The Original Japanese Masterpiece
Hollywood is filled with wonderful, trashy tales and legends of films being altered from their creator’s original intentions. Welles’ Touch of Evil, Gilliam’s Brazil, von Stroheim’s Greed, and the list goes on, but now another title needs to be added to that list: Gojira, the original Japanese film that became known as Godzilla, King of the Monsters in America and the rest of the world.
Most people know Godzilla as a B-movie monster who went onto to become an international sensation with a series of films, but those in Japan and those lucky enough to see the film’s 50th anniversary art-house run in 2004 know that Gojira is a masterful film that brilliantly relates a cautionary tale about the horrors of the atomic bomb. As a Japanese soldier, director Ishiro Honda witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima and recreated those haunting images in the film. The monster and its wanton destruction paralleled the atomic bomb to powerful effect.
When Gojira was bought and brought to America, the producers wanted to play up the monster angle, which had been a very successful business model at the 1950’s box office. To make the film more accessible, the character of Steve Martin, played by Raymond Burr, was created. He was a reporter who witnessed the monster’s destruction and was inserted into some scenes through editing and tricks of staging. Scenes were cut, altered and moved around. Director Terry Morse was given this difficult task and pulled it off surprisingly well. The film was given the attention-grabbing title Godzilla, King of the Monsters.
While Godzilla succeeds as a monster movie, it is unfortunate that only 60 minutes of Gojira remains, resulting in most of the poignancy and power of atomic bomb metaphor being lost. Godzilla ends with a sense of relief after the monster is destroyed, but Gojira ends on a note of warning and trepidation as Dr. Yamane says, “If we continue testing H-bombs, another Godzilla will one day appear.”
Both versions of the film have a commentary track by Steve Ryfle, author of Japan’s Favorite Mon Star: The Unauthorized Biography of Godzilla and Ed Godziszewski, publisher/editor of Japanese Giants: The Magazine of Japanese Science Fiction and Fantasy. They discuss the film’s historical background, the creative team, and the innovative special effects, comparing and contrasting with a great deal of insight. On the Godzilla track, they also play interviews with people involved in bringing the film to America and people with second-hand knowledge about the transition.
Gojira is in Japanese and English subtitles are available. It comes with two featurettes that deal with the story development and the making of the Godzilla suit; Godziszewski produced both. The former details the changes from the original story to the final product. It is told over images comprised of Gojira stills and posters. The latter is broken into three parts, explaining the design, the construction, and the suit in action. There are some fantastic behind-the-scenes photos, particularly shots of the stunt actors wearing only Gojira’s feet.
The DVDs come in a sharp-looking case that resembles a small, hardcover book, giving the film an air of prestige that it deserves. Unfortunately, the video has not been cleaned up. The image has very many scratches, especially during the effects shots due to poor handling of the original negative during postproduction.
Considering diehard Godzilla fans are the most likely to buy this set, I was surprised they didn’t clean it up and charge twice as much. Plus, where is the Godzilla action figure? Someone in marketing really missed the boat; however, it’s a good set at a great price. Even if you only choose to rent it, I strongly recommend that everyone see Gojira.