Godzilla Resurgence review

Unlike the Energizer Bunny, the new Godzilla is a windup toy that runs down – or, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor, runs out of radioactive steam.
shin-godzilla-posterGodzilla roars again, but the sound has been fed through a broken ring modulator, resulting in a distorted signal. This is highly unfortunate, since the new film SHIN GODZILLA (Shin Gojira in its original Japanese – which translates to “Godzilla’s Resurgence”), bristles with promise in the form of satirical jabs at governmental bureaucracy and clever winks at the history of the character (whose dual name “Gojira/Godzilla” forms the basis of an amusing joke at the expense of the U.S.A.). The movie is funny without being an overt comedy, and the humor never undermines the titular behemoth. The filmmakers have other methods for doing that.
Shin Godzilla gets off to an intriguing start (reminiscent of Godzilla 1985) when the coast guard encounters a mysterious unmanned vessel, which is capsized by some unseen force before it can by towed to shore; moments later, some kind of impact causes a leak in an undersea tunnel. A series of rapid-fire shots conveys the government’s response: the irony of the editing is that the response itself is anything but rapid, as officials hem and haw, wrangling over the nature of the threat and which department should handle it. The result is an amusing satire of of the Japanese government’s decision-making process, depicted as hopeless mired by concerns of form (the ministers keep ducking back into the Prime Minister’s office because conversations in the main room are on the record, and not everyone feels comfortable with what needs to be said out loud). It’s not quite Dr. Strangelove, but it’s fun for a while.
The film establishes an approach not dissimilar from that seen in some anime series, revealing character names and job descriptions in subtitles. More than just a technique to eliminate awkward exposition, this cinematic style sets the tone of the film, which is as lean as the 5%-fat beef one buys in the supermarket: this is a movie totally focused on process; characters exist only in terms of their job functions, and all conflicts relate to the main objective. There is no time wasted on building characters with humanizing domestic scenes or personal conflicts; only one seems to have a family member – who is, pointedly, rendered completely faceless.

Young nerds and whiz-kids save the day.
Young nerds and whiz-kids save the day.

As energizing as this approach is, it cannot sustain an entire movie (unless rendered by some kind of genius). At some point the film has to settle into a grove and get down to the actual business of telling its story by depicting the threat of Godzilla. Ironically, in this regard, Shin Godzilla stumbles about as awkwardly as its initial depiction of Godzilla. When the radioactive beast first reveals itself, it looks like an overgrown polliwog, hunched over and almost slithering on its belly (an unpleasant reminder of Emmerich and Devlin’s 1998 Godzilla). The waving moments of its head suggest a Chinese dragon at a parade; one expects to see humans underneath, manipulating the creature with rods. Even worse, its unblinking eyes look like giant buttons; probably intended to suggest a mutated creature, they are too big, suggesting a cute anime character instead of a destructive menace.
Fortunately, Godzilla soon mutates into an upright creature, but he never fully becomes the familiar icon. He always looks a half-formed abomination with vaguely Godzilla-esque characteristics. This might have been an acceptable approach, except that it contradicts one thrust of the screenplay: as in the 2014 Godzilla, this creature is supposed to provoke the awe one associates with a deity (we’re told the “Gojira” means “God Incarnate”). That simply cannot work when the mangy creature’s only claim to god-like status is size; it needs to look awesome in order to be awesome.
It’s a little hard to tell whether this problem is completely one of design or partly attributable to the effects artists. Clearly there is an attempt to distort perspective in order to convey Godzilla’s size as seen from humans at ground level, but as often as not this simply makes the beast seem malformed, especially in long shots, where the tail seems almost larger than the body.

Excellent CGI composite work replaces old-school miniatures.

Excellent CGI composite work replaces old-school miniatures.

