Gojira – Godzilla
In 1954 Toho Studios released two movies. The simultaneous production almost forced Toho Kabushiki Kaisha into bankruptcy.[i] The Both movies became classics. Both movies had American versions of them made. One movie is Seven Samurai. The other movie is Gojira. The American version, released in 1956, is Godzilla: King of the Monsters!.
Giant monster films have been around since the 1925 film The Lost World. Gojira and the 1956 American version Godzilla: King of the Monsters! Involved some clever film making. Gojira cost about $175,000 to make and was a box office success.[ii] It was nominated for the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to Seven Samurai. Gojira won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.[iii]
Gojira had mixed reviews in Japan. Toho released a sequel Godzilla Raids Again in 1955. It had an $800,000 budget and was more favorably reviewed by critics. It wasn’t as big a box office success as the original. At the time the Japanese believed science fiction movies should be for mass entertainment. It was considered “weird” for the genre to have serious themes.[iv]
New York Times Film critic Crowther Bosley began his review of Godzilla: King of the Monsters!; “As though there are not enough monsters coming from Hollywood, an organization that calls itself Jewell Enterprises has had to import??? from Japan.”[v] At the time Japan was known for producing low quality merchandise. Not even bad reviews could stop Godzilla. It was Godzilla that started the Kaiju genre. Godzilla vs. Kong is due for release in 2021.[vi]
This article contains spoilers. The Gojira which is shown today is a remastered version. There are no known copies of the originals. Please check your attic, basement, or wherever long forgetting items may be found.
[i] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/reference, last accessed 7/10/2020.
[ii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0197521/reference, last accessed 7/5/2020.
[iii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/trivia, last accessed 7/10/2020
[iv] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048127/trivia, last accessed 7/6/2020.
[v] New York Times, Screen: Horror Import; ‘Godzilla’ a Japanese Film, Is at State, by Bosley Crowther, April 28, 1956, https://www.nytimes.com/1956/04/28/archives/screen-horror-import-godzilla-a-japanese-film-is-at-state.html?sq=godzilla&scp=3&st=p, last accessed 7/2/2020.
[vi] CBR.com, Godzilla vs. Kong: Trailer, Release Date, Plot and News to Know (So Far), by Hector Valvrede, April 12, 2020, https://www.cbr.com/godzilla-vs-kong-information-guide/, last accessed 7/2/2020.
Inspirations and Innovations
Gojira was a coined contraction for a gorilla-whale (gorira-kujira). Screenwriter Shigeru Kayama originally envisioned a monster that was a cross between a gorilla and a whale. The 1953 film, with animation effects by Ray Harryhausen, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms inspired producer Tomoyuki Tanaka to have the monster be a dinosaur.[i] Tanaka decided stop motion animation was not practical. Stop motion is a painstaking animation method. It would take a day to make about ½ second worth of filming. In 1954 there wasn’t anyone in Japan who had the skills to make credible stop action scenes. As an alternative Tanaka decided to use a man in a monster suit.[ii]
An actor in a monster suit involved creating a suit and making a miniature city for the character to destroy. The monster suit has its share of technical difficulties. The first Godzilla suit was 6 ½ feet (2 meters) tall and weighed more than 200 pounds (90 Kilograms).[iii] This suit was too heavy and inflexible for the actors, who played Godzilla. They made a lighter suit that had more flexibility. Some of the movie scenes that just show Godzilla’s feet are from the initial Godzilla suit. Even the lighter suit was difficult for the actors. The actors would sweat profusely inside the suit and sometimes passed out. The actors who performed as Godzilla were; Ryosaku Takasugi, Jiro Suzuki, Hauro Nkajima who also played a power station worker, and Katsumi Tezuka who also played a newspaper editor.[iv]
Godzilla has a distinctive roar. The sound department wasn’t happy with animal sounds. Akira Ifukube got a contrabass, and rubbed a coarse resin-coated leather glove up and down the strings. He reverberated the recorded sound. This gave Godzilla its famous roar. Ifukube beat a kettle drum with a knotted rope to produce the sound of Godzilla’s footsteps.[v]
At 6:45 a.m. on March 1, 1954 the Japanese tuna fishing vessel Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon 5) was 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the Bikini Atoll. The United States detonated the first Hydrogen Bomb. As with the first atomic bomb test the nuclear scientists underestimated the possible yield.[vi] The expected yield was 4-6 megatons (16 – 25 petajoules). The actual yield was over 15 megatons (62 petajoules). The Daigo Fukuryu Maru was downwind from the blast. The mariners saw the blast, and the explosion rocked the boat. The crew continued fishing until about 10 a.m. when coral dust rained down on them. The process of pulling in the nets took several hours. When the crew returned to Japan they were admitted to hospitals in Tokyo. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) denied the mariners had radiation poisoning. AiKichi Kuboyama, the ship’s radio operator, died from radiation poisoning on September 23, 1954. The U.S. government eventually paid his widow $2,500 in restitution.[vii] This incident, which fueled Japan’s anti-nuclear movement, was the inspiration for Gojira’s opening scene.
