Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gojira

Aye GODZILLA! Run for your life! Gojira is the classic that unleashed a cultural icon on an unsuspecting world.

I wish I had a dollar for every night sweat I had as a child. Godzilla generated nightmares that set the beast loose on the city steets of my dreams. I ran on faceless streets and around building corners to escape the rampaging monsters on the loose in my mind. Honestly, I would be a rich man now. Seriously, I was always on the run and the dreams were quite intense as I hustled my way through droves of people. It was pandemonium, but I always seemed to remain one step ahead of the beast. I was always smarter. Fortunately, when things got too hot and it seemed Godzilla or any one of his myriad associates had found me I woke up. I escaped death's scaly clutches, raging fires and crumbling buildings like some well-trained Olympian.
*
One of the first appearances of Godzilla's atomic breath. The visuals for the atomic breath would change along with the physical appearance of the Godzilla suit across 28 films.
To be clear, going forward, Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic will be detailing the official Japanese releases. I'm a purist this way. I'll try and play it straight. While I certainly loved the English translations of Godzilla films as a child, and I may look at those, like any product, I generally prefer the originals. Granted, if there ever was a product I enjoyed that was treated with an Americanized mash up, it would have to be Godzilla.
*
I also don't like bootlegs, fakes or phonies. I steer clear of them and certainly advocate for the official releases. I want the creators to get what they deserve and I want them to make more. Further, the writers, directors and actors behind the works of Japan's greatest monster had a vision and I feel the need to respect and honor that vision unmolested by edits, additional footage or dubs. I may enjoy the dub translations immensely, but by and large I prefer the original actor's voices and inflections when seeing a story told as it was intended. Translations often lose the nuance or intonation. Admittedly I did love some of the English dubs and I may eat my words like Godzilla eats a train car. Anyway, bring on the subtitles!
*
I was going to purchase the Blu-Ray, but heard fairly negative reviews concerning its print that I remained with my standard DVD, which actually looks surprisingly terrific. Besides, all of my Godzilla and Gamera films are in standard DVD so why bother? I should count myself lucky to have them on DVD at all. I have many Ishiro Honda classics that we are fortunate to see make it stateside.
*
You'll note Godzilla in the background.
Goijra [1954], by Director Ishiro Honda, was the origin and seed for my seemingly endless night terrors. Honda set the tone with his dark vision of an atomic child awakened, a prehistoric creature from the waters of Japan. Godzilla was indirectly the atomic offspring of two World War II atom bombs, Fat Man and Little Boy, dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th, 1945 consecutively.
*
It's understandable why such a fully-formed, vivid creation would spring from the minds and imaginations of Japan's affected artists following such a brutal war. They lived it too. They suffered. The pain was real and still fresh. I certainly don't fault my country, President Harry S. Truman or our military actions taken to end that war. World War II was the single biggest in loss of life in American history. Further, I've seen candid interviews with some Japanese creators who, despite the horrors of that war, understand why actions unfolded as they did by the Americans. Director Isao Takahata of Grave Of The Fireflies [1988] was one such critic of his homeland's own actions in the war. Director Isao Takahata commented on GhibliWorld.com during an interview at Anima 2006, “I completely disagree with people… that claim that Japan had no other option than to go to war. It was no reaction to something that happened, but Japan’s own choice to attack other Asian countries and also the war with America was a result of this wrong choice.” It's troubling to see people attempt to rewrite the facts of World War II today. The fact is war is hell and citizens of any nation suffer the fate of their governments's actions first. With World War II fresh in the hearts and minds of the Japanese, the concept and profound nuclear allegory that Gojira became would resonate for years to come particularly with the Japanese people.
*
Seriously? Challenge me.
What Goijra or Godzilla accomplished remains as culturally significant to the Japanese today. The enduring cinematic efforts may lack the political significance of the original, but it's easily as iconic as Star Trek is to the world today. These symbols are as much apart of the global consciousness as the nations from which they heralded. Godzilla is as much an icon as Spock and equally beloved the world over.

