Friday, February 10, 2012

Gojira (Godzilla) (1954)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, a gift I bought for Miles, because I am an awesome girlfriend (sometimes).
92/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

Despite my love of Japanese culture and affinity for sci-fi movies, I had never seen the original Godzilla. Luckily this was righted after Criterion released a blu-ray edition this month! The now-famous lizard monster started off as a mysterious creature birthed in the fires of radiation after WWII, stumbling upon the shores of Japan and just generally tearing shit up. The government works to find a way to destroy him, while a consulting paleontologist wants to study him. When nothing seems powerful enough to take this fire-breathing monster down, a troubled scientist may be forced to use a weapon he invented accidentally that he fears more than anything.

Made in response to Japan's experiences during WWII, Godzilla is mostly devoid of the "Ahhhh IT'S GODZILLAAAAA" camp silliness that the series is known for. It's a fairly serious, straightforward look at a country in crisis, still recovering from a cataclysmic event and now faced with another unstoppable force. The characters were all alive during the war, and know the dangers of extreme military force and experimental weaponry. The story is primarily seen through the eyes of Ogata (Akira Takarada), a ship captain, and his fiancee Emiko (Momoko Kochi), the daughter of consulting scientist Dr Yamane (Takashi Shimura)- regular, compassionate citizens who know that dangerous means must be taken to overcome this unrelenting force of nature that's killing so many citizens. Using their friend Daisuke's secret weapon is an ethical dilemma- unleashing this kind of technology could cause future damage, and lead to catastrophe on the same level as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film's anti-violence message is strong, but not over done, working itself smoothly into the happenings of the story instead of being tacked on awkwardly like in several other movies of its ilk.

One thing I didn't expect about Godzilla is the BABES! Seriously, the two main dudes are super attractive in different ways. Ogata's got the boyish charm and form-fitting undershirt, while Daisuke's got an eyepatch, lab coat, and a sexy, sexy tortured soul. I figure the filmmakers were like, "Ok, we have a giant fire-breathing monster for the kids, an undercurrent of social commentary for the adults, we gotta throw in some hunks for the ladies." But the joke's on you, filmmakers, because I like all three of those things! Sure the effects are dated but overall I think the monster looks really good, there is some great use of miniatures and a number of fiery explosions. And that metallic sound effect for his roar is killer. The soundtrack is fantastic overall, especially that driving, dramatic main theme.

Great job, Godzilla. I hope you aren't really incinerated or whatever so you can come back for a million more installments!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There are traces of The Thing From Another World in the science vs military aspects. Although generally I think The Day the Earth Stood Still is a good pairing for a "Great Sci-Fi With a Message" kind of night.

3 comments:

  1. Awesome movie, after this Godzilla got waaay goofier (the 60s and 70s were ultra kiddie...then came a version of Godzilla that was a bit more adult, but just a bit mind you, these films will always have a level of camp attached to them.

    I personally enjoy the newer ones like Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, I recommend that one if your ever in the mood for another Godzilla flick.

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  2. Film Connoisseur: Yeah I have seen a little of some of the later ones that got goofy, and some of the similarly-minded monster movies like MOTHER and GAMERA. My boyfriend is into the series and has seen all of them, so I expect I'll be watching more with him sometime!

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  3. In 2002, this film started making the rounds to various American film-festivals and seemed to get SRO cheers wherever it went. One aspect I enjoy most is the "town hall" scene where women are jeering the Old Men chairing the meeting, demanding to know more.

    Doesn't seem like much, really, does it? Except in 1947, a new constitution was approved giving women the vote. Now, instead of having their heads chopped off, they were the ones with shaking fists and rising voices after ending a long history of militarist propoganda and lies.

    Honda said these were the important scenes for him to include, and those were the ones he received the most criticism for. From whom? Old men financiers who ran the studios, banks, etc, who enjoyed the safety of bunkers and never endured famine or shortages. And Honda's follow-up films never again included such scenes.

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