Unfortunately, the problem is not only cosmetic; it goes beneath the skin. The initially intriguing attempts to have the human characters analyze this new life form (despite the “Resurgence” in the title, the film treats Godzilla as something new) come to nothing. Many metaphoric cans of worms are opened, but the dissection is left unfinished, resulting in a depiction of Godzilla that is more non-entity than powerful enigma.
There is a nice attempt to show some limits to the beast, whose initial foray onto land is cut short because of a need to regulate its body temperature by returning to the water. Later, it becomes apparent that Godzilla (who true to form feeds off nuclear fuel) needs to recharge after expending his energy. This affords an opportunity for the characters to develop a strategy, but it also subverts the films’ central threat, rendering Godzilla as little more than a big windup toy that frequently runs down – just long enough to allow his lilliputian adversaries to get the jump on him. (I’m not using the windup toy metaphor casually: Godzilla does not curl up to sleep after expending nuclear energy; the beast almost literally stops in mid-stride, tail poised in the air, exactly like a mechanical device whose spring has wound down.)
Quibbles about the creature’s depiction aside, Shin Godzilla is engrossing for its first two-thirds, building to an amazing confrontation between the monster and combined Japanese-U.S. forces, which results in an orgy of devastation that is spectacular and haunting in equal measures. Unfortunately, the third act is unable to top this mid-movie climax, as it focuses on one of the least exciting plans ever devised to defeat Godzilla, which consists of firetruck-like vehicles using hoses to feed a “de-coagulate” into the dormant monster’s mouth; unintentionally funny, the scene suggests that Godzilla is having dental work.
The strategy results in a non-ending that literally stops the clock without resolving the story. The anti-climax literally feels like a fake-out: the audience expects the characters to breath a sigh of relief just before – surprise! – Godzilla springs back to life and they have to figure out how to really kill the beast. Instead, the film simply stops, leaving an opening for a sequel so wide that Godzilla itself could have fallen into it (SPOILER: a final shot of Godzilla’s tail shows that a little asexual reproduction is about to take place, spawning new Godzillas – another unfortunate reminder of the 1998 film. END SPOILER) In the end, Shin Godzilla – rather like its title character – runs out of (radioactive) steam.
Which is sad, because there is so much that is good, great, and even amazing about Shin Godzilla. The initial scenes have a nice contemporary feel designed to make the concept work as something more than a nostalgia piece (despite the frequent soundtrack excerpts from past films). There has never been a Godzilla film that wrestled so carefully and believably with the questions of collateral damage and rules of engagement (more on which later). And in what could have been a sop to younger viewer but turns out to be an encouraging statement about human cooperation, the success against Godzilla is rendered by a younger generation of government employees and experts who pointedly forge a “flat” organization, without a traditional hierarchical structure, where everyone is invited to speak up and contribute, without having to cut through fifteen layers of red tape.


Shin Gojira does not lack big-scale monster action. The old miniatures have been put in mothballs, replaced by computer-generated imagery that renders destruction spectacular detail; even if Godzilla looks a bit lumpy, the tanks and attack helicopters are convincing, and the coordinated attack on their target is one of the most spectacular scenes of its kind ever committed to what passes for celluloid these days. In an attempt to avoid citywide destruction as much as possible, the human adversaries employ a strategy of gradual escalation, starting with machine guns, then missiles, then canons, and finally culminating in a B-2 bombing run by cooperating American forces, which finally breaks the skin and sheds some blood – just enough to make the monster retaliate, spewing plumes of purple radioactive breath and shooting energy beams out of its dorsal spines in a spectacular barrage of special effects.
This display of near invulnerability ultimately exposes a fundamental problem with the script, which fails where previous Godzilla films succeeded: even when they were a tad silly, the Toho movies of the 1990s and the 2000s did a good job of talking out of both sides of the mouth – depicting Godzilla as a threat while simultaneously suggesting that he might be less of a threat than his current opponent (be it King Ghidorah or whatever). After going the extra mile to depict Godzilla as a force that threatens the entire world – a form of life superior to humanity, which will probably lead to our extinction unless destroyed – Shin Godzilla goes out of its way to portray the umbrage of its Japanese characters when the U.N. (led by the U.S. naturally) decides that the monster needs to be nuked.

After Tokyo is nuked by Godzilla it is hard to worry about the U.S. dropping an H-Bomb.
After Tokyo is nuked by Godzilla it is hard to worry about the U.S. dropping an H-Bomb.

