4.5 Stars out of 5.

It was only a couple years after the United States occupation in Japan. The finality of the Atom Bomb had already been proven to many of the Japanese, the death of millions were mourned, and Japanese Toho Studio producer Tomoyuki Tanaka needed to scramble to fill a new gap in his movie schedule. So apparently, life still went on after WWII.

Tanaka’s new gap came when a film project that would unite the Japanese Toho Studio and an Indonesia film studio tanked due to political disputes. The Japanese were now political allies with the United States in the Cold War, and the Indonesia government wanted nothing to do with this. So the studios baled on each other in fear of government unrest.

So as Tanaka flew back to Japan, he quickly pieced together an idea  that married The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms with the real devastation of the Atom Bomb. After the first choice director turned down the project, the film was given to WWII veteran Ishiro Honda to guild with his direction, which at the time was bent with anti-war sentiments after being a foreign captive in the war he was drafted in.

And thus was born the 1954 film Gojira, later to be known in the States as Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

This monster movie accomplishes much for being… well, a monster movie. The political statements were clear and bold, the story was poignant and full of strong characters, and the special effects were very innovative for it’s time and even can pass most scrutiny from today’s modern audiences.

As a matter of fact, it’s the only monster movie where the viewers couldn’t bring themselves to root for the monster. So where’s the fun in this movie?

Truth be told, there isn’t any. It’s a sad story full of tragic heroes and mass devastation. Mothers whimper in the streets with their children, strong men break as they see their friends burn in flame, and children aren’t aware of the deadly amounts of radiation in their bodies slowly killing them. In short, it’s about an entire society dying away after the travesty of war; even careening toward a future of war.

The movie starts of with “The Lucky Dragon 5” being sunk by a violent nuclear blast, a scene that eerily mirrors the historical event when a fishing boat called “The Lucky Dragon 5” was sunk by the testing of a U.S. atom bomb.

The following events in the film also mirror the historical event, but on a much grander scale. And even some cultural synonymies in Japan start peeking into the film through the vessels of the main characters Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kochi), Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), and Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), as the cultural arranged marriages also seem to become a casualty in the film. During the U.S. occupation after WWII there was an attempt to “westernize” Japan, including traditional Japanese marriage.

Ogata & Emiko

The cultural change of post WWII Japan is explored through the relationship Emiko and Ogata.

This cultural change is reflected in the film as the Japanese Naval Officer Hideto Ogata seeks around in a relationship with Emiko Yamane, disrupting a traditional Japanese arranged marriage between Emiko Yamane and the quieter, more conservative Dr. Serizawa. This carries more emphasis when it is realized that the marriage between the girl and the scientist was arranged by Emiko’s father, himself a scientist; Dr. Kyouhei Yamane (Takashi Shimura). It is possible that Dr. Yamane thought that this marriage would unite the two families of science and possibly head toward a glorious future of helpful scientific breakthroughs.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is worried about losing a lot of their overseas shipping business due to the strange phenomenon in the sea. The phenomenon spreads to an outer island called Otto Island. News of the phenomenon spreads to the island via survivors of the boating accidents and the old villagers fear it is the dreaded mythical beast they called “Gojira”, whom they would try to appease by sacrificing young virgin girls. Most of the mythology lay dead in the water, as the younger generation on the island mock the senior generation for believing in such nonsense. Again, the theme of newer ideas overturning tradition is reinstated.

A violent storm hits Otto Island that night, and during the storm the strange mythical beast strikes silently, almost invisibly. The imagery covering the strange phenomenon is stunning for it’s time, and really conveys a sense of dread and mystery. Houses collapse, waves crash up against the rocky shore, and nothing but the sound of a few thunderous footsteps hailed the death of many on the small island.

A research party from Japan lead by Dr. Yamane is sent out to Otto Island in an attempt to solve this strange phenomenon. Emiko and Ogata also accompany the team of researchers on the expedition.

Footprints filled with boiling water cover the island. The team’s Geiger Counter goes wild as the water is found to be poisoned by last night’s phenomenon  with dangerous amounts of radiation.

Gojira's Footprints

Gojira's footprints seem to go unnoticed by the young natives as they race to fight the age-old mythical beast.

