The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release of Godizlla is the original Gojira uncut and un-Americanized. It comes with an informative booklet that is very well done as well as commentary. There is no English version, (unless you watch the included Americanized King of the Monsters version) you get the options of subtitles or no. I like it better with subtitles anyway. The original actors get really into their roles while the voice actors who did the dubbing, well you could tell they didn’t really feel the emotions in the script.
The original Godzilla is far more suspenseful than the Gojira with Raymond Burr. They cut so many meaningful scenes out to insert Raymond Burr it’s like a different movie entirely.
Warning: This review is chock full of spoilers.
The version with Raymond Burr is all about the monster and the reporter. The original Japanese version is about the impacts upon people and their lives that the war had and now this unknown thing also. It begins with ships being sunk at sea in a very distinct manner. The way those ships sink are directly pulled from the reports of the Lucky Dragon 5; Japanese fishing vessel that sailed too close to the Bikini atoll during secret nuclear bomb testing.
First 2 ships are sunk in the same waters, then a fishing vessel that picked up some survivors. Then as more ships are sent, more casualties rack up until 20 vessels are lost.
Odo Island is at the epicenter of these mysterious shipwrecks. The local fishermen are shown coming back from a days fishing with empty nets. The people have no food. The older people tell tales of a great creature that comes ashore when the fishing has been poor for a long time. First it eats all the fish, then it comes ashore to eat the people. They used to sacrifice a young girl to it when the fishing got bad. They called the monster Godzilla. Of course no one believes them.
The first time Godzilla comes ashore it is under cover of a terrible typhoon. The survivors testify before a committee that they saw something alive. They count human casualties as well as livestock lost.
There are also those who fear that if they just announce that there’s a giant, radioactive, prehistoric monster traipsing about their territorial waters it will jeopardize their diplomatic relations with other nations as well as destroy their economy.
As the news travels of some monster coming ashore, people speak of barely surviving the nuclear bombing at Nagasaki and now having to fear this too. They are weary of death and war.
There is so much more to this movie than the recuts would have one believe. Professor Yamane wants to study Godzilla. He craves to discover how the creature survived the high levels of radiation it was exposed to. When asked how it can be killed he says it is impossible. It survived the H-Bomb, what can kill it now?
That statement turned question elevates Godzilla from just a monster to a force that humankind cannot control, cannot stop and cannot destroy. Might as well ask what can kill a black hole.
It is a much darker movie than perhaps those who have not seen the original are aware. In one poignant scene a mother is crouched in a hidden corner with her three children. Godzilla is on a rampage through the city, crushing and burning everything in his path and leaving a trail of flaming destruction in his wake. He will not turn aside even as the mother tells her terrified children that they will all be with daddy very soon. Later there is a scene where the city is a smoking pile of rubble and after that a scene where children cry for their parents, who were killed by the monster. This is the reality of war.
It is only after these things happen that Emiko breaks her promise to Dr. Serazawa. Not before. She keeps his secret even from Ogata whom she loves. Only after these horrors happen does she finally break her silence and reveal that there may be a way to stop the monster.
The love triangle in this movie is not behind Emiko’s revelation of the Dr. Serazawa’s Oxygen Destroyer, but rather the utter devestation of lives and infrastructure that Godzilla leaves behind him. Also the love triangle does not get in the way of the story. It is not the focus of the narrative.
For his part, Dr. Serazawa does not want to give up the secrets of his Oxygen Destroyer. In it he has discovered a new form of energy and he, rightly, fears what would happen should someone weaponize it. Ogata and Serazawa argue and even fight about it. Dr. Serazawa does not relent until the sound of a group of young girls singing a prayer comes over the radio. He would not have given up his Oxygen Destroyer except for the heartfelt prayers of children.
It is possible Emiko understood fully what it meant when Dr. Serazawa threw his research notes into the fire. Perhaps she did not realize that it would play out physically but her reaction at the time makes it clear that at least professionally Dr. Serazawa’s life was over. In a final brilliant touch, Serazawa knows Emiko and Ogata are in love and with his dying words blesses them.
There is a reason this movie is considered a classic and there is a reason it launched a franchise that continues to this day. Ishiro Honda meant for Godzilla to be a warning to mankind and it is. I definitely give this movie 10 out of 10.
Everything I’ve heard so far about the new Toho Godzilla, Shin Godzilla/Godzilla Resurgence, indicates that Toho is going back to these roots for the reboot. If that is the case then Godzilla Resurgence is going to be another classic of the genre.