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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I re-watched Godzilla vs Hedorah this morning with The Lad. I probably haven't watched this movie -- at least, not straight thru -- in 30 years, and I had totally forgotten what a completely crazy-a$$ film this is!  Between "Save the Earth", Club Fishhead, Freak-Out at Mt. Fuji, Professor Pajamas and the animation -- ay-yi-yi-yi-yi!  This thing is a wonder to behold.

Saw that in a theatre way back when.  Yep, "completely crazy-a$$ film" Just about sums it up.  It tries so hard to be "serious" and "relevant" and "important"... then you get to the climax, where Godzilla uses his breath TO FLY!!  It's like-- WTF???

Kasel, Germany surf-rock-folk-metal band Silver Surfer has an intrumental song called "Hedorah", which is one of the most exciting "surf" songs I've heard. Strangely enough, at the band's website, they talk about the song as if it related to "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep", rather than "The Smog Monster".

The Baron said:

Gojira: Fainaru ouzu(2004)

Gezorah appreared in Yog: Monster from Space.

I had no idea what that creature was. One more movie to add to my to-do list!

Action Lad has been asking me why Zilla is called "Zilla." I just told him "Because everybody knows he's not the real Godzilla, but the Japanese moviemakers thought he was interesting enough to put him in a Godzilla movie ... so Godzilla could beat him up." Is there a better answer than that?

I confess, I was so darn tired the day we watched this that I snoozed in and out through the whole thing. It's on my to-do list for the train this week, though.

That's pretty much it - the gag was that Toho thought that the Americans had taken the "God" out of "Godzilla", so that just left "Zilla".

The Baron said:

Gojira vs. Biorante (1989

"Sam Evans, here. Say, some of those kids' drawings are pretty good. All they need is a few years' drinking to season their skills."

This picture was release in the U.S. in 1992 as Godzilla vs. Biollante.

It was directed by Kazuki Omori.
Music was by Koichi Sugiyama, although some of Ifukube's themes were used.
SFX were done by Koichi Kawakita.

Godzilla was played by Kengo Nakayama, with Shigeru Shibazaki and Yoshitaka Kimura.
Biollante was played by Masao Takegami.

Kunihiko Mitamura played scientist Kazuhito Kirishima.
Yoshiko Tanaka played lab assistant Asuka Okochi.
Masanobu Takashima played Major Kuroki.
Koji Takahashi played Dr. Shiragami.
Toru Minegishi played Lt. Gondo.
Yasuko Sawaguchi played Erika.
Brien Uhl played Saradian agent SSS(, in what appears to have been his only role.
Megumi Odaka played 17 year old psychic Miki Saegusa. We'll be seeing her in all of the remaining Heisei films.

This is an OK picture, though I'll admit it's one I don't re-watch very often. It has some nice set pieces - the naval battle, the big battle in the rain near the end, but Biollante is not one of my favorite monsters. The notion of "anti-nuclear bacteria" is an interesting one, as is the idea of a series of "Godzilla alert levels." I also like the idea that various parties would be eager to get ahold of Godzilla's genetic material. We also see Godzilla's "atomic pulse" for the first time here. We also see the Super-X2, with its reflector array.

This picture introduces the new G-suit that will be used for the next few pictures.

I was amused by how "Saradia" was sometimes spelled "Saladia"

This is also the only G-film to mention Massachusetts.

There's also a scene where Godzilla sneaks up on a guy - how do you let that happen?

Batman gets a shout-out in this picture, although in the U.S. dubbing it's changed to "Superman", possibly to match the lip movements of the Japanese heroine, who pronounces "Batman" as though it had three syllables.

Next: White people from the future!

Looks like this one is finally going to get a U.S. DVD release.  Dang!  After I just promised The Lovely and Talented that I was done buying holiday gifts for Action Lad.  Guess I'm gonna break that promise.

With Megalon out earlier this year, and Biollante out in a few weeks (and already preordered), I'll have assembled an almost complete Godzilla collection (missing only 3 or 4 titles that have gone out of print and that I'm kicking myself about not buying when I had the chance).

You know, for my son.

Ahem

He's going to be a happy camper this holiday season.

I had a guy at my video store lok at me funny when I rented all 5 PLANET OF THE APES movies and told him my Dad really wanted to see them.  (Yeah, right.)  It was TRUE!  It just didn't sound true.

Bleeding Cool has beaucoup neat pics from the Legendary Pictures Godzilla exhibit at SDCC.

...I tried to respond to this , just a little bit ago ~Iin response to what I suppose was your " improved re-post " of it ????????? ~ It did not go up , circling around for a long time .

  It was a lengthy add-on , mentioning my experience seeing GOJIRA , as someone who , funny enough , has never flat-out seen GODZILLA from its beginning to its end - and referencing my memories of the old FAMOUS MONSTERS filmbook of G .

  Whay , do you think , did my post not go up ???

  Did you " shut down " the re-post , as it were ??? :-)

Every so often a post of mine just doesn't make it from the browser to the board, I use Safari and I've gotten used to it to the point where if I make a long post I cut and paste it so if there is a glitch and it doesn't make it I can try again.

...I am very cyber-incompetent/limited/" challaned " however - in my access/" stuff " as well .

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

Every so often a post of mine just doesn't make it from the browser to the board, I use Safari and I've gotten used to it to the point where if I make a long post I cut and paste it so if there is a glitch and it doesn't make it I can try again.



Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...I tried to respond to this , just a little bit ago ~Iin response to what I suppose was your " improved re-post " of it ????????? ~ It did not go up , circling around for a long time .

  It was a lengthy add-on , mentioning my experience seeing GOJIRA , as someone who , funny enough , has never flat-out seen GODZILLA from its beginning to its end - and referencing my memories of the old FAMOUS MONSTERS filmbook of G .

  Whay , do you think , did my post not go up ???

  Did you " shut down " the re-post , as it were ??? :-)

 

Yeah, that was my fault. sorry, it wasn't deliberate, just a reflection of my own cyberincompetence.

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