Suddenly the bell rings, and a village crier warns of another attack. The sounds of the footsteps get louder as the research team follows the natives as, with pitchforks in hand, they rush toward the coming sounds to take their revenge. But alas, this forward thinking of the younger generation nearly kills them as a giant grotesque dinosaur rears its ugly head at the natives and pierces the sky with a roar.

Akira Ifukube succeeded in creating the sounds on the monster in Gojira, though he was only hired to write the haunting music of the film. The roar of the giant beast was created by loosening the strings on a bass cello and running a rubber glove down the strings. Ifukube would later bent the pitch of the sound using various recording instruments of the day to give the sound a “voice”.

The research team makes it back to Japan with a few of the survivors of the attack and Dr. Yamane theorizes that the Atom Bomb woke the creature from a slumber and caused it to attack the surface. Director Ishiro Honda’s lack of confidence in the government is shown in the film as the attack becomes clouded in political bureaucracy. Instead, Ishiro Honda seems to place his trust in the scientists. The film then focuses on Dr. Yamane’s interest in how and why the Gojira monster survived the nuclear blast, and a possible cure of the nuclear radiation sickness that could be found in the monster.

Honda doesn’t withhold the kindness of Dr. Yamane, as he also adopts one of the survivors of Otto Island; a reference to the orphans of the WWII bombings.

Dr. Serizawa also makes a breakthrough in his research, but feels that he can only secretly show it to his arranged fiancé Emiko Yamane. Serizawa shows Emiko his deadly Oxygen Destroyer, a small weapon that somehow snuffs any breathable oxygen out of water. He explains that this weapon must be kept a secret until he can find a useful medical purpose for it.

Dr. Serizawa & Emiko Yamane

Dr. Serizawa shows his betrothed, Emiko Yamane, his Oxygen Destroyer.

Akihiko Hirata’s performance as Dr. Serizawa is not lacking in the slightest, as he portrays the character’s inner turmoil as someone who is both obsessed and afraid of his work very well. His mannerism around Emiko also seem to show that he knows about Emiko’s relationship with Ogata.

The film then shows Honda’s additional lack of confidence in the military is when the Japanese Navy bomb the surrounding ocean in an attempt to kill the mythical Gojira monster. This creates more tension between the forward thinking Ogata and Dr. Yamane, as Ogata feels as if Gojira is a menace to society and should be killed. This results in Ogata getting kicked out of the Yamane house; a bad move when you realize Ogata was planning on breaking the new of his relationship with Emiko that night. The symbolic divorce between the older generation and the younger generation during the aftermath of WWII becomes stronger.

The ocean having been deemed safe, a pleasure cruise sails out over the supposedly dead monster’s body. But the cruise is interrupted when Gojira rises out of the ocean and peers at the cruise ship.

The military having failed to keep the beast at bay, Gojira wreaks havoc in Tokyo Harbor and kills many people. Despite the effects used to create the creature was only a man in a suit, the monster looks quite convincing as he lifts up entire train cars with his teeth and tosses them onto the ground. The movements seem to carry a great weight to them and, with the exception of only a couple shots, do not appear cheap or campy.

The military again attempt to keep Gojira away as the monster returns sometime later to giant electrified fences erected around Tokyo. Cannons fire at the beast, men fire at him from a distance, and the monster shrieks as it is shocked with 50,000 volts of electricity. But the military fails again as Gojira opens its mouth and seems to shoot out a smoky fire at the electric towers supporting the fences. The towers melt under the immense heat, an effect created by the special effects team lead by Eiji Tsuburaya, by simply shining a hot light at specially made miniature towers. Again the effect still hold by today’s standards as the effect does not distract the viewer from the movie itself, a trait that many other monster films of the time cannot boast.

Tsuburaya wanted the Gojira monster to be created using the stop-motion animation techniques that Willis O’Brien used to revolutionize the film industry. But the total budget of the film rounded out at only $1,000,000 U.S., and Tsuburaya was only given a fraction of that along with a three-week schedule to complete the effects for Gojira. (Comparatively, the 1933 film King Kong had several months slated for animation.) In the end, only the miniature fire trucks and one shot of Gojira’s tail were stop-motion animated to create the illusion of movement.

