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GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (directors: Terry Morse (director of English language scenes)/Ishiro Honda; screenwriters: Ishiro Honda/Takeo Murata/story by Shigeru Kayama; cinematographer: Masao Tamai; editor: Yasunobu Taira; music: Akira Ifukube; cast: Raymond Burr (Steve Martin), Akira Takarada (Hideto Ogata), Momoko Kchi (Emiko Yamane), Akihiko Hirata (Daisuke Serizawa-hakase), Takashi Shimura (Kyohei Yamane-hakase), Fuyuki Murakami (Professor Tanabe), Sachio Sakai (Newspaper Reporter Hagiwara), Toranosuke Ogawa (Nankai Shipping Company Manager), Ren Yamamoto (Masaji Sieji), Kan Hayashi (Chairman of Diet Committee), Takeo Oikawa (Chief of Emergency Headquarters); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka; TCM; 1956-Japan-in Japanese with English dubbed-in)

“Granddaddy of all Japanese monster films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This granddaddy of all Japanese monster films was released at 98 minutes in the more serious Japanese version entitled Gojira (Japanese slang for “big clumsy ox”) and directed by Japan’s most prolific horror film director Ishiro Honda (“Monster Zero”/”Attack of the Mushroom People”/”Rodan”) and in 1956 it was released in a risible 80 minute American version directed by Terry Morse, with a cheesy English-language dubbed in and with the addition of Raymond Burr as American reporter Steve Martin. It was the first in a series of at least twenty-eight Godzilla films. Godzilla was intended to be a Japanese version of Eugene Lourie’s “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), with the Japanese name for the scaly green reptile being Gojira. Honda worked with screenwriter Takeo Murata to create a melancholy mood in a post-war Tokyo, with the monster Godzilla reawakened from a two million year slumber after an underwater H-bomb test and the 400-foot tall monster becomes hell-bent on destroying Japan after emerging from the waters on Odo Island and giving off his radiation breath and a deadly blinding flash of fire to destroy ships and then whoever or whatever it encounters.

The monster theme plays on the fears that superpower nations will endanger mankind by arming themselves with nuclear weapons and on the fearful belief that the mysterious darkness that engulfs the depths of the sea is where monsters arise or in the human’s unconscious mind where monstrous thoughts arise. To make its point about the dangers of nuclear weapons, it shows that the military is useless against the monster as are the use of depth charges or electric fences with high voltage to surround a city or any other strategies, as Godzilla can’t be stopped as it easily destroys the city leaving a trail of death and destruction. Honda wanted the film to be taken seriously as an allegory on the dangers of nuclear warfare and not fall into being a silly drive-in monster movie. The Japanese version adequately does this, but it’s too bad that the American version turned out to be so crass a sci-fi film–whose appeal was in how entertaining it could be to laugh at how clumsily it was tacked together and how trite the dialogue came across.

In the subplot, a genius eye-patch wearing scientist, Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), accidentally invents the only thing that could destroy Godzilla–an Oxygen-Destroyer. But he refuses to unveil the weapon to the authorities because he fears if it gets into the wrong hands it could mean the end of the world. The idealist genius finally relents when his ex-girlfriend Emiko (Momoko Kchi), the daughter of Japan’s leading scientist, the idealistic professor Yamane (Takashi Shimura), who was expected to marry Serizawa in an arranged marriage since childhood but instead loves a navy officer named Ogata (Akira Takarada) and finally lets the reclusive scientist know this during the crisis. With the coaxing of visiting American journalist Steve Martin (Raymond Burr), her father’s friend, Emiko finally convinces Serizawa that he must do the right thing to save civilization even if there’s a possible future danger. Her pacifist dad thinks otherwise, believing that no matter what the monster does he must not be destroyed but saved so science can study its uniqueness.

Steve Martin is on a stop-over in Tokyo, before catching a plane for Cairo on his next assignment, taking a moment to visit his old friend Professor Yamane, when he gets caught up in the big headline story of Godzilla and gets injured before the monster is destroyed. The American provides the voice-over. His final report is in how Serizawa sacrificed his life to destroy the beast and to save the world from future harm, and also on purpose destroyed his invaluable Oxygen-Destroyer–which sends an anti-nuke message that those who have nuclear weapons should also destroy them.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”