You may remember the scene in The 7 Samurai in which a decision was made to sacrifice a few homes in order save the village under attack, but that’s not what Shin Godzilla has in mind: the filmmakers want us to see the decision as an example of a trigger-happy U.S. eager to nuke Japan again (partly because, for reasons too garbled to be worth repeating, the U.S. has a vested interest in Godzilla that it would like to cover up). Now, this is a perfectly valid plot complication for a Godzilla movie – but not when the script has gone so far to put humanity’s survival on the line that nuking Godzilla seems like a necessary (though tragically regrettable) move.
This confusion stems from the nationalistic tone of the Shin Godzilla, which expands on themes visible in Japan’s kaiju eiga genre going back the past two decades – not only Toho’s Godzilla series but also Daiei Film’s rival Gamera franchise. If the movies are to be believed, Japan is tired of depending on foreign power for protection; they want to rebuild their military might and, more importantly, loosen the restrictions on using it. Most of all, they don’t want the U.S. dictating policy. Well, fine and dandy, I say, as long as they realize that this message resonates well within the context of a movie about a giant monster attacking heavily populated urban centers but somewhat less so in a real world where actual violence and warfare is on the decline.
Conceptual confusion aside, Shin Gojira is a slickly made product, with good tech credits (even if some of the animation is less than convincing). The Japanese cast provide appropriate sincerity and gravitas; though the characters are not rendered in complex detail, the performers come across as focused on the overwhelming task at hand, rather than one-note.
The films "American" liaison
The films "American" liaison, played by Satomi Ishihara

The American characters are another matter. In keeping with Toho tradition, these roles seem to have been cast with amateurs. Director Hideako Anno disguises this to some extent by framing the actors in long shots or having them talk with their backs turned while exiting a room. This works for a while but ultimately becomes funny when the technique becomes too obvious: during a dialogue between Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara) and her American father, the elder Patterson is seen only as hands and arms, the camera pointing every direction except his face. Hilarity ensues.
Which brings us to the issue of Ishihara’s performance. Her character, a liaison to Japan, is supposed to be an American with a Japanese grandmother, but her awkwardly delivered English dialogue is clearly spoken by someone who did not grow up in the U.S. As if to underline the shortcoming, other Japanese characters do a much better job delivering English while coordinating their anti-Godzilla efforts with American counterparts. Presumably, Japanese audiences were little concerned with this, but it is rather blatant to U.S. viewers.
We have to give the filmmakers credit for teaching the old monster some new tricks; even if their efforts are only partially successful, two-thirds of a great movie is not bad. With its weird mutant, Shin Godzilla shares a certain affinity with the misguided 1998 Americanization of Godzilla: both films seem to have been made by people who did not want to make a Godzilla movie, so they tried to make something else and call it Godzilla. Rolland Emmerich and Dean Devil gave us a JURASSIC PARK ripoff. Hideako Anno and Shinji Higuchi give us a twisted variation on Attack on Titan, which goes so far as to hint that Godzilla is not merely the product of accidental nuclear contamination but perhaps a deliberate experiment by a scientist (“Goro Maki,” named after a character in Godzilla 1985) angry over the demise of his wife. In fact, the mysterious disappearance of Maki, immediately before Godzilla’s appearance, even leaves open the possibility that Maki may be Godzilla* – one of many unresolved plot points that will probably be explored in sequels. It’s just one more way that Shin Gojira falls flat at the end, too tired, apparently, to bother finishing its story, instead simply stopping to resume another day. Hopefully, like Godzilla, any follow-up will be fully recharged – and will allow its creature to mutate into a Godzilla that deserves the “god” in his name.

Note: This review has been updated after a second viewing of the film.


  • In the Attack on Titan anime series, the cannibalistic giants are eventually revealed to be humans who expand to titanic proportions. There is also a scientist who disappears without explanation; presumably future seasons will tell us he had something to do with the creation of the Titans. To be fair, this plot element in Shin Gojira also echoes Warner Brothers Godzilla (2014), in which the prehistoric alpha-predator appears only after the demise of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), suggesting that his spirit is somehow imbued in the beast.