Godzilla gears up to let her rip. When the back plates light be afraid, be very afraid.
Getting my hands around the Godzilla mythology is another undertaking altogether. In fact, we'll need to learn to crawl like a fish onto land before we can walk. Godzilla did some swimming of his own before crawling out of the ocean. Eventually he even flew. We need to do the same here so one thing at a time. Like the subtle changes in mythology, Godzilla, the character, undergoes a number of physcial changes. Not only does he alter from rampaging monster [Gojira] to children's hero [Godzilla vs. Megalon] back to villain and seeming anti-hero [Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla], but Godzilla also undergoes several physical suitmation transformations over the decades. It's easy to note the severity in some of Godzilla's facial appearances in particular and the size and number of his dorsal plates going forward throughout the series. Keep an eye out for those changes. The ongoing Godzilla series is essentially broken down into three eras: Showa [fifteen films], Heisei [seven films] and Millennium [six films]. I'm definitely more knowledgable regarding the Showa era and certainly have a biased affection for it. I've probably seen them all at least once except for Godzilla Raids Again. Despite being ignorant beyond that period I do look forward to watching the Hesei and Millennium pictures.
*
Godzilla as seen in his undergound ocean lair.
Director Ishiro Honda is a bit of a god in some circles. I count myself among those who worship the man's craft. His successes far outweigh his failures. He certainly doesn't receive the same respect outside of Japan. His counterpart and contemporary, Director Akira Kurosawa, has received far better treatment critcally on a global level. The disrespect toward Honda is a direct result of his insistence to work within the genre of the kaiju-eiga [monster movie]. Working with monster movies has unfairly removed and excluded him from serious consideration as an acclaimed director internationally. He deserves better and he's a master in the field. Besides, Honda created Godzilla. This alone makes him legend. The man never really needed to lift another finger, but thank God he did. Honda directed and co-wrote Gojira. The film was released two years later in the USA as Godzilla, King Of The Monsters [1956] in a newly re-edited form with newly inserted American footage. More on Godzilla, King Of The Monsters in a separate entry. More on Ishiro Honda below. This is my very first attempt at the daikaiju [giant monster] genre, and the kaiju-eiga, the Japanese term for "monster movie," here on Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. I'll give the series I've always adored from afar casually my very best shot, especially for the die-hards. I certainly have fond memories of Godzilla and will give the old, giant lizard king the respect he deserves, while having a bit of fun.
*
Godzilla is a fire-breathing dinosaur. He's a culmination of parts T-Rex, parts Iguanadon and parts Stegosaurus]. He is the ultimate pre-historic, mutant dragon complete with Stegosaurus back plates awakened from the Pacific waters of Japan by atomic testing after being dormant. Mythologies and facts do tend to differ slightly. Godzilla was a highlight for me on Saturday afternoons growing up often spearheading a series dubbed Creature Double Feature. It was fantastic! Saturdays were a real highlight. I couldn't get enough of Creature Double Feature and my good friend Godzilla and his vast array of adversaries. I recall enjoying it so much so that one Saturday my mother made me leave home for swimming lessons at the local town beach. It was not uncommon, regardless of how cold it was outside or in the water, to be forced to swim. I hated it. "Get in the water," said the instructor. I was like, screw that! Not to mention having to navigate low tide and the vast assortment of Godzilla-like creatures that populated the beach's ocean floor like the notorious spider-crab or the horseshoe crab. I even managed to miss a shark one weekend. Yikes, it was all scary. So finally I just lost it. I told my mother as we readied to walk out the door, "Mom, I hope next Saturday I'm so sick I can't even move." And I was. What did I know wishing for such an awful thing, I was young. Fortunately, I got a simple 24 hour flu. I was throwing up, eating jello and drinking ginger ale. Life couldn't be better. It was all good, because I got to stay home for Rodan [1956] and Daimajin [1966]. It was living.
*
Hand puppet attacks!
We begin with the landmark 1954 film, Gojira ,and a story that would endure the ages thanks to a script by Ishiro Honda and Takeo Murata, based on an original story by Shigeru Kayama. Special Effects work was gloriously imprinted by Eiji Tsuburaya. Designer Tsuburaya intended to utilize stop motion animation effects for Gojira, but time constraints and cost issues forced his hand. Be sure to check out The Making Of The Godzilla Suit featurette if you purchase the Gojira DVD. Instead, Tsuburaya decided upon miniature sets and models and a costumed actor [dubbed suitmation] who suffered dearly for his efforts. Tsuberaya made the impossible possible given his timetable. Tsuburaya's techniques weren't necessarily groundbreaking, but they were executed with an auteur-like hand. The sheer classic nature of the grainy, black and white film stock, the speed with which it was shot using a high frame rate and its dark tone gave Gojira a film noir style and a unique look on film. The work of Honda, Tsuburaya and Cinematographer Masao Tamai backed by Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka generated a chemistry that launched a legend. Together, a global hit was born. The legacy of Godzilla would take Toho Studios to new heights. Toho Studios supported the keystone of their productions, but also boasted the works of Akira Kurosawa creating a Japanese powerhouse.
