Happy 60th, Gojira

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Ah, yes. Good friends, Twizzlers, Orange Creme soda, and a packed house full of other Gojira-philes, all of us turned out for the 60th anniversary of Gojira. We braved the potential elements (didn’t storm, though it was supposed to); ate at one of the perfect before movie downtown Lexington restaurants, Alfalfa’s (great for Bohemians young or old); watched free reality TV outside Alfalfa’s window as the Lexington P. D. made a couple of arrests; then headed over to the Kentucky Theater to watch the original Gojira (1954), in Japanese, with subtitles. I really don’t care for dubbed movies anymore, preferring to hear it in its original language with subtitles.

It’s nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m wondering what life was like in Japan for the average person? They’ve already dealt with the immediate effects of radiation. Were they aware yet of the long-term?

So, Gojira is not only a horror film or a science fiction film, but a message movie. A strong message movie, but that’s mostly indirect. Still, the radiation aspect is everywhere, from Gojira’s inherent radioactivity to how he’s awakened from the ocean depths by H-bomb tests. Gojira is a Force of Nature. An old man on Odo Island predicts his return, implying he’s stomped around in past times. The old man explains that when Gojira’s food supply is depleted, the Big Guy seeks food elsewhere – people. The H-bomb tests wiped out the creatures that Gojira munches on, so….

This is not the kid-friendly, fun-loving, dancing Big G. Uh uh. There’s nothing fun or funny about Gojira. It’s played 100% straight. And despite the fact that we could tell Gojira was a puppet or a guy in a suit, the mood that was created was darkly somber. Interesting to note that, unlike Der Golem, the clay Frankenstein-like creature from the movie that avenges the Jewish people, Gojira doesn’t go after those that dropped the atomic bombs. Gojira demolishes Tokyo. They (the Japanese people) use themselves as the sacrificial lamb, showing the effects of nuclear power. Gojira is the atomic bomb, with his atomic flame breath, destroying buildings and people alike, leaving everything radioactive.

Unlike the Godzilla films that followed, which lost bunches of plastic tanks and airplanes to Godzilla, there were lots of shots with full-size tanks. The amount of destruction was incredible. And nothing could be done to stop it.

Enter our sub-plot triangle, with a young Navy diver, Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada, who played a Japanese immigration officer in this year’s (2014) Godzilla), his fiancé, Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kochi), and the “let’s just be friends” man, Daisuke Serizawa-hakase (Aihiko Hirata). Emiko thinks of Serizawa “as a brother”, but Serizawa’s always had a thing for Emiko. Gotta feel sorry for the guy, the lonely scientist type.

Throw in the additional tension by Hideto wanting to ask Emiko’s father for her hand in marriage, and we have the personal side covered, especially considering that her father, an older scientist who wants to do the “let’s capture and study Gojira” thing, while Hideto wants to destroy Big G, and there’s plenty of sub-plot to go around.

Gojira is a top-flight atomic disaster film from the Cold War era. Every time I see it, I come away with some new insight. Check out Gojira. It’s a class act. And, I promise you, even with Big G’s stompin’ around, you’ll feel sorry for him.

‘til next time… Adios.

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5 Responses to Happy 60th, Gojira

  1. I took my son to see this film, not realizing that it was one I had not seen myself. I’ve seen the version that was released to American audiences, dubbed in English and with the inserted subplot featuring Raymond Burr, but this was the original Japanese release. It was far more sober and sad than my recollection of the American release, filled with reminders of the war and the consequences the civilian population had suffered. I, with but distant knowledge of that suffering, was moved nearly to tears; I imagine its post-war Japanese audience would have been even more deeply affected by it. All in all, it was a lovely surprise, an unexpectedly beautiful and poignant film with more layers of meaning than I realized.

    • tczumwalt says:

      Absolutely. No one spoke in the theater during the entire film. I’m also wondering if anything was cut from the original Gojira when they inserted the Raymond Burr scenes for the 1956 Godzilla.

  2. I was honored to attend the showing. I had never seen the movie and it was wonderful. Good movies last and this movie is as good today as it was when it came out. Still scary. I really did feel sorry for the “monster”. It wasn’t his fault. Big message in a sci-fi film.

    • tczumwalt says:

      Me too. I loved seeing the original Japanese version, and it’s still valid 60 years later, perhaps more so now. I too felt sympathy for the Big Guy.

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