Planes, Percy & More: Ultra-Lounge Podcast 4:32.2

Planes-Percy composite copy
Some weeks, there are just too many horror, fantasy, and science fiction films to crowd onto one launchpad – or one podcast, as the case may be. Thus, we end up with this week’s situation, in which the Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast 3:42 covered both ELYSIUM and EUROPA REPORT, leaving two new nationwide releases for inclusion in this Ultra-Lounge Podcast: PLANES and PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS. The former is a Disney knock-off of Pixar’s CARS films; the later is a sequel to PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTENING THIEF, based on the popular series of adult novels. As if that were not enough, CFQ podcast crew also offer reviews of recent Video on Demand titles: COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES and JUGFACE.
But, wait – there’s more! Lawrence French recounts his radioactive encounter with GOJIRA (1954), the original uncut Japanese version of the film known as GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) in the U.S. Dan Persons exorcises the ghosts of Singapore horror film 23:59. And Steve Biodrowski notes that WORLD WAR Z beat the odds, surviving last-minute rewrites and post-production re-shooting to become producer-star Brad Pitt’s biggest worldwide box office hit – an achievement that, ironically, involved toning down the third act, in contravention of Hollywood’s conventional wisdom that bigger equal better equals more ticket sales.
The podcast begins with a brief obituary for actress Karen Black, who passed away on August 8, 2013. Though her career was long and varied, she will always be fondly remembered by horror fans for her performance in the “Prey” episode of TRILOGY OF TERROR, the Dan Curtis tele-film based on stories by Richard Matheson.


Western Godzilla Reboot in the Works

The 1998 American version of Gojira
The 1998 American version of Gojira

Get ready to scrub your brains free of the god-awful 1998 remake of GORJIRA by Roland Emmerich (2012, INDEPENDENCE DAY), because a deal has just been struck to get a new remake of the Japanese classic in production. According to Bloody Disgusting both Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures are teaming up to bring a reboot to our screens in the near future, just recently having closed a deal with Japanese rights-holders, Toho.

Godzilla is one of the world’s most powerful pop culture icons, and we at Legendary are thrilled to be able to create a modern epic based on this long-loved Toho franchise,

Thomas Tull, CEO of Legendary Pictures tells The Hollywood Reporter,

Our plans are to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see. We intend to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain as pop culturally relevant for as long as it has.

A big statement to live up to indeed, especially given American film-makers track record when dealing with the horror icon, but one that sounds promising. No director or writers have been attached to the project thus far but it seems unlikely that Emmerich will be returning, given his lack of enthusiasm for a GODZILLA sequel in the past. It does, given its popularity at the moment, seem highly likely that the film will be shot in 3D, the IMAX format, or both.
Both studios are aiming to get their GODZILLA reboot out by 2012. What do you think, is another American remake of GORJIRA worth the hassle?

Gojira (1954)/Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) – Film & DVD Review

To the average American audience, the original Godzilla is a cheesy man-in-a-suit monster smashing cardboard buildings and stomping matchbox-size cars – something so bad that atrocious computer-generated lizard in 1998’s American-made GODZILLA is actually perceived as an improvement. Science fiction fans may be a bit kinder in their assessment, acknowledging that Godzilla’s debut film is much better than the sequels that followed, but even they tend to rank the Japanese giant well below his American counterparts. In Japan, however, the original 1954 GODZILLA is considered to be a classic on par with KING KONG (1933).
Unfortunately, for decades, GODZILLA (known as GOJIRA in its native land, a combination of the English word “gorilla” and the Japanese word for whale, “kurji”) was seen stateside only in a heavily Americanized version, released in 1956 under the title GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. Since Rialto Pictures released the Japanese version in select U.S. theatres in 2004, in time for its 50th anniversary, American audiences have finally been able to appreciate the uncut, undubbed original. Those expecting a campy kiddie film were surprised to see a slow and somber mini-masterpiece, a black-and-white nightmare about the threat of nuclear annihilation – in short, a classic example of popular entertainment working as a serious metaphor.

A fishing boat incinerated by nuclear radiation
A fishing boat incinerated by nuclear radiation

GODZILLA* dramatizes nuclear horror unlike any other film of its period, because the fantasy element is clearly standing in for a reality too horrible to contemplate directly. In a cinematic world filled with denial regarding the lethal use of nuclear weapons, Godzilla stands as reminder not only of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also of the unfortunate fishing boat, The Lucky Dragon, which was irradiated by nuclear fallout from the U.S. test of an H-Bomb in 1954. This incident, which resulted in the subsequent death of a crew member from Leukemia, was as much an inspiration for the making of GODZILLA as were the obvious American antecedents, KING KONG and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953).
Like many classic monster movies, GODZILLA gradually builds to the revelation of its title character, then keeps it mostly off-screen. Instead, the focus is on the human characters, who wrestle with the impact that Godzilla’s destruction has on their lives (something to which the film’s post-war Japanese audience could easily relate). The story even presents a genuine moral dilemma: should Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Harrata) use his Oxygen Destroyer to defeat Godzilla and, in the process, possibly reveal to the world a weapon even more devastating than the thing it’s meant to defeat? Or should he keep his weapon a secret? The question (at least in the original Japanese version) isn’t really whether the device will fall into the wrong hands; Serizawa has learned the painful lesson of Robert Oppenheimer: once the device is in any hands, its creator can no longer control it, and its use is almost inevitable.
New footage, with Frank Inagawa (center) and Raymond Burr (right) was added for the American release.
New footage, with Frank Inagawa (center) and Raymond Burr (right) was added for the American release.

