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GOJIRA - 1954
Let me start
off this review with a caveat. This caveat is to say that I'm fully aware
that the original GOJIRA hasn't aged well. To today's audiences, even the original GOJIRA merely looks like some guy in a rubber suit. A cheap one at that. What's
more, I'll even agree with you that the plot line, in several areas, stretches
to breaking at many points. I'll grant you that.
But you'll have to accept the ranking I gave this movie for all of the reasons I
explain. If you can deal with that from my point of view, then please read on and
I'll share with you just why I love this damn movie.
First, put yourself in the place of an audience today. Except for grievous examples
of poor computer animated graphics, like the re-worked Star Wars "Jabba
the Hut", or the ILM end-boss in DEEP
RISING, or the bug-eyed monkey thing in Lost In Space, or any number
of other awful examples: audiences really like computer animated graphics.
They love them in THE MATRIX and they love them in LORD OF THE
RINGS. But the truth is, we are giving the movie makers slack because
we want to enjoy the movie as a whole. We love the story like the first JURASSIC PARK, so we accept the
limitations of the medium. At least it ain't some guy in a rubber suit!
Now put yourself
in the theater seats of a 1954 Japanese audience, and two years later
in the seats of an American audience.
On the radio
you've heard the ads for this new movie GOJIRA and the ads are punctuated by one hell of an alien roar!
the movie, becoming absorbed in the story even though you feel that you
will have to be forgiving - when the monster makes its appearance - of
the herky-jerky stop-motion animation effects that have dominated the
medium for the last forty years. Stop Motion effects have gotten smoother
in that time, and the new Dynamation by Ray Harryhausen makes the actors
seem to look right at, and interact (amazingly!)
with the special effects monsters. But when the theater lights come up,
it was still a stilted, not very real looking, monster.
EVEN AMONG THE EXTRAS, THE ACTING WAS GREAT. THIS GUY IS ON SCREEN FOR ALL OF TWO SECONDS, BUT HE REALLY SELLS THE PANICKED TERROR OF WITNESSING GODZILLA.
finally makes his appearance at the end of the movie, however, you ain't
thinking "man in a rubber suit". Such a thing has yet to exist.
The movie teases you with shadows and distant glimpses. Finally, near
the end of the movie, you hear those infamous footsteps (duplicated
in Steven Spielberg's JURASSIC PARK).
The speakers with their sound from the 1950s glissades with their drivers
being strained. The theater seems to shake. The people on-screen can only
wait in fearful disbelief. In the storyline, they've heard of the monster,
but nobody, especially in modern 1950s Tokyo, can really believe that
such a giant creature could exist. Then Godzilla surfaces from the water. NO stop motion animated puppet can surface through water! What
the hell is this? How did they do this? The city looks real! The buildings
look real; every brick, every pipe! They have glass windows and lights
inside and you see people in those windows! Godzilla walks through smoke
and it curls around his body! You've never seen anything like this
before! Your jaded eyes from the 1950s can pick out rotoscoping, layering,
and rear projection sfx (like all of those black
and white movies that show the actors in a car while the scene through
the rear window goes turning this way and that - regardless of how the
driver handles the steering wheel). You are dumbfounded as Godzilla
tears through high tension wires that crackle with electricity. The wires
smoothly give and break under Godzilla's force. Godilla's mighty tail
sweeps through heavy tanks, sending them flying toward the audience. Godzilla
doesn't merely walk through Tokyo like a rear projection, he interacts
with the damn buildings by smashing them into a million pieces of rubble
and dust. Impossible with stop motion animation! Through it all, the camera
is somewhere below the head of Godzilla. He towers over the camera! No
8 inch stop motion puppet ever towered over the camera!
he roars! He roars with a sound no Foley man had ever dreamt of prior
to Godzilla. How can the much revered KING KONG hold a candle to this? King Kong and his travelling fur (due to the animator's
finger pressure as they repositioned the doll for every frame) cannot hope to compare!
HOLY CRAP but this movie is stunning!
ever read how, when early movie audiences were first shown a black and
white movie of a train rushing toward them, at the last second most of
them screamed and bolted from their seats? Prior to seeing it for the
first time, the only thing people knew about a train coming toward them
was "Get the hell out of the way!" There was simply nothing in human experience to prepare folks for an oncoming train - even in silent
black and white - to rush right up and not harm you.
Once in a
great while, a movie can break through that mental wall of the audience
and grab them in the pit of their stomach. JAWS made many people afraid to go into the ocean or even large bodies of water.
It was a phenomenon so remarkable that the tagline for the sequel actually
said, "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water."
