Gojira (1954), a.k.a Godzilla

Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had a problem. The film he was meant to be producing, a grand Japanese/Indonesian co-production, had fallen through, owing to a dispute with the Indonesian government. So, now he needed a film to fill the gap left by the co-production's failure. While flying home, he read the story of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, a.k.a. Lucky Dragon 5, a Japanese tuna boat that had been caught in the fallout from the US "Castle Bravo" thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll, on March 1, 1954. Additionally, he was familiar with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and King Kong (1933), which had recently been re-released in Japan.

This all percolated in his brain and gave him the idea that he needed.

The creature in the film was originally called "G", after the English word "giant". Eventually the name "Gojira" was adopted, derived from the Japanese words gorira ("gorilla") and kujira ("whale"). It was traditionally said that "Gojira" was the nickname of a large Toho employee at the time, but this employee has never been definitely identified, and the general consensus now is that the story is apocryphal.

Selected to direct the film was Ishiro Honda, a protege of Akira Kurosawa. Honda had been through Hiroshima in 1946, and this gave him the desire to portray Godzilla's attack on Tokyo as being like that of an atomic bomb, albeit much slower.

The special effects were done by the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, who had wanted to do a monster movie of his own, since he'd seen King Kong when he was a kid. Tsuburaya was behind the choice to use "suitmation" (i.e. having the monster portrayed by a man in a rubber suit), rather than the stop-motion he would have preferred, largely for reasons of budget and time. Tsuburaya would go on to become a legend in Japan, in particular for his part in the creation of the super-hero Ultraman.

The music was done by composer Akira Ifukube, who based much of it on the military marches he'd heard as a kid. Ifukube also created Godzilla's trademark "roar" by running a rosin-filled glove along the strings of a contrabass and then playing it back at a different speed.

Two men were hired to wear the Godzilla suit in this picture. The first was Haruo Nakajima, who would go on to play Godzilla and many other monsters until he retired in 1972. Nakajima had played a bandit in Seven Samurai, and would later play a soldier in The Hidden Fortress. Nakajima supposedly sweat off 20 pounds making the film. The second man was Katsumi Tezuka. However, Nakajima has always claimed that none of Tezuka's work made it into the film. Both Nakajima and Tezuka had small parts outside of the G-suit in the film - you can see them in the background of a scene set in a newspaper office.

The main actors in the film were Kurosawa mainstay Takashi Shimura as Dr. Yamane, the paleontologist; Akihiko Hirata (who played a samurai in Sanjuro) as Dr. Serizawa; Momoko Kochi as Emiko Yamane, the doctor's daughter; and Akira Takarada as Ogata of South Sea Salvage. We'll being seeing Takarada alot in these pictures.

If you check the scene on the party boat in the harbor, you may see in the background, sitting at a table, the uncredited Kenji Sahara (sometimes listed as Kenji "Sawara"). Sahara and Akihiko Hirata are the only actors to have appeared in the debut films of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.

Another member of the Kurosawa-gumi is present in the film - the old fisherman on Odo Island is played by Kokuten Kodo, who played the village elder in Seven Samurai, and who had parts in Scandal, No Regrets for Our Youth, Sanshiro Sugata, Sanshiro Sugata II, I Live in Fear, Throne of Blood and The Hidden Fortress.

At any rate, the film was a hit in Japan - an American producer saw the film in a Chinese theater in California, and the international rights were purchased. It was decided to make an "American" version of the film, and this is the version that I daresay most of you that read this will have seen. The original version has only recently been released in this country.

To Americanize the film, the producers hired Raymond Burr, who had mostly played heels up to that point, and who would soon be cast in the role that would define his life, that of peerless attorney Perry Mason. He was an interesting dude, Burr. Alot of the autobiographical information he used to give was subsequently revealed as fiction. If you ever see the 1957 classic, The Monster that Challenged the World, you may notice a character named Seaman Morty Beatty. The role is credited to "Bob Beneveds", who was sometimes credited as "Robert Beneveds", and who, as "Robert Benevides", had production credits on many episodes of Perry Mason. He was also, apparently, Burr's "longtime companion".

Burr played reporter Steve Martin (No relation!), ably assisted by Frank Iwanaga as security officer Tomo. Burr and Iwanaga were edited into the film using added footage, and were made to seem to interact with the original actors through the use of body doubles, and other trickery.

The film was released in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, and the rest was history! As an aside - the American version of the film was apparently released in Japan as Monster King Godzilla, and the audiences found it quite funny, as apparently there was often a difference between what the Japanese-speaking characters were saying to Burr, and what Iwanaga told Burr they were saying.