The subtitled prints distributed by Rialto Pictures present the 1954 GODZILLA as it was released in Japan by Toho Studios. There are substantial differences between this and the dubbed American version, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. The subtitle “KING OF THE MONSTERS” was not the only addition; there were also new scenes with Raymond Burr playing American reporter Steve Martin (yes, his use of the name predates the famous comedian by decades).
This footage provided an audience identification figure who could narrate events, bridge continuity gaps caused by the re-editing, and explain what was going on (despite the dubbing of the lead characters, much of the supporting cast’s Japanese dialogue remained intact, while Burr’s footage was filmed and intercut to look as if his character were standing on the sidelines, having the conversations translated to him). To be fair, the American version was not a complete bastardization but a reasonable attempt to present a new and unfamiliar piece of filmmaking to an audience that needed some kind of bridge to cross the cultural gap. In at least one small way, the U.S. version improves on the multi-character scenario of the original: by using Burr’s reporter as a central viewpoint, the plot threads are tied up and presented much more clearly to the audience.
The aftermath of Godzilla rampage deliberately evokes Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The aftermath of Godzilla rampage deliberately evokes Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In every other way, however, the Japanese version is superior. With an opening scene that consciously recalls the fate of the unfortunate Lucky Dragon (a fishing boat is incinerated by a blinding nuclear flash from beneath the sea), the film intends to convey a shocking sense of the consequences of atomic weapons. Unlike the reassuring tone of American films of the period, which suggested that any nuclear aberrations could be dispatched by the same science that created them, GOJIRA offers no such consolation.
Director and co-writer Ishiro Honda (himself a war veteran) tried to capture a realistic sense of war-like devastation, a warning of what was bound to happen since the nuclear genie had been unleashed from the bottle. Aided by Eija Tsuburaya’s special effects and Akira Ifukube’s dramatic music, Honda went a long way toward achieving his goal, but much of the impact was mitigated in the American release, which not only added Burr’s scenes but also deleted several sequences (U.S. prints ran less than 80 minutes, approximately twenty minutes short of the original).

The restored footage helps fill out the characterization and ground the story in a convincing sense of reality. Several previously unseen moments stand out: the clarification that the film’s morally conflicted Dr. Serizawa lost his eye in WWII, meaning he’s a war hero; Serizawa’s overheated insistence that he “has no German friends” (he doth protest too much, making one wonder whether in fact he is not in touch with ex-Nazi scientists he might have met during the war); the insistence by paleontologist Dr. Yamane’s (SEVEN SAMURAI’s Takashi Shimura) that Godzilla is worth studying because he is capable of surviving an H-bomb (something that should be of interest to the only country ever to suffer a nuclear attack).
Of the restored scenes, most memorable is a brief dialogue aboard a train: when a male passenger jokes that his girlfriend will be the first victim should Godzilla appear in Tokyo, she responds, “Not me. Not after I survived the bomb at Nagasaki.” One shouldn’t overemphasize the impact of this scene (as filmed, it’s almost a throwaway) but the fact that it was deleted from American prints for decades lends its reappearance here the uncomfortable cutting edge, reminding viewers that Godzilla exists because of America’s nuclear attacks on civilian populations.
In other cases, subtitles enhance scenes that were visible but not translated in the U.S. version. In one scene, a mother hopelessly huddles with her two children on the sidewalk; with nowhere left to run from Godzilla’s rampage, the only comfort she can offer to her offspring is, “We’ll be with your father soon. We’ll see him in heaven.” In the second, as a crowd of evacuees stands near the shore, one orphaned character repeats, “Damn it!” while helplessly watching Godzilla overturn a bridge on its way back to the ocean. Unlike later Godzilla sequels, which filmed endless monster battles as if they were a wrestling matches staged atop a toy train set, moments like these keep the camera at eye level with the human characters, so that the special effects never become mere fun-filled spectacle. This is a film that makes you want to cringe at the destruction on screen, not applaud the ingenuity of the technicians.