*
Actor Akira Takarada would become a key player for both Ishiro Honda and Toho Studios.
Given the history that preceded the picture, Gojira is a dark, frightening warning to a world as yet unmolested by the impact of an atom bomb. Japan's national psyche is the only one truly put to the test by such a devastating device. Across the opening credits, the first sound we hear is the classic howl of the world's greatest monster, Godzilla. The theme music or Main Title is provided by Composer Akira Ifukube and is a psychologically unstoppable and classic composition that adds to the anxiety and dread of a nation. Ifukube also placed his trademark on Godzilla's howl by working the sound effect on a contrabass. Ifukube would remain an important player in the Godzilla franchise long-term.
*
Actress Momoko Kochi would later appear in The Mysterians [1957] and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah [1995].
The story opens with homage to a real-life incident that impacted Japanese fishermen. Honda planned more haunting images before filming, but opted for a less vitriolic message. The Eiko-Maru, a Southern Steamship Company vessel, is lost at sea for "unknown reasons." The Bingo-Maru is en route to investigate. It meets a similar fate. Three survivors are rescued by a passing fishing boat and they are headed to Odo Island. "The ocean just blew up!" The Kotaka vessel is en route to assist, but it too is swallowed by the ocean. More would follow and meet similar fates including the fishing boat. Families hit Japan's shores hoping for survivors. One survivor, Masaji, tells all responding villagers that it was a "monster" before slipping unconscious.
*
The rescued fisherman's "monster" could have been referring to a particularly horrific incident in American history. It's important to note there is no escaping the Japanese psychology that underlines this film. There is a great deal in play, back in the day, concerning the newly uncovered nuclear nightmare facing the globe and more immediately the impact on the Japanese following World War II. The destruction of The Bingo-Maru is an allusion to a real incident on the Japanese tuna trawler, The Lucky Dragon No.5. Nuclear testing by the Unites States commenced in early 1954 on the Bikini Atoll [Marshall Islands]. Americans underestimated the safety zone as the bomb was many megatons larger than those dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The Lucky Dragon No.5 was in the vicinity of the detonation of this thermonuclear hydrogen bomb dubbed Castle Bravo. Radiation fallout affected the fishing vessel's crew for hours, falling from the sky, and led to their eventual premature deaths. It understandably added to already growing concerns in the hearts of the Japanese following World War II. This alarming historical footnote was indeed one of the more unpleasant moments in United States history and is referenced here in Gojira. The fates of these boats are symbolic of the fate of Lucky Dragon No.5. The world as Japan knew it is subtly woven into the fabric of the film.
*
An old man from the Odo Island village indicates that it must be "Godzilla." Some ridicule him, calling him and Godzilla "relics from days past." He warns them that they too could all "become prey for Godzilla!" The old man's beliefs run deep and folklore references the unseen beast. Later, at an exorcism ceremony, the old man tells the villagers Godzilla lives in the sea and will "feed upon humankind to survive." Legend has it the villagers used to sacrifice girls to satisfy Godzilla. The hope was to guarantee a good fishing harvest. Heck, why not? What's one female villager among friends?
*
A fierce storm arrives upon Odo Island. Along with the wind and rain comes another deadly force of nature, Godzilla, but we never actually see anything. This is one of the great rules of a truly scary, frightening or suspenseful monster movie. DO NOT SHOW THE MONSTER RIGHT AWAY! HOLD THE MONSTER BACK AS LONG AS YOU CAN. This is why Alien [1979] worked so well or a simple little monster flick like The Relic [1997]. Limited access to the actual monster keeps the viewer engaged and on the seat's edge. So yes, KEEP THE MONSTER HIDDEN! This, of course, is a rule that is generally not applied in the Godzilla series. Truth be told, fans of Godzilla like it that way. We like to our Godzilla in big doses. Like Lost In Space [1965-1968] here in America. Godzilla started in black and white, turned to color and gradualy migrated from the substantive, serious tone to more accessible adventures for kids [the suits know their market]. Personally, I don't find Godzilla as camp like the latter episodes of Lost In Space. In Japan, the creators play Godzilla as an authentic reality and the actors perform within their world with deadly seriousness. There are moments of outrageous amusement, but it doesn't devolve into camp humor.

