Gojira (Godzilla)

Movie Information

Ishiro Honda's Gojira (Godzilla) is part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World. The film was scheduled to be screened Friday, Nov. 23, but was cancelled. It has been rescheduled to show Friday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Horror Sci-Fi
Director: Ishiro Honda
Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura
Rated: NR

When the name Godzilla (or Gojira as he’s more properly called) comes up, the immediate image that comes to mind is that of rather childish movies with guys in big rubber suits stomping around generally unbelievable miniature Japanese cities causing mass destruction while footage of grim-faced extras running around are spliced in. To some extent that’s also true of Ishiro Honda’s Gojira (1954), which was released in the U.S. a couple years later as Godzilla: King of the Monsters—with added footage involving an American reporter (Raymond Burr) and other footage excised. Even in that form, however, the film was a singularly grim affair that clearly wasn’t aimed at kids. Seen in its original Japanese version (as it is here), Gojira emerges as something of a classic—and an essential work of Japanese cinema. That’s less surprising when you realize that the film’s director, Ishiro Honda, was not only a close friend of Akira Kurosawa, but was the filmmaker Kurosawa entrusted to handle some of the sequences in Dreams (1990) when his own health was failing.

Gojira is a dark, deeply disturbing film with the specter of World War II and the atomic bomb hanging over nearly every scene. (Even when Honda’s later films became lighter in tone, the fear of nuclear devastation, the effects of radiation and the legacy of World War II were frequently present.) The monster itself—a fanciful creature awakened by hydrogen-bomb testing—is contaminated and transformed by radiation with part of its destructive power coming from its ability to breathe radioactive fire that’s eerily reminiscent of an atomic blast. What makes Gojira a very political work are these elements combined with a war-scarred scientist who fears that using his invention to destroy the creature will only cause his device to become a tool of war. At the same time, scenes of children being tested for radiation poisoning in the wake of the monster’s attack are a pretty obvious allegory.

As filmmaking, Gojira is an accomplished work. With the monster’s rampaging taking place at night, the sketchy effects work is far more believable than in any subsequent entry in the series. Plus, Honda keeps the beast off-screen for a good deal of the time, relying on the sense of dreading what will happen. Whatever one’s take on the Japanese giant-monster sub-genre it spawned, there’s no denying that Gojira is anything but a kid flick.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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6 thoughts on “Gojira (Godzilla)

  1. Dionysis

    And for those who like the occasional Japanese monster flick, I recommend the recently released three-film boxed set which includes VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (just another man-in-rubber monster suit take), along with two really good ones: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE and THE MYSTERIANS, all in widescreen with superb image quality. Those films, along with RODAN and my personal favorite, THE H-MAN, are the best of Japanese sci-fi (in my humble opinion).

  2. Ken Hanke

    I may have to get that. I’ve never seen VARAN, but the other two titles are good. THE H-MAN definitely needs a widescreen release. Also worth checking out — and it at least was available in a nice wide-screen version — is the very silly ATRAGON, if only for its templeful of ladies in wigs that look like Kathleen Turner as “China Blue” in CRIMES OF PASSION, and the curious inclusion of a scientist who can’t let go of WW II and doesn’t want his invention used for anything but the glory of the empire.

  3. Dionysis

    “THE H-MAN definitely needs a widescreen release.”

    I agree, except that I actually have a copy of this title in widescreen on some Japanese label. It’s region-free, and has a stunningly good image. I don’t think it’s ever been released in the U.S. except on VHS.

  4. I’ve never seen THE H-MAN, but have read about it for years. Who owns the rights to that one? If THE MYSTERIANS came out surely this one can as well.

    Sony has been doing a bang up job with the Godzilla reissues, starting with GOJIRA last year. There’s a few out now and they all great picture and sound quality, plus nice extras.


  5. Ken Hanke

    It was made by Toho (there’s a shock) and distributed in the US by Columbia, so Sony should have the rights.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Worth noting is the fact that World Cinema had to cancel last night’s showing due to a fire in the area that left them without electricity. I’m informed that GOJIRA will be shown next Friday evening.

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