This week, I have decided to go into the history books and watch some classic Godzilla films. The five films we tackle this week include the original film that started it all, Gojira. Then we tackle it's American version, Godzilla, King of Monsters. Then Godzilla fights the first movie monster, King Kong. After that clash then we have another iconic monster fight with Godzilla vs. Mothra and then we conclude this week with Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Released in 1954, Gojira was the film that started off the Godzilla franchise. It was far different in tone than any other film. It was a political film just as much as it was science-fiction thriller. It had romance, and it also had a strong cultural theme. It is one of my favorite films of all time, and after re-watching it again for like the hundredth time I have gotten a lot more respect for this film.
The film's ship scene about it being attacked by a monster is actually based on the fame Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident which resulted in some fishermen being tested for atomic radiation due to the H-bomb. This is in a post World War II Japan which had two bombs dropped on it, so it is important that the theme of anti-nuclear weapons is going to be a main theme of this film.
The Japanese freighter Eiko-Maru is destroyed near Odo Island followed by another ship the Bingo-maru a team is sent to investigate with only a few survivors alive. The natives of Odo Island fear that the terrible monster Gojira has been awoken. A reporter finds out that Gojira was once appeased by virgin sacrifices. During a powerful storm, the reporter's helicopter is destroyed and an unseen monster destroys the villager's quaint settlement.
The villagers go to Tokyo asking for assistance. A paleontologist named Kyohei Yamane heads to the island where he finds a trilobite on the island. Then the villager's alarm bell rings and the villagers with Yamane see a monster that resembles a giant dinosaur roaring before returning to it's ocean home.
Back in Japan, Yamane shows his research and is adamant about Japan researching the creature. However, after it is known that it is dangerous and was awoken by the H-Bomb testing the Japanese want to destroy the creature. They try to use depth charges, but that just angers Gojira who arrives in Japan and causes destruction.
Yamane does not want to creature to be destroyed so secludes himself from society. His daughter Emiko goes to break her engagement to Yamane's colleague Dr. Serizawa. She is then shown his Oxygen Destroyer, but the sight shocks her and leaves without breaking off her engagement.
Then Godzilla arrives at Tokyo and creates more chaos and destruction before returning to the sea. The Japanese try to create an electrical fence to scare off the monster, but this does not work. Distraught Emiko breaks the news of Serizawa's weapon to her lover and the two go to Serizawa. Although he is hesitant to use it as a weapon, he realizes that it is the only thing that can destroy Godzilla. Serizawa's willingness to save his country and to take the secret with them is a very important theme in this theme.
Serizawa goes to confront Godzilla with his invention and ends up killing the monster along with himself. His sacrifice is multi-faceted. Not only is he giving his blessing for Emiko and her fiance, but for modern Japan to be shaped despite the tragedies that have occurred to them. Godzilla isn't just a symbol of the atomic age, he is the symbol of a new Japan that will emerge after the war.
Godzilla, King of Monsters
For all instances and purposes Godzilla King of Monsters is not that different of a film that Gojira. It does have a distinct tone however. It forces the tone more towards anti-nuclear and anti-war, and features reworked scenes staring Raymond Burr. I have always like the film, and now that I watched them back to back I can see why the American audience and even the Japanese audience liked this film more.
Godzilla, King of Monsters stars Steve Martin an American reporter who is in Japan for a social call with his friend Serizawa. But, he ends up in the swing of the plot from Gojira. The film starts chronologically in the middle of Gojira with the aftermath of the second Tokyo attack where Steve Martin was witnessed to the Godzilla attack. He then flashes back to why he came to Japan, and then of the events leading up to the attack on Tokyo.
He ends up going to Odo Island and investigating the monster attack. He witnesses Godzilla and writes back to his boss. It puts the focus away from the Japanese characters and more onto Martin as the observer, but he becomes the focus of the film. The love triangle is still there, but it is somewhat mitigated. This works for some instances, because we have a main protagonist with a goal and with an identity as opposed to the multitude of characters we follow in the original film. This of course strays away from the Japanese cultural ties. But, again it is still more easy to focus on Martin so I see why the film did well in the US and did even better in Japan.