"Well, what could go wrong?" [famous last words].
The story continues and a meeting is called in Tokyo. Seventeen Houses are destroyed, nine people die, even cows [twelve] and pigs [eight] are counted as part of the devastation. Testimonials by Odo villagers and others indicate there was something else inside that hurricane. Houses collapsed not by wind, but by sheer brute force from above. A paleontologist, Dr. Kyohei Yamane, requests the formation of an Odo Island Research Party. A mysterious man with an eye patch watches from afar as the group departs for Odo Island.

These folks are not tourists!
On Odo Island, the group begins its study. Radioactivity is unveiled in the villagers' well water. A footprint impression is discovered and believed to be that of a great beast. Radiation is once again detected by the unprotected group. They clearly weren't prepared for the radiation as far as protective gear goes, yet they have Geiger counter equipment. Hmmm. Really? One of the men finds a long extinct trilobite clearly carried within Godzilla's clawed toes. The stomp of footprints leads villagers to the top of Odo Island.

The folks are stunned to find the creature [applied through the use of a hand puppet]. They all flee from the horrifying first sighting of Godzilla. When they run, they run with cameras. The One To Be Pitied indicates the Japanese - "do love their cameras." She's being a wiseguy. That's not really fair because they are a study group and some of the locals have guns and samurai swords. Looking downward to the shores of the island from high atop Odo, the villagers see the footprints of the great Godzilla.

video
*
A beautiful piece of matte art.
While the visual effects were not groundbreaking int he day, Gojira did implement its effects in new and exciting ways. Director Ishiro Honda does work the camera masterfully and weaves the visuals almost seamlessly into a film over fifty years old. The black and white masks some of the modelling or string creating a nightmarishly effective film. It's a stunning achievement this film still looks as slick today.

Again, a meeting is called in Tokyo to discuss the Godzilla sighting. The men talk of the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. According to Odo Island folklore, Godzilla was the evolutionary creation of a creature bred between these two periods. It is determined Godzilla is 50 meters tall and that he has somehow found a deep sea niche for sustenance. It is believed he has been awakened by hydrogen bomb testing. It is conceivable Godzilla has been dislodged from the comfort of its specific location with its habitat altered. There's no mention of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but the message is implied and clear without having to spell it out. The trilobite found in Godzilla's footprint impression is discussed. The trilobites hailed from the Paleozoic Era. This era pre-dated the Mesozoic Era where the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods fall. I'm not sure if the facts are accurate here. There could be a discrepancy in the time period, but I'll leave that to the real paleontologists.
*
As the meeting continues, the men are informed of the existence of Strontium-90 in the sand. The sand carried by the foot of Godzilla suggests the existence of atomic radiation of the kind generated from an atom bomb. It is believed Godzilla itself absorbed an astonishing amount of radiation. Godzilla is indeed a child of the atom bomb. This is the lesson of Gojira and the unintended consequences should nuclear testing continue. It is announced these findings should not be made public and many agree. Others decry such a move. The men plea that world affairs are "fragile enough," suggesting US-Japanese relations, and the information should remain closed. It's an interesting look into the mindset of the period following World War II. There's a sense of what comes off a bit like national shame in the segment. I may be misreading it. This is considered a "delicate" situation. "The government, the economy and international relations would plunge into total chaos!"
*
Later, it is determined seventeen ships have been lost and a Counter-Godzilla Headquarters is established. There is also an anti-Godzilla frigate fleet preparing to drop depth charges on his estimated coordinates. Doctor Yamane exhibits the first notable reaction of empathy for Godzilla. He does not want to see the creature killed. After all, Godzilla is a living creature [some say god], merely awakened by human madness. So begins the dichotomy of emotion toward the king of the monsters going forward. This has always been a difficult pulse to navigate. The Boy Wonder asks whether Godzilla is "good or evil." Answering that question is painfully difficult and it depends on which film you are watching. Godzilla can only be described best as both depending on his mood and more importantly the script. Clearly, Godzilla is not "good" here in Gojira, but that would be one of many changes for the iconic creature spanning the decades.
*
The hair-raising boom of Godzilla's stomping feet, always a harbinger of things to come, grows in volume as Godzilla makes way toward a pleasure boat. It's a great moment that recalls the same concept being employed in more contemporary films like Jurassic Park [1993]. This brief appearance is exactly why Godzilla is so effective. Dark, sinister, random, like a child, its unpredictability is rolled up into one big unknown. This is simply brilliant suitmation footage and sets the tone and mood for the remainder of the film.