Gojira (1954) is to me, the best of all of Toho's kaiju eiga. It's a very well done picture, and a powerful evocation of Japan's fear of nuclear weaponry, well made and well acted. If you haven't had a chance to see the original version, I strongly urge you to give it a look - it's well worth it. I saw it in a theater in Cambridge a few years back, and it was one of the great cinematic thrills of my life. It saddens me that alot of people judge all of the Godzilla movies by some of the later, admittedly quite goofy, ones.
I'd also particularly like to speak up for Ifukube's music in this - his score really builds up the mood of the picture.

Now, as for Godzilla, King of the Monsters...well, I loved this picture when I was a kid. Watching it now, it's painfully obvious that Burr and Iwanaga were shoehorned into it. Having watched the two films back to back, I can see that the American producers removed alot of the anti-nuclear message and pretty much all of the references to the War and the atomic bombings. The actor who suffers the most from the Americanization is Sachio Sakai, who plays a reporter named Hagiwara. His part is much more substantial in the original, and is largely cut out of the re-edited film, most of his function in the plot being taken over by Burr's character. In the end, what I think the Americanization did was make the picture much more similar to the sci-fi films that were popular in the U.S. in the 1950's - which may have been what the film needed to succeed in 50's America. The original was much darker and more poignant than the American version. There's many more scenes of Godzilla's victims in the original - no subseqent Godzilla film would ever show so much human suffering. At the end of Gojira, Shimura says something to the effect of "If nuclear tests continue, there will be more Godzillas", whereas at the end of King of the Monsters, Burr says something like, "A great man has died, but now the world can breathe freely again."

I'll close by repeating my earlier sentiment, that Gojira (1954) is to me the best of the Godzilla movies.

Next: The Quickie Sequel!

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...As far as Toho's right to stop people from using " ____ZILLA " variations of His Name , there is now a TV " reality " show called BRIDEZILLAS , showing women throwing temper tantrums in the times leading up to their weddings ~ Of course , that phrase is in the general slang mix now , of course , but the point is , a company is using it in the title of a commercial enterprise , a TV series (Presumably some DVDs and maybe some spin-offs as well...) .

...I think I've read that , when Toho first prepared an American dub (and , perhaps , edit) of this , it was dubbed a little more smoothly , but , the American company felt a more " traditional " slightly " Clunky American " dub/re-edit was what was required .

The Baron said:

Gojira ni-sen mireniamu (1999)

This film is first of what would come to be called the "Millennium" series of G-films. Unlike the Heisei films, these films do not, by and large, form a continuity, with one exception, which I'll go over when I come to it. By and large, they ingnore the continuity of the previous films - again with some exceptions.

It is known in the U.S. as Godzilla 2000 and sometimes Godzilla: Millennium.

This is another film that I saw in a theater. How we all cheered when the Toho logo came up on the screen!

The film was directed by Takao Okawara.
The music was done by Takayuki Hattori, although you'll hear an Ifukube theme or two, in there.
SFX were handled by Kenji Suzuki, and were generally pretty good.

Godzilla was played by Tsutomu Kitagawa. The new G-suit more savage-looking, with pointier spines.
Orgah was played by Makoto Ito. Can't say as I'm too wild about the design of Orgah as a creature.

Takehiro Murata played Prof. Yuji Shinoda, head of the Godzilla Prediction Network, a sort of homespun group of researchers who study Godzilla in hopes of predicting its movements.
Mayu Suzuki played Shinoda's young daughter Io, who basically looks after him.
Naomi Nishida played Yuki Ichinose, a reporter assigned to cover the GPN.
Hiroshi Abe played Mitsuo Katagiri, the extremely heelish deputy of the Crisis Control Intelligence Agency, and old acquaintance of Shinoda's.
Shiro Sano played Prof. Miyasaka, another old acquaintance, who is sympatheic to Shinoda, but has become Katagiri's flunky.

There are some differences between the U.S. and Japanese versions - unfortunately the English dubbing produces alot of forced humor - for example, a Japanese character who says "We're in danger!" in the Japanese version is dubbed to be saying "Gott im himmel!" in the English one - that doesn't work for me. To be fair, there's a certain amount of forces humor in the Japanese version as well.

There's a lot of good scenes in this - the night attack on the fishing town is very eerie and atmospheric, and Abe gets to do some great overacting in the scene at the end where Katagiri mouths off to Godzilla.

The film revisits the old dichotomy between those who want study Godzilla and those who want to kill him. The notion of Godzilla attacking power plants is also revisited.

