In the 1950's movies about monsters and aliens were filling up the B movies slots at the cinemas. Forget the singing cowboy; it was the era of radioactive mutant consequences and nefarious plots from outer space. Heavily favoured as date movies, these kept the young people packing the cinemas and drive ins, as scenes guaranteed to provide an opportunity for girls to want to bury their heads on your shoulder in likely feigned dismay.
Hollywood at this point in time did not have the stranglehold on modern cinema it has today, and foreign productions that were dubbed if not originally in English were not that uncommon, especially in this genre. One such studio that did this was the legendary Toho Film Ltd. Interestingly enough, Toho began its life managing a large percentage of Tokyo's kabuki theatres before branching out into film making in the 1930's, before hitting gold with American audiences with their successful monster movies in the 1950's. Often poorly imitated, they became famed for their monster and special effect films, before branching out into anime with Studio Ghibi as well as superhero TV series and contributions to other production company's films, including Sam Raimi's "A Simple Plan".
No matter hw far they have branched out from their origins, ask a member of the public to name a Japanese movie from the '50's, and the odds are greatly stacked that one of their "Big 5" monster characters will feature in the film mentioned. Whether it be recalling Rodan, Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, or Mechagodzilla., it is certain that the works of Toho have embedded themselves in modern pop culture and into the common conciousness.
Originally titled Gojira, this film is set in contempory to itself times, so circa 1954.
Initially, a fishing boat is attacked by a bright light. A rescue boat is sent out, and suffers the same fate. A second boat is sent out to find out what has happened, and again suffers a mysterious fate.This time, however, a few survivors are picked up and brought ashore to Odo Island, where the natives reveal all their fish have been eaten from the sea and so they cannot catch anything, and tell the reporters that it is obvious Godzilla, the sea monster god, is responsible. He comes from the sea to eat people and in times past, they sacrificed girls to appease his hunger and to be left alone. Of course, officials think they ae backwards, superstitous yokels, and take the survivors to Tokyo after the village is mysteriously destroyed in the night. After being interviewed by officials and the scientific community, a paleontolgist decrees they must go to Odo Island and investigate. There they discover an enormous radioactive footprint and a prehistoric trilobite. As if this was not enough, the frightening spectre of a huge dinosaur raises his head above the hills and raors, before retreating back into the ocean.
This is the only the begiining, with the creature finally deciding to attack and destroy Tokyo, with conventional weapons proving useless as he has already survived huge doses of radiation thanks to Americans detonating atomic weapons in the vicinity. It remains for a weapon to be found to destroy the creature, with a romance thrown in along the way between two characters who appear in order to facilitate the finding of such a weapon.Will Tokyo be saved? Will true love prevail? Can Godzilla be killed,and is he the only one of his kind? Will this catastrophe bring the evil of the atomic age with the desruction of civilisation? Watch, and find out!
This is very much an ensemble piece of a film. Seemingly small parts all serve to move the story forawrd, with no truly unimportant parts with speaking lines. The cast are:
* Takashi Shimura ................. Dr Kyōhei Yamane
* Momoko Kouchi ................. Emiko Yamane
* Akira Takarada ................. Hideto Ogata
* Akihiko Hirata ................. Dr Daisuke Serizawa
* Sachio Sakai ................. Hagiwara, a journalist
* Huyuki Murakami ................. Dr Tanabe
* Ren Yamamoto ................ Seiji, a fisherman
* Toyoaki Suzuki ................. Shinkichi , Seiji's younger brother
* Tsuruko Umano ................. Shinkichi's mother
Tadashi Okabe; ................. assistant of Dr. Tanabe
* Toranosuke Ogaw; ................. President at the shipping company
* Ren Imaizumi ................. Chief shipping company radio
* Katumi& Tezuka ................. newspaper publishing company chief
* Masaak Tachibana .................announcer A;
* Ichir Obi .................announcer B
* Haruo Nakajima .................transformer substation employee
* Takeo Oikawa .................Mayor of the task force
* Kan Hayashi ................. Chairperson at Diet
* Seijir Onda.................Representative Ooyama
* Kin ;Sugai ................ Representative woman Oosawa
* Keiji Sakakida ................village mayor of Oodo Island
* Kuninori Takadou ................Old fishermen
* Tamae Kawai ................young daughter
* Shizuko Azuma ................dancer
* Kiyoshi Kamoda................ man
* Yuu Fujiki ................ telegrapher
* Kenji Sahara............... visitor on a pleasure boat
* Godzilla ................ Katsumi Tezuka and Haruo Nakajima
Note that Godzilla has two names next to him. This is because in 1954, there of course no CGI effects available and miniature models were ineffective in scenes with live people. Therefore, a rubber suit was used in several scenes. The acting appears to be fairly good quality for a B movie, but the monster is what the film is about, and he is by far the most memorable.
In its current DVD incarnation for the British market, this film is not the American release that many may remember. Being longer at 98 minutes, compared to the US 80 minutes, for one thing, we also have the privilege of hearing it in the original Japanese and to read English subtitles, rather than giggle at the bad dubbing and mismatched mouth motions. This is not without its own drawbacks, however. Reading the subtitles does mean your eyes are on the bottom of the screen, and you may miss some of the action onscreen. The film is presented in its original black and white, and the print is a clean one that has been lovingly restored. There are several extra features on the disc as well, making this a good addition to fans of the genre collections.
The features include:
o Voiceover Commentary By Three American Godzilla Experts
This is the best of the extras to be honest. You want the poop on Gojira (Godzilla), this is the where to get it! Very informative and presented in an interesting manner, it is an extra that you can happily watch more than once. It is an interesting look at the original film's transformation into the Americanised version, which had Raymond Burr worked into it, and it explains a lot of the true reasons behind the reworking for American audiences, none of which were political despite what many assumed.
o 12 Japanese Fishermen Documentary
The disc I rented kept sticking on this one, so I am unable to comment on it, sadly. Given the quality of the previous commentary, it likely was of value, and when I rent this again, hope to be able to view it.
o The Making Of The Godzilla Suit Featurette
This comes in the form of a slideshow. There are concept drawings and photographs of the suit, including one in which the actor was unable to move in at all, accompanied by a voice over by Steve Ryfle. It is fairly interesting, but admittedly, it is likely to be more of interest to someone interested in primitive special effects or costume design.
o The Adaptation From Original Short Story To Finished Film Featurette
I found this rather dry, with it being all about dropped subplots, amendments to the original script, and photographs including a photo of the original script. Again narrated by Steve Ryfle, he seems rather uninterested himself and his delivery is flat and rather monotone.
o Original Trailer
This is just what it suggests. It is a viewing of the original theatrical trailer as seen in cinemas.
o Original Poster
Yeehaw! A picture of the original poster. While nice for completeness, an actual repro poster would have been nicer, no?
o Stills Gallery
Merely a bunch of stills from the film. many of which we saw in the other special features.
Being rented, I did not get to see this. Oh well.
I was pretty interested in how this differed so widely from the American release with Raymond Burr. No American reporter with flashbacks, and more anti nuclear dialogue that is missing from the American theatrical release of 1956. Being anti nuclear, but NOT anti- American, this film has a very relevant message today about weapons, nuclear waste, and later consequences. Given that it has been not quite a decade since the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it is a testament to the fears of the resulting fall out within the Japanese population, and one that would sadly be echoed in later years in the US itself, after the Three Mile Island disaster, and even later, after the much more recent Chernobyl disaster.
While the effects are obviously dated, this film is an entertaining romp of a monster movie. It is a GREAT monster movie, as opposed to a film. Read more ›