video
*
A pensive moment with a model of a Stegosaurus in the background. Its back plates would become part of Godzilla's iconic design.
The men in suits, not to be confused with Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima [more on him at a later date], appeal to Dr. Yamane for a way to destroy Godzilla. The professor is clearly in conflict over this request preferring Godzilla's survival. He points out Godzilla is a survivor and survives despite massive radioactive exposure. How could anything defeat such a creature? Yamane insists they should learn why Godzilla still lives. As a conflicted paleontologist with a thirst for knowledge, he prefers Godzilla remain alive, but ruminates in solitude.
*
Doctor Yamane's daughter, Emiko Yamane, is expected to wed Doctor Daisuke Serizawa. The mystery man's eye patch is the result of a war injury. It is yet another allusion to the legacy of the atomic bombing of Japan. Unfortunately for Serizawa, Emiko has always thought of him as a brother. I hate when that happens. You get the it's not you, it's me argument. Emiko loves shipman Hideto Ogata. The beautiful Emiko plans to break her engagement with Serizawa and informs Ogata of her plans.
*
Arriving at Serizawa Research Laboratory, Emiko meets with Serizawa. Serizawa shares his confidential project with Emiko. His life is at risk over it. It must remain a secret. In his basement, the whole scene is like something out of Frankenstein [1931]. Serizawa clearly spends a little too much time down there. His demonstration with fish in a tank causes Emiko to scream in terror. She is troubled by what she has witnessed, but the audience remains in the dark. She is the only one who knows of it and she promises to keep the secret. Unfortunately, as a result of this experiment, Emiko was unable to break her engagement to Serizawa. All is awkwardly quiet on the homefront until the looming sound of those ominous, giant footsteps arrive.
Godzilla returns. What I love about Godzilla is how he never RAMPAGES! He sort of lumbers into the party and carries a big stick unleashing all holy hell on his surroundings, but he does it with very little urgency. The film speed truly captures movements steeped in realism giving the effect of a massive, great creature of imposing weight and size. Size does matter, but it wouldn't if Godzilla moved at the kind of physical speeds captured on film for Godzilla Raids Again. That, and the fact suit actor Haruo Nakajima had difficulty maneuvering inside that bloody suit.

Ogata runs off, but not before Emiko informs him she was unable to tell Serizawa about her affair with Ogata. Godzilla is greeted by military gunfire. They will learn quickly the raw, impervious power of Godzilla. The city streets teem with activity as people mobilize in fear. The precedent setting scenes of people running in fear would become a trademark of the Godzilla series. Dr. Yamane warns that lights will only anger and attract Godzilla and you wouldn't like it when he's angry. The protagonists wisely take to the hills. Godzilla derails a train and chomps on the train cars.

These are the first classic images of people running for their lives in a Godzilla film.

video
*
Destruction is left in Godzilla's wake. Surprisingly there is very little military response to be found in this first go round. Officials plan on constructing an electric fence along the coast and sending 50,000 volts through it as a deterent. The military and coast guard will erect the defense plan to protect Tokyo. People are quickly evacuated. Aren't these the same people aware of Godzilla's massive radiation exposure? I suppose they have to try something.
*
At the Yamane's home, Ogata plans to ask for Emiko's father for his consent and her hand in marriage. That plan doesn't go so well. This is a great scene that speaks to Japan's psychological make-up at the time of the film and also offers some nice character moments of men conflicted over the fate of Godzilla. Could the roots of Godzilla's future status as Earth defender and defender of a nation be sown in this moment?

video
*
It is announced Godzilla cometh again. Bring on those model tanks and cars. Those tanks would become less conventional and more futuristic in upcoming Godzilla installments. Tanks and cars? You'll need more. That electric fence? No problem.

video

This is a beautiful shot of suitmation captured on film.
I was one of those people running in my night terrors. Yikes! Run for your life is right! You gotta love that fire breath. This sequence would be the first appearance of Godzilla's awesome, trademark power. We also witness the first appearance of his Stegosaurus like spine plates lighting up as a feature that coupled with his atmoic breath. Brilliant. It looks terrific in black and white. People are literally fire baked. You even get a taste of that wonderful score by Composer Akira Ifukube. Godzilla had some crazy ass eyes during the Showa series of films. Fires rage and Godzilla is doing what Godzilla does best - simply destroy with his unflagging, invincible wall of power!

video
*
Not unlike the fallout and lingering aftermath of two atomic bombs, the nuclear nightmare that is Godzilla reins havoc on Tokyo. Tanks and jets are no match for his firepower. Further, I do believe, despite the abundance of missiles that not a single jet missile actually hits Godzilla. Are these pilots terrible shots? He absolutely annihilates Tokyo with his atomic breath further reminding the Japanese of the fire bombings of Kobe. These fire bombings by the US on traditional Japanese villages is also displayed to great effect in Director Isao Takahata's animated feature Grave Of The Fireflies. This film, too, is a vivid realization of Japan's psychological imprisonment following World War II. It's also a painful, unflinching condemnation of Japan's treatment of its own following the war.