Low-key lighting obscures flaws in the suit-mation effects.
Low-key lighting obscures flaws in the suit-mation effects.

This approach helps overcome the flaws in the special effects. The film’s “suit-mation” technology has always been derided by American purists, who preferred the stop-motion techniques used by Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen (in which puppets with metal armatures are filmed one frame at a time). But the use of a man-in-a-suit, stomping around a detailed miniature cityscape, allowed for scenes of destruction that would have been impossible to achieve with the painstakingly slow stop-motion process. Filmed with low-key lighting to suggest the nighttime attacks, Gojira’s raids on Tokyo achieve a wonderfully moody atmosphere that does not quite blind the eye to the occasionally visible wires, but does incline one to forgive the mistakes in favor of appreciating the overall tone.
That’s because these sequences have a cumulative effect that is more impressive than anything scene in the 1998 American blockbuster. Edited together with shots that are always dramatic (even when not convincing), the imperfections fly by almost too fast to register. Thanks to fast-paced editing and stark photography, Godzilla’s rampage conveys a sense of approaching, inevitable doom as no other special effects sequence ever has. With numerous composite shots to put Godzilla in the frame with his human victims, the sense of danger is conveyed unlike anything in any subsequent sequels. The achievement is best illustrated, perhaps, by the brief moment when television cameras atop a tower broadcast long shots of the Tokyo skyline engulfed in a sea of flames. The reporter on the scene insists to his viewers (and by extension to the film’s actual audience) that this “is not a play or a motion picture!” Of course, we know it really is a movie, but we get the message: the film is telling us to take what we’re seeing seriously, and for perhaps for the one and only time in a Godzilla film, we do.


click to purchase
click to purchase

Classic Media’s two-disc DVD contains both versions of the film, plus some nice bonus features. The DVDs are packaged in a lovely box that, intentionally or not, suggest the look of import DVDs of the film that you used to find in specialty stores like Anime Jungle in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles. Inside the box there is a glossy sixteen-page booklet, featuring a few publicity photographs from the film, along with an excellent essay on the film’s history by Steve Ryfle (author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the “Big G).
Disc One contains GOJIRA(divided into 24 chapter stops), plus a handful of extras: an audio commentary, two featurettes, and a Japanese trailer.
Both featurettes consist of voice-over narration illustrated by publicity stills and/or storyboard artwork. The first documents the development of the story (along with the many changes that occurred betwixt conception and final execution). The second performs a similar service regarding the design and construction of the Godzilla suit. Both are so informative that even well-read fans may find much they do not already know, and the absence of on-screen interviews is hardly felt, thanks to the effective use of still images to illustrate the spoken text.
The audio commentary by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski fares slightly less well. If you have read books are articles by either of these two experts, you are likely to hear much that is familiar, especially during the early portions of the film, when the discussion examines the general background of the film, rather than scene-specific details. Fortunately, as the two authors delve deeper into the subject, they mine details and offer opinions that should entertain and enlighten the faithful. In one case, they even point out a special effect that I had never noticed, despite watching the film numerous times: when the villagers on Odo Island respond to the alarm bell by running up hill, you can see Godzilla’s footprints in the hillside.
Ryfle and Godziszewski make a solid argument for considering the film as a classic, and they do a good job of underlining the film’s themes, particularly as they are expressed in the conflicted character of Dr. Serizawa, a scientist whose invention can destroy Godzilla – but only at the potential cost of releasing an even more dangerous superweapon upon the world. They also acknowledge the film’s flaws (e.g., the miniature missiles bouncing off the painted sky in the background) without undermining their central thesis, that the film is a somber work worthy of serious consideration.
Disc Two contains GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (divided into a meager 9 chapter stops), a U.S. trailer, and another audio commentary by Ryfle and Godziszewski.
Unlike the Japanese trailer, which emphasizes the somber tone of the film, the American trailer is awash in enthusiastic hyberbole that is not only rather infectious but also gives a good idea of the diverging approach the American produces took when preparing the film for U.S. audiences, tightening the pace and emphasizing the action, so that the result emerged looking rather like a typical American sci-fi film from the period.
The audio commentary on this re-tooled version of the film is perhaps more interesting, because there is so much ground to cover in terms of pointing out the changes made and discussing the details of transplanting Gojira/Godzilla from Japan to America. Ryfle and Godziszewski are joined at different points by Ted Newsom and Terry Morse, Jr (son of the man who directed the new American footage), and Ryfle also plays audio excerts from interviews he conducted with some of the people involved in purchasing the rights to distribute the film in the U.S.
Ogata (Akira Takarada, center) and Emiko (Momoko Kochi, right) convince Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata, lest) to use his Oxygen Destroyer against Godzilla.
Ogata amd Emiko (Akira Takarada and Momoko Kochi, center) convince Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata, left) to use his Oxygen Destroyer against Godzilla.

