On a sunny day with calm waters, a Japanese steamer sinks in flames when the sea erupts; a salvage vessel sent to the rescue disappears the same way; exhausted, incoherent survivors babble of a monster. Could it be…? Then the biggest-budgeted film in Japanese history, the original Godzilla spawned 60 years of sequels and remakes, countless rip-offs, and a new genre: the kaiju eiga, or Japanese monster movie.
Released in the U.S. in a butchered version called Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it was re-cut, re-arranged and atrociously dubbed, with cheesy new scenes (shot in Hollywood) of a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr observing the action from the sidelines. To make room for Burr and to excise a strong anti-nuclear subtext, King of the Monsters deleted 40 minutes of the Japanese version — its very heart — including the opening credits and ominous main theme by the great Akira Ifukube; Tokyo commuters wisecracking about surviving yet another disaster; a vituperative session in the Japanese parliament; a TV announcer’s hilarious stomp-by-stomp account of the monster’s rampage; the original cautionary ending; and more scenes with the real (human) star of the movie, Takashi Shimura (also the Seven Samurai leader that year).
It’s a tour de force by special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya, whose use of “suitmation,” the often-belittled “man in a monster suit” method, was due to time and budget restraints. But, in concert with noirish cinematography, this low-tech approach is still as thrilling as ever.
Subtitles by Bruce Goldstein and Michie Yamakawa. DCP restoration.
Godzilla®, Gojira and the character design are trademarks of Toho Co., Ltd. ©1954 Toho Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.