Gojira (1954)



Directed by Ishirō Honda, ships are mysterious disappearing and the whole country of Japan is scrambling in figuring out the cause. But once they soon discover the cause, it’ll bring more disaster than they even realized.

The year is 1945, the year which the United States tested a device that would change the game in terms of weaponry forever. It was the Trinity Test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon. With that successful test, two atomic bombs were constructed and detonated in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The success of these tests prompted even more nuclear testing by the U.S. One of them being Castle Bravo which was tested on Bikini Atoll. This is a test that brought unprecedented contamination for a Japanese fishing boat. There were 23 men onboard during the test, all became sick from radiation exposure. 22 men survived and one died. It was this incident that inspired this film in particular.

Gojira, a movie that started a major monster franchise that is going strong today. A movie that has a simple story, but is executed great. A movie that has themes are still relevant.

The most important theme that this film is getting across is the horrors of atomic bombs and their effects on the environment/people. It is trying to get the audience to say that we as humans bring forth our own destruction. When we do something horrific, karma will come around the corner to strike back with a vengeance. In this case, Mother Nature is punishing us for what we are doing to the blue planet we call Earth. Our testing of such weapons can show our ignorance of not wanting to think about the outcomes. The only thing on our minds is seeing if the weapon works and is it good for killing. This is represented clearly in a scene where Dr. Serizawa, played by Akihito Hirata, is discussing the dangerous ramifications of his discovery of Oxygen Destroyer. The fear of his weapon being tested by the government for their own selfish gain is greatly shown on his face. The possibility of another H-Bomb type weapon being tested and something horrific coming from that weapon to cause chaos.

Speaking of something horrific, Gojira is a great representation of the effects of atomic bombs. This is a character that you can, in a way, feel sorry as he represents a person that was badly damaged by the bombs. His skin looks burnt and rough, much like ones damaged by radiation. His attacks signify his way of showing citizens of Japan what happens when they don’t listen. For having God in his name, Gojira is God and is punishing the country for its wrongdoings. But what is to say that Japan is the reason for Gojira’s uprising.

One concept that this film brings forth is anti-U.S sentiments in some fashion. Since this film is heavily inspired by the boat incident after Castle Bravo, it can strongly go hand to hand with the idea of the U.S creating Gojira. Though of course it isn’t directly stated that the U.S is responsible in the film, it is a great way of tying or at least, paralleling the impact Gojira had on Japan, with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

One comparison that I can make to Dr. Serizawa, is that he bares similar ideologies about his work much like J. Robert Oppenheimer, inventor of the atomic bomb. These two men are scientists who loved the work they were doing. They wanted to thrive and push scientific boundaries to their absolute limits. The two wanted to impress the world with the revolutionary breakthroughs that they have achieved. But once they reached those absolute limits, their happiness went sour for what they discovered. Their discoveries are things that no man should never utilize or tamper with. They both dread the godly power that their inventions could achieve and they most certainly don’t want to have them fall in the wrong hands.

This film did something that really set it apart from previous monster movies before, which had the story be dark, depressing, and above all else, serious. The director wanted to have a movie that featured a crisis that felt real. As mentioned before, the film wanted to have the viewer witness the effects the inevitable bombs on the Japanese and it truly succeeds here. The best scenes are when Gojira is creating a fiery path of destruction in Tokyo. The scenes of the fires overcoming the rooftops of buildings in the distance was remarkable. There is a short part where the camera pans to the left showcasing the damage left behind by Gojira. This is eerily similar to the destruction of Hiroshima/Nagasaki if you go and look at pictures to compare.

Witnessing these destruction scenes really sends chills down the spine, to a point where you were tearing up. There are scenes where people do die, unlike most monster movies. Where they show destruction, but don’t expand on the impact it has on the people. You have a mother holding her two children while they wait to be with their father in heaven, a child crying over the loss of her parent, and a choir of young girls seeing. It’s all very depressing and foreboding. One definitely feels for the citizens and Gojira, even in his suitmation glory, is scary at some parts. This film was originally going to be shot in color, but the black/white helps to represent the dark tone. This is shown best where you view low-angle shots of Gojira in the dark as he is walking. These shots really give a sense of power that this monster is giving off and the iconic roars that he delivers was something else.

The music is another element of the film that sets it apart from monster movies at the time. All of the music was orchestrated by the legendary Akira Ifukube and the stuff he throws in here is awesome, definitely something special. A theme that is so iconic not just in the monster genre, but in film in general. It is a theme that is equally recognizable, along with Gojira’s iconic roars.

Now I believe I don’t need any introduction or say much about one of the most infamous movie monsters of all time. While his design has changed over the course of 30+ films, the foundation of what he essentially looks like is still there. It is this particular design for the film that makes it one of the best, if not the best, out of the entire franchise. The suitmation effects are stellar and actor, Haruo Nakajima, does a fantastic job especially in the brutal conditions he faced while in the Gojira suit itself. R.I.P. Now not everything was suitmation, there was a very short scene where stop-motion was utilized for Gojira’s tail smashing a building which was very cool.

In terms of the other characters, I thought they did there parts very well. When it comes to a lot of monster movies, they solely want to focus on the monster action and keep the dialogue sequences average at best. But this is one those exceptions where you are entertained in these sequences and the serious tone that this film carries through helps bring forth that sense of worry for the characters.

Now with the high praise, there are some things that had me scratching my head. There are a few instances where the editing tends to be iffy. A scene would jump cut into another or itself out of pure random. The film states that Gojira is a two-million-year-old creature and it lived amongst the dinosaurs, even though dinosaurs roamed the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago. I’m not sure if there was poor translation when creating the English subtitles or if it was in the original Japanese script.

This is a film that, while the plot itself is in B-movie fashion, it is highly executed in the most exceptional way possible. It did something new that a lot of films in this genre hardly did. This is truly one of my favorite movies of all time and I highly recommend watching it immediately.

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