Godzilla (1954) Movie Review

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This year marks the 60th anniversary of this film and I feel like I should review all 28 Godzilla movies in the entire month in February in preparation for the new movie coming out in May. These reviews reflect the Japanese versions, and the rating that I give to each film will reflect the Japanese movies only. I’ll lightly mention any American version and give my thoughts on them, but the core of these reviews will be on the Japanese versions.

Godzilla is the first in a 50 year long series (now 60) of films based on one of the most popular monsters in film history. However with all of the movies that have come afterwards, people seem to forget that the original was very dark and made more for adults than the 1950s sci-fi movies were made in America at the time. The movie starts out in the middle of the ocean and the sinking of a ship. One of the survivors is discovered on his home of Ootojima Island, where we start to learn about the creature they fear, Godzilla (who really needs no introduction). Our main characters from the mainland find out about the monster and it eventually makes it’s way to Tokyo, Japan.

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I consider this to be not only the best monster movie made, but one of the greatest science fiction films ever made as well as one of the most important films to come out of Japan. With a simply story like that, how is this movie more adult then monster movies that were coming out in the United States? Well first of all it was made in Japan, the monster was created from atomic energy, and it was made nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Director Ishiro Honda intended Godzilla to be a metaphor for the atomic bomb, since the Japanese were the ones to experience the effects of the atomic bomb, it treats the film with a very serious tone. The music by Akira Ifukube is dark and the cinematography during Godzilla’s rampage through Tokyo is creepy. The idea of using miniatures and a man in a suit was something that special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya had to come up with due to the films budget and time restraints of using stop motion like in 1933’s King Kong. You also feel for the human characters. There is a love triangle that occurs between the three main charters Ogata, Emiko, and Dr. Serizawa, but it never feels forced, because you truly understand the meaning of this triangle when you get near the end of the film.

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This movie created such an impact when it came out that it was nominated for the Japanese equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture, though it lost to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. When this version was released in the United States in 2004, American audiences realized how powerful the film was and it has even gotten a Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection back in 2012. That is a huge honor for that company to recognize the importance of a 1950s monster movie. This movie also influenced other Japanese studios to come up with their own monster creations to rival Godzilla, but they either never matched up to the success of the Godzilla series or they arrived a full decade after the original film was released.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the Americanized version, released in 1956 and is basically the same movie story wise, but features many changes to make it different enough from it’s Japanese counterpart. The most notable change is the addition of Raymond Burr, who plays a new reporter who witnesses Godzilla’s rampage. It’s told in flashback with his characters narration playing over a lot of the movie. Another thing is that the movie is 20 minutes shorter then it’s Japanese counterpart, which is a huge disadvantage by comparison. The shorter runtime means that most of the metaphor and dark tone is gone most notably during a moment with a women and her children during Godzilla’s rampage through Tokyo. In this version the women is speaking to her children but there are no subtitles nor a dub accompanying what she is telling her kids. One would automatically assume she is praying to god to save them from death. However in the Japanese version she says something a lot different and the subtitles supplied by The Criterion Collection translate her dialogue to “We’re going to join Daddy, We’ll be where Daddy is soon!” It’s a powerful line that indicates that she lost her husband to either the bombings or the monster and it’s even more tragic when you see the children are still alive but the mother is dead during in the hospital scene. It isn’t a line of dialogue that would be regularly found in any American monster movie and shows how safe this version is. The music and cinematography is still there, but it doesn’t have the emotional impact that the Japanese version does.

It’s a fun monster movie, but lacks the importance and emotion of the Japanese version and is honestly hard to go back and watch now that the Japanese version is available for everyone to see, and that’s the version I prefer everyone see.

Check out my video review from last year and don’t forget to check out my current movie review channel

“The Cinemas with Mr. Robinson” for more reviews

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Bottom Line

Despite it being a Japanese monster movie from the 1950s, this movie excels at being a dark and horrifying drama about the atomic bomb, told from a country that experienced it first hand. After 60 years, Godzilla still remains as an all time classic

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