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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Godzilla (1954) Monster Movie

Godzilla (1954) -"Gojira" (original title) Ah the original, the one that started it all and 28 Japanese and a couple American movie later and it is still going strong. I grew up in Boston in the 70s and 80s and if you happened to want entertainment on a Saturday afternoon during those years, you could turn the dial on the black and white television (we used a pair of pliers since the plastic knob broke off in the first year of that set.) to channel 56 on the UHF band and watch Creature Double Feature. Each week this amazing show provided viewers with two horror / monster movies and as a poor kid it was my first exposure to the wonders of horror. We were a urban poor family in those days and going to the movies really consisted of going to the drive in a couple times a year. Creature Double Feature and Godzilla was a giant part of that education in horror movies and I have watched so many of the early films that everyone of them is like visiting an old friend. The original though tended to be rarely played so in celebration of the latest incarnation of Godzilla here in the States I thought it would be nice to visit the first film. It is a film I knew as a child and as a child my view of it was simple. A large monster comes from the sea and destroys a city. The people fight it with the weapons they have but they seem powerless against this force of nature. Never did I really know the meaning behind the film, for me it was an entertainment. As an adult though, seeing this with mature eyes I see the incredible message that this film is and in in awe.
  I am working off the Criterion Collection print and the quality is excellent. Godzilla particularly the early ones can be seen as a metaphor for the United States, a massive destructive power that seems to rage uncontrollably destroying all in its path. The original film features a atomic created monster and according to Wikipedia can be said to relate the fears of the Japanese people after the devastation inflicted upon them by the USA with the blast of the  atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lets remember that this film first showed only nine years after those events. Even still the fact that the Japanese learned to love the lumbering beast is more fascinating than the metaphor. There is a story I saw in the interviews in this collection where lead actor Akira Takarada was excited to be chosen for this part. When he arrived at the set he introduced himself as the lead actor and expressed his pleasure to be working with his fellow actors. He was pulled told by director Irhiro Honda that he was not the lead but that Godzilla was. The Monster has continued to be the lead in some twenty some odd films and a beloved part of the Japanese culture. Not being an expert on the meaning behind the movie, let me stop here and refocus to the pleasure it is to see the Japanese version of this film. I probably saw the western version of the film Godzilla: King of Monsters more than the original, it has the Raymond Burr voice over and scenes to help it be accepted in the United States. Still I was surprised by how many scenes I recognized during my viewing of Godzilla and now with educated eyes the amazing power of many of those scenes.
  The first scene is of sailors on a fishing boat resting in the night playing music and games. The days work done they are unsuspecting victims of the radioactive monster sleeping below. Flashes of that radiation and then the sinking of the ship give the first signs of the danger ahead. The ship the Maru is lost and the survivors radiation burned. It is a direct reference to the Daigo Fukuryu Maru a fishing boat caught in the fallout of a United States nuclear test on the Bikini atoll in 1954. It was certainly current when the movie was made and it is no mistake that the two boats were similarly named and the flashes and radioactive exposure paralleled actual events.
  Later when Godzilla is attacking Tokyo there is a heart breaking scene where a widow has fled and is hiding with her kids in a doorway. As the monster closes in on their location she says to her children that they will all be with Daddy soon. A heart breaking hopeless scene that is very touching with the context of the history of the film. This scene is closely followed by scenes of the devastation left behind by the monster. A broken landscape of barely a standing structure that could be mistaken for newsreel footage of the aftermath of the h bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  We switch to the human side of the aftereffects and visit a hospital where orphan children are being treated for radiation sickness. The audience knows this is the after effects of the nuclear world, one of pain and suffering and loss. It is pivotal to the personal story that is part of the film because it is the catalyst for the sister Emiko (Momoko Kochi) to reveal the secret weapon.
  When the attacks begin everyone is powerless to stop it. The main character Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada) and his girlfriend Emiko do not have answers but are observers of the attack. Emiko's brother is a scientist who will eventually be the person with a solution but she has sworn to him not to reveal his experimental work. The oxygen destroyer and its existence is the one way the monster can be destroyed but the film takes the time to ask just because you have a weapon of great power, should you use it? Although it is ultimately used in the film the creator gives his own life so that the secret of the weapon dies with him. In the end Godzilla is a pretty amazing movie. It is so much more than I remembered as a kid and I am sure to do more research into this series. So while the big screen is filled with the remake 'full of sound and fury...' here we have a classic that more than holds its own. This film is very recommended by Soresport Movies.

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