video

Gozilla lights it up.
Godzilla has left behind a "sea of flame." The slow, labored movements of Godzilla create the effect of an authentic, large, prehistoric beast. This authenticity is often missing in contemporary computer generated animation. Van Helsing [2004] comes to mind, for some reason, even the Tristar remake of Godzilla [1998] to some extent. I just can't understand why modern filmmakers refuse to slow down the animation. It's sloppy, haphazard, silly and generally careless. Why don't the creators care to get it right? Here's a glimpse of those now classic hand motions popularized by suit actor Haruo Nakajima.

video
*
They don't know what will happen to them, but we do.
In a mildly humorous moment, a reporter reports from a tower as Godzilla closes. He tells his TV audience at home that they cannot run or move and they simply don't know what is going to happen. Sure, I'll tell you. You are going to die. Your demise is imminent. Do they die? Yes, yes they do and Godzilla chomps their tower to boot. With Godzilla's handiwork complete he heads back to his ocean home. Tokyo is absolutely laid to waste. Some of the images caught on film could be easily symbolic of the broken spirits of the Japanese people after World War II separated and damaged by the ravages of war. The lengthy devastation unleashed upon Tokyo in Gojira is built to symbolically mirror the impact of the atom bombs dropped on Japan.
*
Ogata arrives at one of the shelters and finds Emiko. She tells him of Serizawa's secret. "I must betray him." Why not? This would be her second betrayal following the affair. Finally, the audience witnesses the events of the day Serizawa shared his secret with Emiko. Emiko's flashback exposes images of the fish in a tank instantly skeletonized. The device Serizawa utilized he termed an "Oxygen disintegrator." It is an Oxygen Destroyer. Serizawa could wipeout Tokyo Bay making it nothing more than a boneyard. His weapon is tantamount to a nuclear device and that's the point. Toho and Director Honda's message is logical. How far are nations willing to go with weapons of mass destruction? Where or when will it end? Emiko frets the latest big thing could fall into the wrong hands, like, say, the government. Humankind could be wiped out. Serizawa believes it could be implemented for good, which is why he maintains its secrecy and believes in his work. Ogata believes Serizawa will forgive her for her violation. Breaking the secret? Maybe. The affair? Not so much.
*
Ogata visits Serizawa with Emiko. Ogata wants to use the Oxgen Destroyer, but Serizawa plays dumb pretending to know nothing of it. Emiko is ashamed, apparently not for her affair, but for breaking her promise to Serizawa. Still, she's broken two promises, but the heart wants what the heart wants. Ogata hopes Serizawa will forgive her. Serizawa refuses. Ogata and Serizawa tussle in his basement, not over Ogata being with his girl, but for relinquishment of the device. The cameras pan to a shot of the fish. The image represents life hanging in the balance. It symbolizes not only life in Tokyo Bay, but the lives of Tokyo's people and the life of Godzilla. What will be? Serizawa apologizes for cutting Ogata's face. Serizawa is a good man looking out for the public good in his own way. He calls the weapon, one of "horrible destruction" in its current form. Serizawa knows if the weapon is publicized politicians will want its awesome power for their own and there's no telling what could come of it. Serizawa does not want it discovered. "Am I right?" asks Serizawa. Ogata pleads something needs to be done about Godzilla. Serizawa is pained by his agonizing decision. Prayers for peace flood Serizawa's lab over his TV from the sweet voices of children.
*
Serizawa relents to the pressure of the voices of children in Japanese song. Song is yet another element I recall populating some memorable scenes from across the Godzilla series. Serizawa intends on using his device for the first and last time. He burns all of his notes and documentation. Emiko cries knowing he is sacrificing his life's work. It's not often you see a man with an eye patch who is a good man, but Honda puts a spin on expectations here. Serizawa is a symbol of wounded Japan.
*
An ocean vessel pinpoints Godzilla's location by radioactive Geiger readings. Ogata and Serizawa dive together to plant the Oxygen Destroyer. The two men dive with the world's only existing Oxygen Destroyer. We'll go with it. Godzilla is resting deep below the surface. The men spot Godzilla, but continue their mission. The somber tone of Ifukube's score adds a dramatic undercurrent to the moment knowing Godzilla's fate is in their hands. It's a nice touch. Ogata resurfaces while Serizawa remains behind. Serizawa will take his secrets with him along to his grave along with Godzilla. The end is moving. It's actually fairly sad to see Godzilla in the throes of death despite the fact he was crushing Tokyo without a thought. We feel for this force of nature that has been seemingly altered. Serizawa confirms it is working when the device is triggered. "Goodbye- farewell." Serizawa cuts his line. The ocean bubbles and Godzilla surface for one last gasp and his classic howl. Godzilla's skeleton is all that remains. This Godzilla will never rise from the ocean again cheer the people. Toho had other plans.