Gojira had a limited release in the United States. It was believed an American audience needed an American actor in the starring role. Terry O. Morse directed a cast of American actors in six days of filming. The Morse scenes were edited into the original film. The resulting film was Godzilla: King of the Monsters! In some cases, an American double of the Japanese actor was shown from behind. Godzilla: King of the Monsters! was mostly narrated in flashback. There was some voice dubbing of the Japanese movie. The dubbing was often faithful to the original but there were some variations.
[i] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/trivia, last accessed 7/10/2020.
[ii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/trivia, last accessed 7/10/2020.
[iii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/trivia, last accessed 7/10/2020.
[iv] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/reference, last accessed 7/10/2020.
[v] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047034/trivia, last accessed 7/10/2020.
[vi] Nuclear scientists estimated the yield of the first atomic bombs would be 1/10 to ½ of their actual yield. The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II, An exhibition label script for the National Air and Space Museum, © 1994 Smithsonian Institution, EG:200, October 26, 1994, P.43.
[vii] The Lucky Dragon Incident and the Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test by Kallie Szczepanski, updated April 5, 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/the-lucky-dragon-incident-195579, last accessed 7/5/2020.
Movies and Variations
Gojira opens with sailors on a boat seeing a flash of light. There is bubbling in the water. There is pandemonium on the ship’s deck. The ship sends out an SOS but is soon engulfed in flames. Soon after another ship is sunk in a similar manner. A fishing boat finds 3 survivors but the finish boat is also sunk.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters! is told mostly in flashback. The movie opens with a devastated Tokyo. Reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) narrates the scene, and the rest of the movie. Steve Martin claims the Tokyo population was 6 million. In the mid-1950s the Tokyo population was over 11 million.[i] The movie flashes back to Steve Martin on a flight to Tokyo to visit Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), a famed scientist. While Steve Martin is flying, a merchant ship is destroyed by fire. When Steve Martin is in customs he is taken aside and is told they were asking all the passengers on the flight if they saw anything. Seven more ships meet a similar fate.
There was an incident on an island during a heavy storm. The islanders believed it was a work of a legendary monster they call “Godzilla”.[ii] In Godzilla: King of the Monsters! Steve Martin and a Japanese Coast Guard officer spend the night on the island in a pup tent.
A delegation from the Island travels to Tokyo to testify about what happened. The Diet Committee decides to send a scientific team, headed by Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura), to the island. Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko (Momoko Kôchi) and Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada) were also on the expedition.[iii] Godzilla: King of the Monsters! immediately mentions a love triangle between Emiko, Hideto, and Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. On the island the team immediately found a giant footprint and a trilobite. Godzilla soon made an appearance. Godzilla soon made an appearance. The team and villagers ran up a hill to see Godzilla. Godzilla emerged from the top of the hill and the team and villagers ran down the hill. The villagers ran up the hill and saw Godzilla’s footprints and tail print in the sand below.
The team returned to Tokyo to report their findings. The photograph of Godzilla was an obvious drawing. The Dr. Yamane gave the briefing. He theorized the monster was a missing link between the sea animals and the land animals. Dinosaurs were thought to have been extinct for 2 million years. In the real world the dinosaurs were extinct for more than 65 million years. Trilobites became extinct much earlier than that. While dinosaurs did not drag their tails that was not known in the 1950s. Gojira put Godzilla’s size at 150 feet (45 meters). Godzilla: King of the Monsters! put Godzilla’s size at 400 feet (120 meters). Godzilla, and other giant monster movies, probably disappointed many children who were unimpressed when they saw skeletons of real dinosaurs in museums. In 1986 scientists discovered an Argentinosaurus that was 120 feet (37 meters) long.[iv]
Gojira put more emphasis on H-Bomb tests being the likely cause for Godzilla coming out of an underground cavern. In Gojira a woman (Shizuko Higashi) was outspoken about the need to tell the truth. Godzilla: King of the Monsters! didn’t have the woman’s exchange with Parliamentarian Oyama (Seijirô Onda).