Although Ryfle and Godziszewski obviously prefer the original GOJIRA, they treat the Americanized version with respect, even pointing out a few instances when it improves upon the original, such as Ogata’s line to convince Serizawa to use the Oxygen Destroyer against the monster: “You have your fear, which may become reality. And you have Godzilla, which is reality.”
Perhaps the most salient point that the duo make is that, although GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS may seem like a bastardization of the original, it nonetheless deserves its place in film history because its success helped launch the Japanes giant monster craze that followed. GOJIRA may be the superior version, but it never would have played in local theatres across America. By adding Raymond Burr as a reporter-narrator, director Morse and company gave the film a much needed Occidental point-of-view that allowed audiences a way of seeing into the Japanese world of the film.
Unfortunately, as essential as this DVD set is, it is not quite perfect. GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS lacks subtitles of any kind, making it difficult to follow the story while listening to the audio commentary (something I prefer to do). The subtitles on GOJIRA are of a slightly dull color, making them sometimes hard to read depending on the background image. Both prints are in good shape, having been struck relatively recently, but the sad fact is that that film may never be seen in pristine form again, thanks to wear and tear on the negative that especially rears its ugly head during the special effects scenes.
Ryfle and Godziszewski make a gaffe or two. In the GOJIRA commentary, Godziszewski refers to a shot (of a mother huddling with her children during Gojira’s night-time raid on Tokyo) as missing from the American version, which is incorrect. Fortunately, in the GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS commentary, Ryfle rightly points out that the shot is there; it is simply not subtitled, so you miss its significance. (The young mother hopelessly tells her children they will be joining their father soon in heaven – which evokes thoughts of the Japanese soldiers who died in World War II.)
Perhaps most disappointing, the GOJIRA audio commentary mentions a reference to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki that does not actually occur in the film, at least in the print on this DVD. In the scene (which was deleted from the American version), a woman commuter laments the appearance of Gojira and – in the subtitles for some prints – adds, “I hope I didn’t survive Nagasaki for nothing.” Although both Ryfle and Godziszewski mention the reference (Ryfle even quotes it later, in the GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS commentary), it is not seen in the subtitles here. And truth be told, listening to the Japanese dialogue, I’m not sure I can hear the woman say Nagasaki, leaving me to wonder if the subtitles on earlier prints were a mistake. In any case, it is a glaring anamoly to hear the two experts discussing something is not actually visible to the viewer, and only someone who had seen older import tapes of the movie would know what they are talking about.
Despite these minor flaws, the new GOJIRA DVD is a genuin gem. Thanks to later sequels, which rapidly descended into juvenile, anthropomorphized antics, with Godzilla acting as the proctor of Earth against other monsters and/or alien invasions, Godzilla is not something we take seriously as film art. Yet the monster’s very first film appearance ranks as one of the classic sci-fi-fantasy-horror films, worthy of standing beside the original KING KONG in all his majesty. Hopefully, this DVD will help secure GOJIRA’s rightful place in the pantheon of movie monsters.

An elaborate miniature setting for Godzilla's raid on Tokyo

GODZILLA (Gojira, Toho Studios, 1954; a.k.a. GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS,1956). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Ishiro Honda and Takeo Murata, from a story by Shigeru Kayama. Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura.

  • Alone among Godzilla films, the 1954 original was known for many decades – even in English-speaking circles – only by its Japanese title, GOJIRA. This usage made sense when the film had not been released under the title GODZILLA; it helped distinguish the uncut Japanese version from its Americanized off-shoot, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. However, since Rialto’s 2004 release used the English title GODZILLA, that is the usage adopted in this review. As a side note, no one seems to know precisely why or how Toho Studios decided to rename their most famous monster for export to the rest of the world.