We eventually go past the attack on Tokyo and Emiko spills the beans about the Oxygen Destroyer to Steve Martin. Just like in the original film Emiko and Ogata go and convince Serizawa who then of course like in the original sacrifices himself.
For whatever reason the political metaphors were stripped from this movie. The original press of this version also stripped a very important scene with a Japanese mother holding two children reminacing that soon they would be with their father, implying he died in the Pacific Conflict which his what the Japanese call World War 2. But, this was added back in for later releases since it has a strong political and culture impact on the second Tokyo attack. The film takes away a bit of the pathos you feel for the Japanese, I mean it is still there, but the American version feels more of anti-nuclear film than one with many facets like the original film. I still love this movie, but I feel that it does some interesting things, and can still hold it's ground against the original.
King Kong vs. Godzilla
I skipped Godzilla Raids Again and instead moved towards the more popular King Kong vs. Godzilla. The main reason is that I find Godzilla Raid's Again to be pretty boring and wanted to see King Kong fight Godzilla. This film features two iconic monsters fighting, King Kong who is by many considered the grand daddy of all kaiju, and Godzilla who is Japan's biggest menace. The film is important historically as it went away from the darker themes of the first two films and into a more child friendly film.
We start the film off when Mr. Tako who is the head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals wants to do something to boost ratings of a show that his company is sponsering. When he hears about a giant monster on the small Faro Island, he sends two men named Sakurai and Kinsaburo to bring the monster back to Japan.
Meanwhile Godzilla breaks out of a iceburg which he had been trapped since 1955 and destroys both a submarine and a nearby military base.
Then on Faro island the two men get abducted by the natives, who are unfortunatly depicted by Japanese with black face to make them look Polynesian. They bribe the natives with toys, candy, and cigarettes. While there an octopus attacks the village, but King Kong arrives. King Kong is then tricked into sleeping and placed on a large raft and to be sent back to Japan.
On the way there the JSDF tell Mr. Taka and his company to send King Kong back to Japan. They blow up the raft, but King Kong wakes up and escapes. The two monsters meet, and in the first encounter Godzilla wins.
The JSDF then lure Godzilla into a bit where they want him to be defeated, but it fails and try another plan. They use electricity which for some reason the first time in Godzilla's history he does not like electricity. King Kong enters Tokyo and tears through these same power lines. There he captures Fumiko, the sister of Sakurai. The JSDF along with Sakurai lure King Kong to the Diet building and drug him to sleep like they did on Faro Island. They then take King Kong to fight Godzilla on Mt. Fuji. Godzilla has the upper hand for most of the fight, until King Kong gets a second wind thanks to electricity. The two then plunge into the ocean where Kong survives the fight.
There really is no themes except for the greed of Tako from Pacific Pharmaceuticals is what brought this film's plot on in the first place. It's a fun film, and the dub version is quite classic. The movie is just one giant monster slug fest and I love it.
With the success of King Kong vs. Godzila Toho decided to cross-over with it's own monster, Mothra vs. it's famous lizard. Mothra vs. Godzilla showcases a variety of themes including that of nature, greed, and about the power of journalism and public opinion. It is a very interesting Godzilla film in that regard.
The film starts with some reports Ichiro Sakai and his photographer Junko Nakanishi who take pictures of an area ravaged by a typhoon. They discover a strange shiny object and salvage it. Then a giant egg is found around the same waters and local villagers sell the egg to Happy Enterprises and it's boss Kumayama. He wants to turn the egg into a large tourist attraction. We then found out that same shiny object was radioactive, but don't find out why until later.
They meet with Professor Miura who tells them about the radioactivity and discuss the egg at the hotel when the see Kumayama checking in. In his room Kumayama meets with Jiro Torahata. The two of them are confronted by the twin girls known as Shobijin. Seeing only their greed they try to capture the girls who escape. The twins then meet up with Mira and Sakai's group where the journalists treat them with kindness.