The Diet decides to kill Godzilla. Emiko goes to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa to tell him their marriage is off. Dr. Serizawa shows Emiko something horrifying and swears her to secrecy. She doesn’t get around to telling Dr. Serizawa about their marriage. Gojira mentions Dr. Serizawa losing an eye in the war. It also mentions him conversing with German scientists. Godzilla: King of the Monsters! doesn’t mention this.
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force drops depth charges to destroy Godzilla. In Gojira Dr. Yamane is angry about the decision to destroy Godzilla. When Hideto Ogata respectfully disagrees with Dr. Yamane, Dr. Yamane orders Hideto out of the house and stomps out of the room. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters! Dr. Yamane believes Godzilla should be kept alive and studied but his mood is somber.
In Godzilla: King of the Monsters! a scene on a boat is described as a celebration of Godzilla’s demise. In Gojira it seems a typical nightlife scene in Tokyo Bay. Godzilla comes out of the bay and causes some damage. The damage included the destruction of a passenger train and the trainyard. This appearance was a preliminary for the main event.
The Japanese prepare for Godzilla’s next appearance. There is an evacuation. The Japanese construct a series of electrical towers around Tokyo Bay as their main line of defense. In Gojira the barrier was said to have 50,000 volts. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters! the barrier was said to contain 300,000 volts. The voltage was increased in the American version to make the barrier a more credible threat.[v] One of the advantages of the electrical barrier construction is it gives the impression human ingenuity would prevail. Godzilla already caused damage comparable to King Kong and the Rhedosaurus.[vi]
Steve Martin is in an office building with a tape recorder when Godzilla emerges from Tokyo Bay. Steve Martin narrates. The electrical barrier is a minor nuisance and Godzilla melts some towers with its flaming breath. Godzilla proceeds to burn and crush its way through Tokyo. A group of reporters are on a tower. Camera flash bulbs attract Godzilla. A reporter on the tower, reports his imminent demise and says farewell to the audience. Steve Martin signs off as Godzilla is about to crush the office building.
There are scenes of a hospital overflowing with injured. Emiko is a volunteer at the hospital. The devastation convinces Emiko she has to break her promise to Dr. Serizawa. A flashback shows what horrified Emiko. Dr. Serizawa discovered a method of removing all oxygen from the water. This immediately kills and decomposes all life. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters! a double for Emiko has her back to the camera. Steve Martin tells Emiko she has to convince Dr. Serizawa to use his invention to destroy Godzilla.
Emiko and Hideto confront Dr. Serizawa about the “oxygen destroyer”. Hideto and Dr. Serizawa have a fist fight. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters! Hideto tells Dr Serizawa; “You have your fear which might become reality, and you have Godzilla, which is a reality.” Dr. Serizawa decides he will use his oxygen destroyer but must insure it will never be used again. Dr. Serizawa destroys all his notes.
Hideto and Dr. Serizawa dive into Tokyo Bay where Dr. Serizawa activates the oxygen destroyer. The oxygen destroyer kills Godzilla. Dr. Serizawa wishes Emiko and Hideto a happy life together then cuts his lifeline.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters! puts its emphasis on the love triangle as a motive for Dr. Serizawa’s suicide. Gojira seems to put more emphasis on Dr. Serizawa’s concern he could somehow be made to reveal the secrets of the oxygen destroyer.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters! has a monster destroyed all clear type ending. Dr. Yamane speaks the last line in Gojira; “I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species. But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.”
[i] Luminocity3d.org, http://luminocity3d.org/WorldCity/#3/12.00/10.00, last accessed 7/8/2020.
[ii] While it’s transliterated into the Roman Alphabet as “Gojira” the pronunciation is closest to “Godzilla”.
[iii] Akira Takarada was born in Chongjin, Korea.
[iv] Thoughtco.com, The 20 Biggest Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Reptiles, https://www.thoughtco.com/biggest-dinosaurs-and-prehistoric-reptiles-1091964#:~:text=Although%20paleontologists%20claim%20to%20have%20identified%20bigger%20dinosaurs%2C,tail%20and%20may%20have%20weighed%20nearly%20100%20tons, last accessed 7/9/2020..
[v] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0197521/trivia, last accessed 7/9/2020.
[vi] The Rhedosaurus was The Beast from 20,000 fathoms.
You have your fear which might become reality, and you have Godzilla, which is a reality.-Hideto Ogata-
Should an extreme action be decided on the current problem or future repercussions?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi