Godzilla (1954) - Analysis
Gojira (Godzilla) – Directed by Ishiro Honda (1954)
A lizard-like Kaiju (Japanese for Huge Monster) that romps through the city of Tokyo, destroying everything in its path.
Godzilla is an Americanized translation of the Japanese pronunciation, Gojira. The word comes from combining two Japanese words: gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale). In the conceptual stage of the film, the production team were given these two words to try to figure out what the monster was going to look like (godzilla.monsterous.com).
Godzilla is a terrifying monster that comes to shore to wreck havoc on the Japanese people after nuclear tests at sea awakened him from his slumber in the great depths of the ocean. He is an “unstoppable force” that destroys everything in its path.
Nuclear-Powered Beings From Japan:
Nuclear radiation and the creation of super-powered beings have been quite prevalent in Japanese and American Pop Culture alike. In 1951, artist Osamu Tezuka created a comic series about an atomic powered robot called Tetsuwan Atomu (Mighty Atom), which would later be translated to English as Astroboy. Gojira hit theaters in 1954, and reached American shores in a heavily edited version Raymond Burr titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters. In the United States, almost half of the superheroes were created from nuclear radiation including: Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, Firestorm, and Dr. Manhattan (Watchmen).
Over the years, Japanese companies have created over 100 films and several TV shows with giant monsters, called Kaiju. While tales of giant beasts are timeless and their stories have been told throughout all cultures, most of what inspired kaiju films was 1933’s King Kong, a film about a giant gorilla, who was pulled from his homeland of Skull Island to the be on display in New York City. Needless to say, things don’t go well for the cities’ inhabitants, or the ape. The first Kaiju film made in Japan was King Kong Appears in Edo, a lost silent film produced for Japanese audiences in 1938, but there is quite a debate over whether or not the film is actually a hoax (Faraci). After Gojira’s creation, the first sequel was released only a year later, Godzilla Raids Again, in which Godzilla faced off against another kaiju by the name of Anguirus. Giant monster fights would come to cement themselves as a common trope of Kaiju films and TV shows to come, including the Godzilla Franchise, the Gamera Francise, and the Ultraman Franchise. The first American film to actually use the word “kaiju”, when referring to giant monsters, was the 2013 film Pacific Rim, a film heavily influenced by many aspects of Japanese Pop Culture, including giant mechanized, human piloted, robots.
Contrary to its re-edited version Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Toho’s Gojira is a very bleak film. In the beginning of the film, a fishing boat called the Eiko Maru was destroyed after a blinding light erupted from the deep. While the Japanese Coast Guard try to figure out what happened, three survivors washed up on shore and reported that a monster destroyed their boat. The next evening, Gojira arrived on shore and destroyed a small village. As the Japanese military frantically tried to figure out a way to contain or kill the monster, he disappeared at sea, only to return later to destroy the city of Tokyo. When the monster arrived on shore, they tried electrocuting him, but it failed to stop him. He then breathed his infamous atomic breath destroying the electric fence. They fired missiles at him in another failed attempt at stopping him. Gojira proceeded to wreak havoc through cities killing hundreds, if not thousands of Japanese citizens. The film really lingers on the aftermath of Gojira’s decimation of Tokyo, showing overcrowded hospitals as a choir sings a hauntingly beautiful song called “Prayer for Peace,” the lyrics a dramatic begging for an end to the destruction. Gojira is eventually destroyed by “The Oxygen Destroyer,” when he returns to sea, thus ending the film.
Nuclear Bombs (Atom and Hydrogen Bombs):
Gojira’s destruction of Tokyo is allegorical to the atomic bomb dropped on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945. The destruction of the two military manufacturing cities left Japan completely helpless, forcing the prideful country to surrender. Following Japan’s surrender, the US military occupied Japanese bases, and conducted bomb tests in Japanese waters. The film was directly inspired by the Hydrogen Bomb test at Bikini Atoll, witnessed by a Japanese fishing ship called the Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon), which was about 750-1000 times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Some may argue that Gojira himself represents the atomic bomb in the 1954 film, and in fact the director himself wanted Gojira to be “the A-bomb made flesh” (Roberto).
Gojira is a thinly veiled allusion to the atomic bomb, but one could take it a step further and say that the monster, Gojira, represents the United States military. After the war, the Japanese entertainment industry was very bitter about the United States, partly due to the fact that their film industry was collapsing from very limited budgets.
Gojira is practically a rip off of the Warner Bros. feature The Beast from 20, 000 Fathoms, a film about a monster that emerges from the deep to bring destruction to New York City. Director Ishiro Honda pitched the original title for the film as The Monster from 20,000 Feet, which is almost laughably similar to the film that inspired it. Honda also wanted to use stop motion animation, similar to the animation used by Ray Harryhausen, an stop motion pioneer in the west, but due to budget constraints, he had to switch to “suitmation,” where a man or woman steps inside a handcrafted suit, usually made out of rubber, and walks around a miniature set, destroying miniature houses, tanks, etc. This technique ended up being used for the majority of the kaiju films.
Gojira is a cautionary tale, explicitly warning us to stop nuclear testing. In the end of the film, a scientist exclaims that there will be more Gojira if we do not stop nuclear testing.
Gojira, unlike most monster films before or after, takes itself completely seriously.
Over time, Gojira turned from a fearful monster, to a kid friendly hero, and removing almost all elements criticizing nuclear testing. Even the Gojira (Japanese) and Godzilla (American) films had elements of kitsch and cheese, but in 1985 the film Godzilla Returns was released, which was the first direct sequel to the 1954 film, and took itself almost as seriously as the original.
Gojira, for the most part, created a new genre of film in Japan, but the genre was already popular in America years before. When Godzilla: King of the Monsters was release in the United States, it was met with very mixed reviews, and it wasn’t until 2004 that the original uncut Japanese version was released in the United States, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original film.
Director Ishiro Honda would make several more kaiju films, as well as allegorical Science Fiction films, mostly centering around themes brought about with the aftermath of World War II and the Atomic Bomb.
Gojira is film about the plight of the Japanese near the end of World War II. It is a tragic film, with almost no comic relief. The original cut, contrary to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, strongly calls for the Japanese to not allow the US to conduct nuclear tests. One could assume that this anti-nuclear message was seen as anti-American and subsequently cut from the initial US release of the film. The film also begs for the Japanese to have strength despite their defeat at the end of WWII.
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