Godzilla: The Japanese Original
60th Anniversary Restoration by Rialto Pictures
At Film Forum (209 W Houston Street) April 18-24
I, like most Americans, was introduced to the renowned titular character with “Godzilla: King of the Monster” (1956), which starred Raymond Burr as journalist Steve Martin. The “Americanized” version of director Ishiro Honda’s classic “Godzilla” (1954), recut with lots of additional footage, courtesy of director Terry O. Morse. Though I do enjoy Raymond Burr’s somewhat hammy performance in the Americanized, fun 1950s atomic age monster movie, much of the menace was lost in translation. The original was quite suspenseful. Also, the emotional anguish suffered by the protagonists was much more than a subplot in Ishiro Honda’s film. The conflict went beyond them having to destroy an 180 foot tall, fire-breathing prehistoric lizard.
Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) was earnest in his hope that Godzilla would be allowed to live. He believed that by studying the creature, he and other scientists could discover how to diminish the effects of radioactive fallout from the H-Bomb. Though a respected man, Dr. Yamane was a bit naïve in this regard. Godzilla was far too destructive to be allowed to live. Dr. Yamane even quarreled over the issue with Ogata (Akira Takarada), one of his daughter Emiko’s (Momoko Kochi) suitors. Godzilla is a well known allegory for the fear that gripped the globe following World War II, but most references were nixed in the Raymond Burr film.
In the original, there was also more footage of bureaucrats bickering about how much should be revealed to the public. As if that was the major concern at the time. Again, this scene was trimmed here in the states, though I’m not really sure why? The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe, so we Yanks could have related.
The “Oxygen Destroyer” created by Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) was portrayed as potentially threatening as Godzilla. This was elaborated upon in the original. He feared that his Oxygen Destroyer would be the successor to the H-Bomb. Dr. Serizawa was a tragic figure. His eye-patch was a constant reminder of World War II. When he tells Ogata, “You win,” he is likely referring to Emiko’s affections, as well as him reluctantly agreeing to use the Oxygen Destroyer against Godzilla. He commits suicide during the climax, perishing with Godzilla, protecting the world from the monster and himself. But, Dr. Yamane still fears that another Godzilla might one day rear its ugly head. Most film historians do not see this as the setup for a sequel, rather a warning to the viewers about real world dangers as warfare becomes more sophisticated. Far from a happy ending.