The film addresses the concept of Godzilla's durability by revealing that he has a sort of healing factor - Shinoda discovers that Godzilla's cells contain something he calls "Organizer G-1" ("Regenerator G-1" in the U.S. version), that allows Godzilla to repair physical injury almost instantaneously.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this picture - I remember at the time thinking how glad I was to see the series getting back on course.

Next: Big bugs!

...I saw Destroy All Monsters on my 9th birthday .

  It was rated " G " in the U.S. , BTW !!!!!!!!!

  I grew up in the outer-ish suburbs of New York City ~ Rather " WASP/bland/boring-imaged " Westchester County , and its upper-ish end .

  A lot of things that were in New York City , and could be seen advertised in the NYC press , never quite came up as far as us .

  Drive-ins , for a G-dentified thaanng , were rare - Short/rainy-cold-dark-tending seasons , very hilly land ~ Very expensive land , zoning boards/planning commissions pretty strong , strong unions I suppose??

  I think I've been to a drive-in movie only three times in my life !!!!!!!!! All with family members , no back seat action or Beach Boys-style foolin' around/Sylvers-stle watching a silent movie digging funky sounds ~ Okay , a db of Beatles' HELP! And Peckinpah/Huston MAJOR DUNDEE , another db of Carpenter DARK STAR and THE DEVIL'S RAIN , and a late-70s rerelease of Disney SNOW WHITE , this on a visit to Dallas , TX-area family .

The Baron said:

Gojira tai Hedorah (1971)

"Matthew Morgan. I help out around the place. I've cleaned up alot of messes in my time, but never one that could get up and fly away..."

This picture was released in the U.S. in 1972 as Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. It is now typically sold as Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

It was directed by Yoshimitsu Banno, with music by Riichio Manabe and effects by Teruyoshi Nakano.

Nakajima returned as Godzilla and Hedorah was played by Kengo Nakayama.

Akira Yamauchi played Dr. Yano.
Toshie Kimura played Mrs. Yano.
Hiroyuki Kawase, played Ken Yano. Kawase plaeyd the ill-fated beggar's son in Dodes'ka-den.
Toshio Shibamoto played Yukio.
Keiko Mari played Miki.

"Hedorah" apparently comes from "hedoro", which means "industrial sludge".

The picture was made just as pollution was starting to hit home as a major problem in Japan.

This is quite possibly one of the oddest G-films, with split-screen shots and animated segments.

Toho was trying to reach for a broader audience by including a number of teenage characters and trippy dance music. Probably the most noteworthy is the title song "Save the Earth". There's also some music at the end that sounds like a football fight song.

Toho may also have been influenced by the success of Daiei's Gamera pictures, as Ken is the closest thing Godzilla ever had to a Gamera-style "kid pal".

This is also the first G-film since the original to graphically show civilians getting hurt in monster attacks.In this Godzilla is no longer symbolic of nuclear war, but more of outraged nature.

When Hedorah starts sucking on the smokestacks it looks vaguely like someone doing bong hits. Um, not that I would know what that looks like.

There are a number of times in this picture where Godzilla and Hedorah are fighting in the city, and no one seems to notice.

There's also a scene where a character hallucinates that everyone in the disco is wearing fish masks.

Note: Hedorah can kill any number of people or fish, but apparently cannot kill a cat.

Sure is lucky that Godzilla's death ray can somehow power those electrodes.

And saving the best for last: Godzilla can fly! Apparently, this was a pice of deliberate goofiness added to lighten the tone of the picture, which was otherwise felt to be a bit dark.

To sum up: I don't find this to be a bad picture, just a little weird, even by kaiji eiga standards.

Next: Cockroaches from outer space!

...I remember reading about GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER in FM but it never opening ~ that I could see , anyhow ~ in my area .

  I don't really recall , I think , hearing about the later 'Murrican ones opening in our area either , it certainly seems unlikely for them to skip NYC/-ward altogether , just said " don't recall hearing " .

  Perhaps they played outer-part-of-the-area drive-ins and the legendary , old , midtown Manhattan/Times Square-42d Street-" Deuce " schlock grindhouses , which I suppose may have tended to underspend if at all on New York Times advertising ???????

  About that mid-70s time I recall an American TV ad (Like I have much experience of other countries' TV ads !!!!!!!!!!! But anyway .) for Volkswagen?? showing a bunch of people lining up at a drive-in , interviewed from their cars ~ An elderly lady says " Oooh , we never miss Godzilla ! ~ G. is shown on the di's screen at the end of the ad .

