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Godzilla (1954) – 9


Director – Ishirô Honda

Cast – Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai

Release Year – 1954

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Few films in the horror are more iconic than this 1954 Japanese film starring the King of all Monsters. I had not seen this film since my childhood, so I decided to give it a watch now that I have matured a teensy tiny bit in the 20 years since then. It seems that when most think of this film they think of a man in a cheesy lizard suit breaking down cardboard buildings, but Gojira is much more than that. While the King does his thing and lays waste to the island of Ohto, we are given a tremendous message stemming from the nuclear age and bombings that left Japan forever changed. This is more than a cheesy monster movie. This is more than a 50s B-movie. This is a landmark horror film that should be revisited by all who saw it as children.

American nuclear testing results in a 50-meter-tall dinosaur-like beast with radioactive breath rising from the coast of Japan and laying waste to the mainland. Only one scientist has a device deadly enough to possibly kill the beast, but in the age of deadly technology the consequences of such a device may be worse than Godzilla himself.

Writers Takeo Murata and Ishiro Honda expand Sherigu Kayama’s story into a simple but highly effective experience laced with social commentary. The story begins with a few fishing vessels suffering the effects of Godzilla awakening from his slumber deep within the Earth’s crust. They have no clue what happened as this all happened under water, and paranoia sets in early on. We are left feeling just as lost and hopeless as the family members of the missing, pleading for even the most basic of details from a law enforcement agency that lacks answers. “Godzilla” is first mentioned 10 minutes into the experience by an older man who tells the story of the mythical creature, but naturally he is brushed off as a loony tune. However, at the 21 minute mark he is proven right when we get our first real glimpse of the iconic beast.

Godzilla’s first appearance is simple yet shocking, and from then on out he steals the show for the remainder of the 96 minute experience. He pops up frequently before making his way to the mainland, where he levels the tallest of buildings in a show of force not seen in Japan since the events that lead to their surrender during the Second World War. Their military weapons are useless against the creature, who shares screentime with a few protagonists who are desperately trying to come up with a way to stop the beast and save their people. Our two leads, a man and woman, bring on a slight love aspect as well, but thankfully the writers focused on what is most important so this does not take away from the experience.

I mentioned earlier that the film is heavy in social commentary, and most of it has to do with nuclear technology. A decade after the nuking of Japan by American forces nuclear warfare was still a hot button issue. Godzilla awake from his slumber as a result of nuclear warfare, and the scientist with the ability to kill the beast is afraid of the unintended catastrophic effects of his diabolical device. If it were to fall into the wrong hands the world would once again lost humanity as it did when the atomic bombs were dropped, so he goes to drastic lengths to ensure his research will not be used for ill purposes.

Co-writer Ishiro Hondo directs the film and does so with immense accomplishments. He expertly executes the chaos early on and it sucked me in, leaving me feeling just as hopeless as the desperate islanders on screen. When Godzilla finally appears he makes it incredibly shocking, short, and sweet. From then on out he paces the film very well and ups the ante when it comes to Godzilla. Watching him destroy the city while military arms and vehicles are melted with his radioactive breath is so highly engaging that I never once considered how silly he looks by today’s standards. It may not be scary now, but this flick is heavy in horror and chaos thanks to expert execution that resulted in this being one of the most iconic films, of any genre, of all time.

Overall, Gojira is well deserving of its status amongst the classics. Great writing and expert direction make this a highly engaging piece that will leave you in awe when the end credits roll. You are sucked into the excitement, then have your heart strings pulled at the suffering of the people, and are then left in shock over the film’s incredible final sequence.

Rating: 9/10

…Additional Stills…

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