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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"Godzilla, watch your language!"

Rodan, though he never has another solo movie, becomes a major player throughout the span of the series.

Mothra is shown as a larva here and in Destroy All Monsters but is a moth in Godzilla Vs the Sea
Monster
.

Man, you're going through these fast!!
The only Gojira movie I've seen is the first one. I was well impressed with that. Great storytelling with a great message.

I've only seen the Japanese version. It was very like King Kong in the sombre tone at the end. Except instead of the lesson being 'beauty killed the beast', it was a more starkly relevant one about scientists having a responsibility for what they create.

I seem to remember my primary school headmaster way back in the day saying that the first Godzilla movie was funded or supported or created in some way by victims of the atomic bombings of Japan and their families. Was there any truth in that, or has time garbled my memory?

I have 3-4 other Godzilla movies on tape somewhere, but its hard to put aside the time to watch full-length movies with a 18 month old running around the place.

Have you read Alan Moore's poem about Gojira? It's brilliant, about Oppenheimer's children on Monster Island.

"They all shout:

Go-jira! Go-Jira! Go!"

You should try and get your hands on it. I'd post it, but its not in my collection here.

Also I hope you follow up this thread with a look at Godzilla's journey through the Marvel Earth, as collected in the Essential! That's a fun, horribly under-rated series!
Figserello said:
The only Gojira movie I've seen is the first one. I was well impressed with that. Great storytelling with a great message.

I've only seen the Japanese version. It was very like King Kong in the sombre tone at the end. Except instead of the lesson being 'beauty killed the beast', it was a more starkly relevant one about scientists having a responsibility for what they create.

I seem to remember my primary school headmaster way back in the day saying that the first Godzilla movie was funded or supported or created in some way by victims of the atomic bombings of Japan and their families. Was there any truth in that, or has time garbled my memory?

I have 3-4 other Godzilla movies on tape somewhere, but its hard to put aside the time to watch full-length movies with a 18 month old running around the place.

Have you read Alan Moore's poem about Gojira? It's brilliant, about Oppenheimer's children on Monster Island.

"They all shout:

Go-jira! Go-Jira! Go!"

You should try and get your hands on it. I'd post it, but its not in my collection here.

Also I hope you follow up this thread with a look at Godzilla's journey through the Marvel Earth, as collected in the Essential! That's a fun, horribly under-rated series!

Never seen the Alan Moore poem.

I could've swore Jeff already did a thread about the Marvel Godzilla comics, but maybe not.
TurningPoint said:
Growing up as a kid in the 60's, I think I was around nine or ten years-old, I had a list of the top 10 greatest 'hits' for movies I watched that were released in that decade. Somewhere on that hit list, Rodan's 180 degree mid-air reversal and collision into Ghidorah was one of them. That was my 'wow' moment. Of course, nothing that decade could touch the hit where John Wayne picks up a two-by-four and delivers a crushing blow into the face of George Kennedy in The Sons Of Katie Elder.

Baron, I agree with you about the score in Ghidorah. It was, indeed, the best of them all I thought. And the choreographed fight scenes at the end showing the teamwork of the big three was a childhood delight. I do, however, disagree concerning the Americanized version leaving out the conversation on the death of one of the caterpillars. Perhaps it's intentionally left out of the DVD, but I know it was mentioned in the movie when it was released in the 60's.

Well, the Americanized verison I have on DVD is the same version I remember seeing as a kid, and in that, one of the two boys asks, "What about the other one?" and the Fairies say "The old one died, you know.", which I always assumed meant the adult Mothra that had fought Godzilla in the previous picture, but maybe not.
In Rodan, there were two of them as well, but only one was revived.
Philip Portelli said:
In Rodan, there were two of them as well, but only one was revived.

Yeah, I don't think that that was ever addressed, why only one of them was revived.
I'll start with an aside – [Godzilla Raids Again] was actually the last of the Showa Era Godzilla films that I saw

Me, too! I have no idea which Godzilla movie I saw first (I may have been introduced to Godzilla via the Aurora model), but “Raids Again” was definitely last. In 2003 I mentioned on this board I’d never seen it, and some kind soul sent one to me! Hmm… I wonder who that was? :)

To sum up, Godzilla Raids Again doesn't have the depth of the first picture, but it's not bad for a quickie sequel.

I agree with that summation.

I may have no idea which Godzilla movie I saw first, but King Kong vs. Godzilla may well have been the one I’ve seen most often. That’s probably because I watching whether I’m in a monkey-mood or a lizard-mood.

Ah, the hours I spent learning Mothra’s song phonetically!

Never seen the Alan Moore poem.

I’ve got it (in a Dark Horse collection, illustrated by Arthur Adams). I’ll transcribe it tomorrow.

I could've swore Jeff already did a thread about the Marvel Godzilla comics, but maybe not.

The last big Godzilla discussion we had inspired me to buy Marvel’s Essential Godzilla collection, but although I started to read it, I got side-tracked along the way and never finished it. Who knows? Perhaps this discussion will inspire me to start a counterpoint discussion of the comics.
Trampling Tokyo (from The Alan Moore Songbook)

I’m tired of trampling Tokyo. No interest remains
In eating cars or tearing down the elevated trains
And I long for Monster Island
In the late Cretaceous silence
Where every night beneath the perfect stars
The tiny twins hold hands and sing
While Mothra plays guitar

I’m bored to death when my every breath sets the boulevard on fire
I’m saving my residuals and I’m planning to retire
Far away on Monster Island
In the radioactive twilight
Sipping x-rays underneath a cocktail sky
Where the surf booms like Hiroshima
And the fishes really fly

Me and Robert Oppenheimer, we shared a drink the other night
I told him: Bob, if you quit your job, or if things aren’t going right
Come with me to Monster Island
Where the palm trees gleam like pylons
Where the luminous lagoon night never ends
And all my monster friends
Are singin’ Gojira! Gojira! GO!

And I’m so tired of trampling Tokyo
You know what - I have seen that before, I just hadn't made the connection that Moore wrote it.
That's what I figured.

I've seen it in black & white (somewhere) and also in color in the Art Adam's Creature Features tpb.
Mark S. Ogilvie said:
I figured the population of Planet X was too low for a full invasion. That was why they needed the monsters.

Mark

That makes sense.
There you go, making sense again!

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