Of Gods and Zillas
Godzilla The Japanese Original*** (three stars)
The original Japanese cut of ”Godzilla” invading America again. It will open in Chicago on May 9 at the Music Box Theater. The revival might be taking place because there is a new big budget remake of Godzilla opening on May 14 , 2014.
The Japanese version is a vast improvement over the version that was released in the United States under the title “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.’" American distributors butchered the film, skewered its message, and rearranged the scenes into non-linear order.
“Godzilla” was directed by Ishiro Honda, who assisted Akira Kurosawa on several films including “Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior,” “Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams,” and “Rhapsody in Blue.” Believe it or not Kurasawa had stated that he always wanted to make a Godzilla film himself.
Honda is most known for his direction of countless “kaiiju films” (the literal meaning is strange creature, but the word is usually used to refer to mean Japanese giant monsters) films including other Godzilla films. But none of them matched the dramatic intensity of the original.
“Godzilla” is the most significant and serious film in the series. Godzilla was not originally a campy superhero, but a natural engine of destruction. Later Godzilla films have taken their cues from this one and one of the more recent ones: “Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” even wipes out all the continuity between itself and the first film.
The Godzilla creature can also be seen as a symbol for the atomic bomb, and Honda tried to recreate the destruction of big Japanese cities that occurred in WW II in the film. The restored scenes that refer directly to Nagasaki and Hiroshima reinforce this interpretation.
The American version adds 20 minutes of unnecessary footage featuring the American actor, Raymond Burr, and it deletes approximately 40 minutes of footage from the Japanese version. The deleted footage includes most of the social commentary and anti -American criticism.
The film begins with the disappearance of fish off near Odo island. The natives believe that a great God-like creature called Godzilla (Gojira or gorilla whale in Japanese), comes to land to feed when his underwater food is depleted.
Atomic tests may have killed his natural food, so he strikes out against humanity. The monster eventually turns its attentions to Tokyo, and it seems indestructible. A scientist makes a new breakthrough but he is hesitant to use it because it may be misused by the military.
There is also a well-developed love triangle angle in the film. Emiko and the bookish Dr. Serizawa are engaged, but Emiko may falls for another man, Ogata. The couple tries to reveal their plans to Emiko’s father, but fate keeps interrupting.
“Godzilla” never equals its inspiration. “King Kong (1933)” in terms of its overall emotional impact, but it’s still one of the better giant monster movies. Compared to this version, the 1998 American remake especially looks bad. My hopes aren’t that high for the new version either. At the risk of being labeled a purist, some things should stay Japanese.
** This is a bit off the subject but you can purchase some Godzilla and other kaiiju collectables at Monster Island Toys which is located at 750 W. 35th in the Bridgeport area in Chicago.
The web site can be found at http://monsterislandtoys.com/.
***Since this is technically a poetry blog, I should sneak in some material related to poetry in this entry Here’s a link to a simply smashing poem about the big green guy.