Review Godzilla (1954) film review by The King of the Monsters

The King of the Monsters

Written By The King of the Monsters on 2014-08-17 20:26:29

Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla (1954) Movie

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This is the film that started it all. A film that started one of the longest running film series of all time and introduced the world to Godzilla, the king of the monsters. This movie's influence is matched by few others, and to this day it is one of the most highly regarded science fiction films in history. I will say that Godzilla (1954) was never one of my favorite Godzilla movies, mostly because I enjoyed the fun action-packed monster romps of its sequels over the original film's dark tone and short screen time for the titular creature. But after watching Godzilla countless times, I can say it is by far the best film in the series. The human plot, effects, music, and underlying themes of this movie come together in a way that none of its sequels can match.

I will include a summary of the plot. *SPOILERS* Several fishing vessels have begun mysteriously disappearing in the waters near Japan. Rescue ships that have been sent in search of the vessels have met the same fate. Survivors of the accidents report only that the ocean seemed to explode before their ships and fellow crew were burned alive by atomic fire. Residents of Odo Island fear that the cause of these accidents is none other than Godzilla, a legendary sea monster from their folklore. The Japanese government sends an expedition to the island, led by prominent paleontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane. When on the island, the party comes face to face with Godzilla as the beast rises over a hill. Yamane theorizes that Godzilla must have survived for eons resting deep underwater before being awakened by American nuclear tests in the Pacific. The self-defense forces scramble to evacuate coastal cities in Japan and prepare for the monster's arrival. Soon, Godzilla surfaces in Tokyo Bay and lays waste to a small part of the city before returning to the sea. While the government struggles to think of a way to destroy Godzilla, Yamane protests, insisting that they should study Godzilla to find out how he has survived. A large electrical barrier is set up around Tokyo to hopefully stop Godzilla in his tracks. When Godzilla rises from the bay again, he tears through the electrical lines and melts the support towers with his atomic breath. The defense forces open fire on Godzilla with artillery, but the attacks have no effect on the monster. Godzilla stomps to the heart of Tokyo, demolishing the city and killing thousands of hapless citizens. After turning the Japanese capital into a sea of radioactive fire, Godzilla returns to the bay and disappears under the waves. After seeing the devastation, Dr. Yamane realizes that Godzilla must be stopped before more fall victim to his fury. In the aftermath of Godzilla's rampage, thousands upon thousands have been killed while countless injured and dying survivors have flocked to emergency medical clinics. Yamane's daughter, Emiko, witnesses the human toll firsthand when she visits one of the clinics. Emiko confides in her lover, Hideo Ogata, that she may know a way to destroy Godzilla. She tells Ogata of a recent meeting she had with her childhood friend to whom she was once engaged, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. Serizawa has created a chemical weapon he calls the Oxygen Destroyer, which is capable of suffocating and disintegrating any life it comes in contact with. When Ogata and Emiko ask Serizawa to use the device, he refuses, terrified of the effects the weapon could have if it fell into the wrong hands. After witnessing a televised "Prayer for Peace" by Japanese school children, Serizawa relents, deciding to use his device just one time. Serizawa promptly burns his notes to ensure the Oxygen Destroyer can never be used again. A boat filled with reporters and scientists as well as Ogata, Emiko, and Serizawa moves into Tokyo Bay, where Godzilla is resting. Ogata and Serizawa gear up in diving suits and descend to the bottom of the bay. There, Serizawa detonates his device while Ogata is lifted back to the surface. Serizawa then wishes Ogata and Emiko to live happily and cuts his line, giving up his life for the good of mankind. Godzilla surfaces one last time and roars defiantly at the humans assembled on the boat, then sinks to his death. Dr. Yamane remarks that Godzilla could not have been the last surviving member of his kind, and that soon another Godzilla will likely appear if nuclear testing continues. The people on the boat then salute Serizawa for his sacrifice while Emiko tearfully embraces Ogata. *END SPOILERS*

For the first film in the series, the plot of Godzilla is incredibly well-developed and complex. The movie is paced almost perfectly, and makes great use of slow-burn tension and atmosphere. The love triangle between Ogata, Emiko, and Serizawa is an interesting plot device that makes the human element all the more interesting. Dr. Yamane's internal conflict over whether Godzilla should be preserved and studied or destroyed to save human lives is also a nice little addition to his character. Lastly, Dr. Serizawa's torturous decision to use his Oxygen Destroyer is heartwrenching to see, and really allows the viewer to understand the motivations of his character.