When GOJIRA roared and towered over 1954 audiences, they cringed in their seats. GOJIRA moved and bellowed and looked around smoothly, ORGANICALLY. Director
Ishirô Honda (JÛ JIN YUKI OTOKO, KAIJÛ
O GOJIRA, SORA NO DAIKAIJÛ RADON, CHIKYU BOEIGUN, MOSURA, MATANGO,
and lots more) shot the movie to resemble the factual newsreels
that theater audiences were accustomed to seeing and believing in.
But you can believe in the
The weapon that could destroy Gojira is Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer. A weapon of mass destruction so fearsome that Serizawa is afraid to use it because world leaders, once they have knowledge of this weapon, would use it against people.
But just how bad can an Oxygen Destroyer be?
Beware of the Spoilers should you continue to SCIENCE MOMENT/Gojira.
Originally released in 1954, GOJIRA was the brainchild of producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who originally envisioned GOJIRA as a
fire-breathing version of KING KONG. Lucky for him, he had writer Shigeru
Kayama who wrote the short story as a 50 meter tall lizard. After the
success of GOJIRA (roughly pronounced in Japanese as Go-jeeza),
Shigeru wrote the novel of the same name, which was used as the basis
for the 1955 movie GOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU or GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (GIGANTIS in the USA). The audiences wanted more and Shigeru
wrote the 1956 novel, KAIJÛ O GOJIRA (GODZILLA!
KING OF THE MONSTERS) which was quickly made into a movie released
the following year. By this time, Shigeru was getting tired of writing
about Godzilla so he wrote, CHIKYU BOEIGUN (THE
MYSTERIANS or PHANTOM 7000) in 1957, which was a giant monster
movie plus alien invaders but no Godzilla.
When GODZILLA was released in the U.S. and the rest of the world in 1956, much
of the anti-atomic bomb storyline was removed and lots of exposition and
narration from then bit actor Raymond Burr was inserted. The effort was
dippy but the monster made up for it. For many adults it became a guilty
pleasure and years later, for kids like me in front of a TV set on a Saturday afternoon, it rocked our world.
The American release took the name of Shigeru's novel, which was really the sequel
to the original GODZILLA. The unapologetic, post WWII politics of the original GOJIRA guaranteed that U.S. audiences would not see the original GODZILLA play on their soil for the next 50 years.
Quite by accident, and bumbling around the Internet, I came across this Quicktime
GODZILLA was coming to my town! Well, actually, the film was coming to a town several towns
away, but no matter: I was going to see the original, uncut, undubbed, GOJIRA!
What amazed me was how much better the original story stood up. I don't labor under the false
pretense of "The original is naturally better" or the "Americanized/American
remake sucks by default". But in this case, it truly did. Once you
see the original GOJIRA,
the Raymond Burr one will slough off of your radar.
also had no idea that the U.S. rushed into bombing Hiroshima and
Nagazaki (the U.S. didn't even bother testing Little Boy, the uranium bomb, only the plutonium bomb, Fat Man) because the Japanese were transporting their own atomic
bombs across the Pacific to America in a last ditch attempt to win
the War. The Japanese had been working on a nuclear holocaust for the U.S. for some time. Two in fact: The Ni-Go and F-Go Projects.
This news was kept secret from U.S. citizens for fear of causing a panic. Even decades later when it was finally released, the American Media agreed to bury the news in the U.S. Since Japan doesn't have a truly free press, it hasn't made the news at all in Japan to this day.
The most important thing is, unlike the 1956 Americanized version, the Japanese
characters are not so quick to leap to the conclusion that they are dealing
with a giant lizard. Near the end of the movie, few who have seen Godzilla
have lived to tell the tale. Those that have are presumed to be suffering
from hysteria (which, of course, they would be),
or shock, or exposure or just about anything is a far better explanation
than a giant lizard that in no way could possibly exist. Even by the standards
set in the original GOJIRA movie, the very idea of such a massive creature in existence is ridiculous
to the characters in the story. So that, when GOJIRA finally makes his
appearance, the Japanese of modern Tokyo are struck dumb with horror and
disbelief. There is simply nothing in their world experience to possibly
prepare them for Godzilla. Godzilla is the impossible, the ultimate fear
of the unknown, come to life.
For today's audience, even for fans of the franchise, the original GOJIRA is a man in a rubber suit and the fun is in watching him tear a toy city
apart. But see it now, and spend a good part of the movie really getting
into the story. Disbelieve, along with the characters, what the superstitious
villagers and illiterate sailors are saying. Believe that there is some
rational explanation for the disasters at sea; the reports coming from
distant Japanese isles. The movie, at times, seems preachy in its anti-atomic
bomb rhetoric, but be forgiving after all because, as of this writing,
Japan is the only country who has ever suffered an atomic war.*
In other words, dive right into the movie.
As you ignored the shortcomings of the computer animated dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK,
ignore one more time the man behind the curtain. Feel the chill. Hear the roar!
5 Shriek Girls
copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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