...I recall a " Godzilla Sushi " restaurant(Sp??) or two about this general (Northern/Central Cali) area , too...(Tho they may not have a personal Web site , perhaps a legal compromise/covering of one's bl**d* , bl**m*ng , arse) " ____Zilla " is SO! clearly derived from Just One Thing , I wonder if Toho at one point in the USA,  in the Seventies , perhaps  lost the plot/throttle , legally speaking , that such uses can be commercially done here !?! I mean , " Superman " had been fairly widely used before Siegel & Shuster (Nietzhe(Sic!!) , Shaw ,  for two .)...



Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...As far as Toho's right to stop people from using " ____ZILLA " variations of His Name , there is now a TV " reality " show called BRIDEZILLAS , showing women throwing temper tantrums in the times leading up to their weddings ~ Of course , that phrase is in the general slang mix now , of course , but the point is , a company is using it in the title of a commercial enterprise , a TV series (Presumably some DVDs and maybe some spin-offs as well...) .

...Godzilla Sushi , at 1800 Divisadero in SF , gets listing bothas " Godzila " and the proper(??) " Godzilla " , when I Yahoo'd for it now...

  They serve a " Godzilla Roll "..." Tinky winky " too , Teletubbies fans !!!!!!!!!!!

...The Yahoo! listing for Godzilla Sushi has a link for " godzilasushi.com " , presumumably some sorta " placeholder/holding the name " situation ?

  I recall a print ad for Godzilla Sushi in SF's alt-weeklies showing a clearly Big G-esque drawing of  head ! So...

...See those recent Taco Bell commercial with " various " Ronald McDonald "s attesting to the Big T ???????????

  There was a movie I saw on PBS once , someone whose last name was " Berliner " (I think it was " Alan Berliner " ? It would be a bit pointless for just a last name.) managed to gather everyone with his name for a dinner in NYC .
  Some folk here know My Real Name ~ Vis-à-vis the last one , my father used to tell me of a " (That Last Name) Reunion " held periodically , in West Virginia IIRC , that anyone could attend with that last name ~ However , when I finally looked it up on the Internet , it turned out to be a more specific SUB-division of that name , and people who came to America in that area , only , IIRC .


The Baron said:

Philip Portelli said:
Raymond Burr had to be addressed as either "Steve" or "Mr. Martin" or else they would think he's one WILD & CRAZY GUY!!

It's funny, because you know that back in 1956 "Steve Martin" must've seemed like a completely generic name. You never know, of course - I used to work with a "Ronald McDonald" who was just old enough that you know his parents named him before the fast food character was created.

...Re: the old FM filmbook of GODZILLA , I suppose it may have been based on at least some knowledge of GOJIRA ? I think it covered the romantic subplot .

  Surely famously gigantically-well collected and collection-possessing Forry could track down such then-more-distant stuff easier than most then ???

  I recall old histories of horror-fantastic films bringing up the idea that Godzilla reflected Japan's trauma at being a victim of the Bomb only to then  poo-poo it as " pretentious/silly "/Pseud's Corner , more or less , anyway , I think . Then , when I saw an earlier US art-minority-house reish of GOJIRA in the 00s at a now-closed SF revival/repertory/art house on Haight Street , the  Red Vic (which actually devoted much of its schedule to showing recent films at the end of their run on a " just-a-coupla-days " repertory basis at marginally lower than normal SF prices (Getting punchcards and doing matinees , as at other SF independents , could bring it lower still .) - I saw WATCHMEN there that way , and saw AMERICAN SPLENDOR a second time there* ~ I noted , just in the subtitles (All I can understand .) , someone SAYING (Re Big G.: ) " I survived Nagasaki , I can survive this " ! Oh , and the scene of , just before one of G.'s raids , a mother and her child hiding somewhere , Mamma-San saying " Don't worry ! You'll be with your father soon ! " stayed with me...Did that mean the Papa was a Godzilla casualty , a WWII one , or an atomic one ? A little far back for the last two by then in 1954 , I suppose...........

Paul Frees is all over Rodan. He was a soldier, a villager, and a scientist.

I've read Gojira attacked Japan because. so soon after the War, they were afraid if he attacked another country it might look like they were making threats. There were still a lot of WWII sanctions against them at the time.

And I did, too!

Doctor Hmmm? said:

HA! I'd say "I'd pay good cash money to see that!", but one of these days I probably will pay good cash money to see that.

I'm sure I years ago saw some old black and white movie with a Steve Martin in it. Pretty sure it was before Godzilla. One of the old serials maybe.

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