Godzilla (1954)

03/06/2019 06:47

Film: Godzilla (Gojira)

Year: 1954

Director: Ishirô Honda

Writer:  Takeo Murata and Ishirô Honda

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata and Akira Takarada



I should start this off stating that growing up, I loved Godzilla series. I obviously grew up watching the films where he would battle other monsters and was a defender of the human race. It wasn’t until I got a little bit older and talked to my father who really only likes this one and some of the newer ones, especially the ones where Godzilla is a villain. To get into this review, American nuclear weapons testing results in the creation of a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast.

This film doesn’t waste any time getting into it. We see a shipping vessel be destroyed in the middle of the ocean. A distress call was sent out and Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada) takes the call. He apologizes to Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kôchi) as he has to cancel plans with her. His ship is then destroyed as well. Others try to rescue the survivors, but any ship that goes there is destroyed.

On a nearby island, they see a raft coming toward them. On it is Ogata. There is a local legend of a sea creature called Godzilla. Some of the elders think that the bad fishing is caused by it and that it will come ashore soon. That night a typhoon hits, but there seems to be something bigger inside of it. A professor is called in, the father of Emiko, Kyohei (Takashi Shimura). It is during there investigation they learn there are giant footprints that are radioactive. In one of the prints, they find a creature that was supposed to be long extinct. They also get a glimpse of the giant lizard as well.

Kyohei believes that the creature was in an underwater cave and that underwater H-bomb testing released it. He also thinks that it has a natural defense to radiation. There is a scientist that the local reporter wants to talk to as they think he might have a way to stop it. He asks to speak with Emiko who was engaged to be married to him. The scientist is Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata). He refuses to talk to the reporter, but shows something to Emiko. He swears her to secrecy though.

Things get much worse when Godzilla comes on to the mainland and destroys cities. Everything they try to do fail and it just leaves a path of destruction. It crushes them underfoot, with his tail and using his fire-breath. The only reprieve is that it goes back into the ocean to rest. Is there a way to stop this monster before he destroys Tokyo and all of Japan?

Now I hadn’t watched this film since college. I actually decided in a short time to watch the Japanese version as well as the American version where they add random scenes of Raymond Burr. For this, I saw in my local theater as part of their Horror 101 series the Japanese version again. The biggest take away from this film is how bleak it is.

I want to start with this film isn’t too long after the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. There is actually a woman who states that she survived one of the attacks by fleeing before it happened. I think it’s important to bring up, because I think the country is still in a state of depressing and shock. The film really speaks out against the use of these types of weapons. It is actually stating we need to stop using them as the final line. Going with that, it frees Godzilla from its underwater cavern and has immunity to the radioactivity as well. It doesn’t really shy away from being an anti-war and anti-bomb film even being anti-American since they feel these are two things that are associated with the country. There is even a reluctance to use the weapon that could destroy Godzilla, because the scientist doesn’t trust humanity to not pursue using it against their fellow man. This gives it a feel of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb and their reluctance toward they created.

To get to some of the realism of this one, I do think that there’s a possibility that there could be underwater caves in the ocean that could house creatures like this. I also could just see them living down there since it goes so deep that we haven’t gotten close to exploring down there. Do I think the creature could do the things that Godzilla can? Not necessarily, but this could be a creature this size for sure. I think the abilities go back to making Godzilla an almost unstoppable monster and make it to where we don’t think he can be stopped.

I did have a slight issue with the pacing. I thought it started off well and it builds tension as Godzilla gets closer and closer to mainland. It does well in building that bleak feel as well when everything they try to stop it fails. There is a section though in the latter second act, early third act that it hit a lull. We get a lot of the aftermath of the attacks and trying to convince Serizawa to help that I lost some interest. I do feel that the ending is a bit forced and gets explained a bit too much as well. It doesn’t ruin the film, but I think it hurts the pacing a bit.

Acting though is something that I found to be good. Takarada is pretty good as our hero. What is interesting about him is that he works for a shipping company. He is a good guy, but he does get a bit rude to the man he wants to be his father-in-law. Takarada wants to destroy Godzilla where Kyohei wants to study it. I do like Shimura and can see where he is coming from for his role. This is a monster that hasn’t been seen for millions of years and we could learn a lot from it. The problem though is that it is odd, because I don’t know how he proposes to actually do it. I like this is anti-war, pro-science and animal film though. Kôchi was solid in her role and I like Hirata as well. The rest of the cast round out the film pretty well also.

The effects for this film are quite interesting. They did a great job of using models and toys to bring these things to life. When the film was made, everything had to be pretty much be done practically or tricks with the film. There are times you can see that they aren’t real, but I really didn’t mind it. It looks better than some things done with CGI in my opinion. I love seeing Godzilla destroy these things and even though I know it is a guy in a suit, I think there is more of realism to it. I thought the look of the monster as also solid and the film was shot well.

Last thing to touch on before wrapping this up is the score and sound design. I do think they go a bit heavy handed with the thudding of Godzilla walking and there are even times when he’s in the water that it wouldn’t be heard like it is. I do let that slide, because it gives a feeling of foreboding with each one. The roar of the monster is great and it seems like how it would sound. I do think there are some good musical selections that enhance the scenes as well, contributing at times to that bleak feel of the film for sure.

Now with that said, I really enjoy this film. I don’t think it is perfect, but it does a lot of things right and the underlying message is one that is still relevant today. There are some slight pacing issues for me, but I think the acting, effects and score of the film make up for that. The effects don’t always look real, but I will prefer the man in a suit, models and toys over CGI any day. I will warn you that this version was in Japanese, but there is the American version that is out there. I have seen that before and it is just as solid. It is in black and white though, so keep that in mind. I find this to be a really good movie.


My Rating: 9 out of 10