On to the acting. All of the performances from the main cast in the movie are great, something to be said for a monster film in general, especially considering several of the actors were relatively new to film at this point. Akira Takarada as Hideo Ogata does a solid job as the supposed male lead. He remains convincing throughout the film, especially when interacting with Emiko and Serizawa. Sadly, his character is given little to work with. However Takarada would soon become a household name in the Godzilla series, and to this day he is still active in making public appearances to support the films. Momoko Koichi as Emiko Yamane does a good job expressing grief, shock, terror, and concern. She especially is convincing when she shows regret for revealing Serizawa's secret. Legendary actor Takashi Shimura has a strong presence as Dr. Kyohei Yamane. Shimura is mostly known for his role in Seven Samurai, which is often considered one of the greatest films ever made. Shimura does a great job at first expressing his desire to keep Godzilla alive, and later expressing sobering shock after witnessing the devastation of Tokyo. Akihiko Hirata delivers an emotional and haunting performance as the tormented Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. Hirata makes it visible how his character is being haunted by the terrible invention he has created. His hesitant decision to use the Oxygen Destroyer and ultimately take his own life to ensure it can never again be used again are expertly portrayed by Hirata, who would return for several other Godzilla movies during the Showa era.

Considering that few films like Godzilla had been attempted in Japan up to this point and that this film was done on a tight budget and time schedule, the special effects are top-notch. The miniatures are well-crafted and detailed, and the vehicles manage to avoid looking like small toys. The use of actual footage of the Japanese self-defense forces during training maneuvers is a nice touch that adds to the realism of the film. The Godzilla suit is one of the greatest triumphs of the film's effects. The suit looks truly terrifying, with its beady glowing eyes, creepy grin, jagged dorsal plates, and scarred bumpy skin. The fact that the film is shot in black-and-white makes Godzilla's presence even more ominous, especially when his spines glow with white mist against the black sky. The scenes of Godzilla's rampage literally look like real arcived footage thanks to the black-and-white color, so much so that they were used as archive footage in the American version of The Return of Godzilla over 30 years later.

The musical score by the great Akira Ifukube fits the film perfectly. From the energetic main theme, the rousing military march, the ominous piece that plays during Godzilla's rampage, to the haunting "Prayer for Peace", Ifukube's soundtrack is stellar. Thankfully, Ifukube would return for many more entries in the Godzilla series, as well as other kaiju movies by Toho.

One cannot review the original Godzilla without mentioning the underlying allegorical themes. The movie was created as an allegory against nuclear testing. When Godzilla was released, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still part of the collective memory of Japan. Godzilla himself is a living metaphor for the atomic bomb. The fallout and devastation he leaves in his wake was intended to reference the aftermath of the bombings. Subtle references to the bombings appear throughout the film, the most powerful being when a mother assures her children that they "will be with Daddy soon" just before Godzilla incinerates them with atomic breath. Godzilla is an excellent giant monster film in its own right, but it is also a great allegorical piece that has the courage to speak out about nuclear testing in a nation that was still reeling from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Few of the films released after the original contain the same meaning and raw emotional power that it possesses.

Most Godzilla fans will undoubtedly say that the original is the best of the series. Godzilla (1954) still isn't my favorite movie of the series, but I cannot deny that it is the best in almost every way. Few of the sequels manage to come close to the original, and the ones that do still fail to come together as perfectly as it. Godzilla is worthy of all of the praise it receives, and I would recommend it any movie fan, not just fans of monsters, science fiction, or the title character.

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