recommend this film to any who haven’t seen it and aren’t prone to pointing out how fake everything looks. For a culture buff like myself, seeing Gojira for the first time brings some strange new depth to the character I didn’t expect to find. I’m looking forward to seeing how the series develops from here. I’m going to attempt to watch them all in order. Hopefully I can make it before the new American reboot comes out this summer. That reminds me…