video
*
Dr. Yamane cannot believe Godzilla is gone, the last of its species. Though, he cautions, by way of the script, that another may come if nuclear testing continues. With that Toho leaves the door open. At its best, Gojira is the perfect cautionary tale. Gojira resonates differently than other films from the Godzilla Showa series. The message is far more profound thanks to history and never veers from its tense, focused narrative. The pedal is put to the metal and there's no looking back. It remains the powerful, self-contained beast today that it was upon its release. Unfortunately, it's the people who forget the message.
*
Gojira: A-
Writer: Ishiro Honda/ Shigeru Kayama/ Takeo Murata.
Director: Ishiro Honda.
*
The Cast: Akira Takarada [Hideto Ogata]/ Momoko Kochi [Emiko Yamane]/ Akihiko Hirata [Doctor Daisuke Serizawa]/ Takashi Shimura [Doctor Kyohei Yamane].
*
Gojira is not the first of the giant monster movies. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms [1953; USA] sees a creature awakened by nuclear testing. The aforementioned film certainly didn't ring of any real substantive truth. As a straight monster movie it succeeds thanks to the genius of Special Effects genius Ray Harryhausen. Them! [1954; USA], too, was one of America's answers to life in a post-atomic world and the consequential impact of that testing in the form of giant ants. It's another classic.
*
What's missing from these aforementioned, wonderful American pictures was an even deeper psychological subtext that was driving Japan's Gojira. All certainly entertained and were unique in vision, but it was the dark realization of a people symbolized by Gojira that was an inspiration culturally for years to come. Godzilla went so far as to influence the creation of the equally beloved Gamera by Daiei Studios [now Kadokawa Shoten Pictures, Inc.] or more recent outings like Director J.J. Abrams Cloverfield [2008] or Director Joon-ho Bong's The Host [2006]. Godzilla is BIG, really BIG. This leads me to further analysis inspired by Author David Kalat's impressive reference work A Critical History And Filmography Of Toho's Godzilla Series. Kalat shares his thoughts on the nuclear nightmare as captured for American cinema citing Bill Warren. "The use of radiation in '50s science fiction films was primarily a gimmick." Kalat follows up with a great point and one point that soured me slightly with its political angle on history. "The Japanese have directly experienced the horrors of nuclear war, and their perspectives as victims of the atomic age carries a deeper significance." That is a fair statement. "The Japanese did not develop or test nuclear weapons, and therefore hold no responsibility for this act of hubris." World War II was not ending. Japan attacked an unsuspecting Pearl Harbor. How does a nation's government not bear some responsibility for its actions? This remark feels irresponsible and is an exception to an otherwise terrific read. He adds, "In a Japanese context, the monster is less a reaction to the bomb than a symbol of the bomb" in comparison to American monster creations. There's no question.
*
I wasn't even a twinkle in my parents' eyes when Gojira original arrived. To think this film is well over a half century old, and still prescient proves it's a mighty, BIG, bad-ass piece of filmmaking. It still looks stunning too. Nevertheless, my fondness is for the later Godzilla classics. I remember most of the Showa films. Gojira probably, given its content, never made heavy rotation on Creature Double Feature I'm sorry to say.
*
What surprised me most of all was how Japan's Gojira had such a significantly different feel to the American released Godzilla, King Of The Monsters. The massive edits performed on the American release of the film radically changed the tone of the film. The American version is decent, but it is far inferior and radically different to the original. Gojira is less an indictement of America, like Grave Of The Fireflies, and more an indictement of the atomic age and what it will bring. Gojira is a cinematic reminder on the opening of the proverbial Pandora's Box to a new age of potentially catastrophic threats on humanity. The film is both a classic historical allegory and a groundbreaking introduction to the universe of Godzilla.
*
Another fine point made by Author David Kalat is the establishment of the love triangle in Gojira involving Emiko, Ogata and Serizawa. His insights into this mechanic going forward brought back memories instantly. "This love triangle also found its way, in an altered form, into several of the subsequent sequels. Such films as King Kong vs. Godzilla, Ghidrah, The Three Headed Monster and Monster Zero involve a unit of two men and one woman, in which one of the men is a traditional hero while the other is a reclusive scientist or inventor." I remember these triangles well from my childhood. He adds, "This unit is never a true love triangle." Yes, I look forward to American actor Nick Adams opposite Akira Takarada in Invasion Of Astro-Monster [Monster Zero] with ultimate Japanese beauty Kumi Mizuno. How about Jun Tazaki even? Anyway, Nick Adams was like the Starsky & Hutch in Godzilla for us American boys. Kalat concludes, "This altered love triangle derives its interrelationships directly from Gojira." It's a very astute point.
*
According to Kalat, Honda wanted to make visible "the ability to emit a radioactive beam." It would become an integral part of Toho's Godzilla.
Director Footnote: Ishiro Honda [1911-1993]. Japanese born. Director Honda originally studied under Akira Kurosawa and returned to work with Kurosawa toward the end of his own career. The two men went toe to toe with their Toho Studios produced films in 1954. It was Gojira versus Seven Samurai [a bit like a monster brawl] and the latter took home the trophy. Despite Kurosawa's victory, the influence of both films and their respective filmmaker's works is undeniable. Honda's works are masterpieces given his own trademark vision. Highlights from his vast filmography include: Gojira [1954], Godzilla, King Of The Monsters [1956], Rodan [1956], The Mysterians [1957], The H-Man [1958], Varan The Unbelievable [1958], Battle In Outer Space [1959], The Human Vapor [1960], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Dogora, The Space Monster [1964], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Frankenstein vs. Baragon [1965], Invasion Of The Astro-Monster [1965], The War Of The Gargantuas [1966], King Kong Escapes [1967], Destroy All Monsters [1968], All Monsters Attack [1969], Latitude Zero [1969], Space Amoeba [1970] and Terror Of Mechagodzilla [1975]. He was a prolific director creating roughly 44 films between 1949-1975. He averaged two films per year over 26 years. He was an Assistant Director to Director Akira Kurosawa on six films including Stray Dog [1949], Kagemusha [1980], Ran [1985], Dreams [1990], Rhapsody In August [1991] and Madaday [1993].