Gojira's Rampage.

A matte of real buildings with people running in them seamlessly blend with the miniaturized monster.

The rest of the destruction scenes have a very heavy documentary style to them with shots peering out of windows or the sides of radio towers to catch a glimpse of the monster. In one shot, the camera takes on the P.O.V. of one of the spectators standing in the radio tower as the tower itself plunges to the ground after being bitten of by Gojira. And the editing is comparatively faster and therefore more overwhelming compared to its contemporaries, cutting to quick glances of families cowering behind building desperately trying to hide from the monster.

Fearful Mother.

A widow tries in vain to comfort her children during Gojira's rampage.

In the end, the monster seems to go back into the ocean on its own accord. Fighter jets come out at this point in a last-ditch effort to kill the monster, but the mythical Gojira beast that once plagued Otto Island simply ducks back under the water’s surface and disappears from the burning world it leaves behind.


The images of a destroyed Tokyo look eerily similar to the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing.

Dead Mother.

The widow now lays dead in a makeshift hospital, surrounded by her sobbing children.

Old buildings are turned into hospitals as the flood of dying people fill the halls. Emiko and Ogata help the injured and comfort the children as their dead mothers are hauled away. Emiko finally snaps under the devestation of the situation and tells Ogata of Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer as being the only weapon that could destroy Gojira.

Ogata and Emiko tell Serizawa that his weapon is needed. Feeling betrayed, Serizawa refuses and attempts to destroy the plans to the weapon himself. He explains that until he find a medical use for the technology, that he doesn’t want this weapon to fall into the wrong hands.

A fight among the forward-thinking Ogata and the traditionally-minded Serizawa breaks out over the future of mankind. In the end, it is the woeful song dedicated to the dead that convinces Serizawa to go ahead and make his bomb one last time. He burn his blueprints and gets to work.

The enlarged bomb looks somewhat like an hourglass, possibly symbolizing the changing times in Japan from it’s traditions to the new Western ideas, as the young Ogata insists that he dive down from the boat with Dr. Serizawa to help plant the bomb. Dr. Yamane stands on the boat with his daughter, Emiko, as the two men dive down to bring an end to the horrors of the nuclear beast. Serizawa ignites the bomb and sends Ogata up to the boat. Serizawa then radios his last words to Ogata and commits suicide, taking his knowledge of the oxygen destroyer with him.

Gojira's Body.

Gojira lays lifeless on the ocean floor...

Gojira's Bones.

...and dissolves into bones, which dissolve into nothingness.

In the end, the destruction of these horrors also seem to symbolize thee death of Japanese  tradition and scientific advancement. Dr. Yamane’s hope of finding the monster’s secret to survival of the Atom Bomb suffocates in the oxygen destroyer, Dr. Serizawa’s hopes of finding a medical use for his technology dies with him, the old Japanese traditions of family and marriage are left behind by Emiko and Ogata, and Dr. Yamane suggests that Japan will have to live in fear of this nuclear threat for the rest of its days.

But even though all of this, Dr. Serizawa’s last words he radioed to Ogata were a blessing on Emiko and Ogata’s future. “May you be happy together.”  There’s a passing of the torch from the old traditions to the new western thinking introduced to the Japanese through the nuclear holocaust symbolized through Gojira. Japan will never be the same again.

And Japan has never been the same since. Many of the cultural changes touched upon in Gojira found themselves fully fleshed out into a new, modernized Japan. Gojira has never been outdone as the most poignant monster movie ever made. The subtexts are strong, the emotions are there, and the horrors are very convincing. It’s American release featuring new scenes with Raymond Burr, entitled Godzilla: King of the Monsters, launched the mythical beast into international stardom and helped fuel the longest running film franchise of all time. Japan has since been open to business queues and ideas with the United States, a marriage that was brought to the forefront most recently with the Wachowski BrothersThe Matrix series, which used talents from both America and Japan together under a common idea to create a cohesive world for The Matrix Saga.


About Stefan D. Byerley
Stefan D. Byerley is an independent filmmaker and freelance visual artist currently residing in North Carolina. He likes detailed storytelling, intriguing imagery, massive bloody violence, crying at the movies, and long walks in the park during the Autumn season.

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