The twins then tell the trio that the egg belongs to Mothra and they don't want trouble to occur once the egg hatches. Again the theme of nature and greed are the real two themes in this film. They return to the beach and discover the whole area is radioactive. It seems that the radioactivity stems from the beach and Godzilla appears, which of course is the source of the radiation.
With the attack in full swing the trio go to Infant Island and plea with the villagers and the twins for Mothra to save Japan. They initially do not agree, but are pursuaded to do so. The twins warn them that Mothra is near death, but she will try to help until she dies.
In the chaos of Godzilla's rampage Kumayama finds out that he has been swindled by Torahata and demands his money. He is then shot by Torahata who tries to escape with the money and is eventually killed by Godzilla. Mothra fights Godzilla right when Godzilla reaches the egg and the two fight. Godzilla is immune to her powers and beats her with his atomic breath.
Godzilla continues his rampage and leaves the egg alone. This allows two larvae to hatch. Meanwhile Godzilla heads to Iwa Island. The two worms spray Godzilla in their silk and win the battle against the atomic creature.
Themes of nature and coming together are present in this film and are set as a foil against the greed of the villains. It is quite an interesting way to deal with the themes, and have monsters fighting in the background.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
According to Toho lore with the success of the past films, the company decided to get pretty ballsy and have a huge cross-over film that featured Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan. They would then create a fourth monster, King Ghidorah and feature the three once foes team up against this new threat. This film is then given it's own human plot to revolve around these monsters, and it does it in a rather interesting way.
A princess from a small kingdom of Selgina is arriving to Japan due to the threat of her assassination. A police detective named Shindo is sent to be her bodyguard, but her plane is mysteriously blown up on the way to Japan. Around the same time, a meteorite shower appears and one of them crashes in Japan. A geologist named Murai and his team of scientists go to investigate the meteor.
Quite sometime after the princesses plane blows up a prophetess appears in Japan claiming to be from Venus announcing to the world various disasters. Her prophecies come true predicting Rodan and Godzilla's advancements to the Japanese mainland.
The princess's uncle sends assassins to take out the princess after it is revealed that she is alive. Shindo then tries to protect the princess. They discover the golden bracelet was given to a fisherman which is the princesses showing that the prophetess is indeed the amnesiac royalty. It is around this time that she warns the twins of Infant Island of an attack, where Godzilla appears and destroys their ship. Godzilla and Rodan start fighting in the process destroying Japan.
Our princess turned prophetess warns that King Ghidorah has come to Earth and will destroy the planet and she is here to warn people. The twins are brought to the prime minster at first with a plan to use Mothra to destroy Godzilla, but in a twist the twins claim that Mothra won't be able to defeat Ghidorah. The twins state that only if Mothra, Godzilla and Rodan work together will their plan work.
Mothra comes and tries to stop Rodan and Godzilla to fight. But, like two bickering children they refuse and Mothra goes and fights Ghidora alone. Mothra is thrown around by Ghidorah's gravity beams, but Godzilla and Rodan have a change of heart and the three of them work to defeat King Ghidorah.
Meanwhile the princess tries to appease the gods in her insanity, but Shindo rescues her from the assassin. The bullet hits her in the head and she remembers who she was. The assassin is not so lucky as a rockslide caused by Ghidorah kills him. Now with the princess back to normal the monsters team up and scare away Ghidorah from Earth.
The themes in this film are kinda dated, because we have a lot of anti-scientific rhetoric in this film. There is a lot of sensationalism. Not just in psychic powers, but in the distrust of science. It isn't an overarching theme, but it is clearly threaded into the plot since the princess's prophecies come true. Beyond that the most obvious theme is that of the monsters working together against a common foe. It is very much so pressured throughout the end of the film that the monsters should work together. This gets straight up comical near the end of the film while the twins translate the needy Mothra's appeal to Godzilla and Rodan who are like spoiled children.
Overall, it is a fun flick with a interesting human plot. It isn't the best Showa film, but it is still rather interesting. It also is the first film where Godzilla is seen as not purely a menace, a theme that would continue on in many films of the rest of the Showa film.
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A.L. Hornbeck, historian, author, metalhead, and all around geek.