And if I sound like a cheerleader for Honda, and I am, and you don't believe what I have to say, let's take a look at Director Akira Kurosawa's own words from his autobiography, Something Like An Autobiography as excerpted from Kalat's book: "I had Honda do mainly second-unit shooting. Every day I told him what I wanted and he would go out into the ruins of post-war Tokyo to film it. There are few men as honest and reliable as Honda. He faithfully brought back exactly the footage I requested, so almost everything he shot was used in the final cut of the film." Unfairly, Kurosawa was always the critical darling above and beyond Honda, especially in America. Most Americans might have trouble knowing who Kurosawa was nevermind Honda. Part of what informed Honda as a director was his own visit of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. His fears of radiation and atomic terror essentially manifested itself in his work as symbolized through his creation of Godzilla. "Honda saw his monster as a narrative device to discuss the terror of the nuclear age."

Actor Footnote: Takashi Shimura [1905-1982]. Japanese born. Shimura is best known for his lead role in Director Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru [1952]. He also took one of the key roles in Ishiro Honda's classic Gojira. Shimura had a huge year in 1954 witnessing two pictures for which he figured prominently go head to head for Japan's Best Picture. Shimura starred as Dr. Yamane in Gojira, but also in Akira Kurosawa's equally classic Seven Samurai [1954] as Samurai leader Kambei Shimada who leads the charge in protecting a Japanese village under attack. Other notable films from Shimura included: Stray Dog [1949], Rashomon [1950] [a rare distribution by Daiei Studios away from the vast Toho catalogue for Shimura and Kurosawa and the studio behind Gamera], Godzilla Raids Again [1955], Throne Of Blood [1957], The Mysterians [1957], Yojimbo [1961], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Frankenstein vs. Baragon [1965] and Kagemusha [1980]. This is to name a few. Shimura appeared in 18 Kurosawa films. You can actually learn a bit more about the character intentions in Gojira left on the cutting room floor from one of the disc's bonus features: Godzilla: Story Development.

Here is Shimura, as Kambei Shimada, in one of Japan's finest films to ever grace the silver screen by Director Akira Kurosawa. This is excerpted from my Criterion Collection's Seven Samurai. If you haven't seen it, I implore you to do so, because you haven't lived. Don't feel bad, there's much by Kurosawa I still need to see too.

video

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gojira Promo

The birth of a legend, Gojira [1954], by Toho, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube.