Project G-Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

More Memorable Title: The last one of the original series OR The one that’s not Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II

Here, we come to it, the final, ultimate movie of Godzilla’s Showa era. And for that matter, the one that brought back Godzilla’s original and best regarded director and composer. In fact, this was director Ishiro Honda’s end to an extended break in production, and reportedly the guy was so into being able to work again that he was taking on way more tasks on set than usual for someone in his position, leaving some of the staff with nothing to do. Its script was picked through a contest, and was scriptwriter Yukiko Takayama’s first produced effort. Positioned as a direct sequel to the previous Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, it also takes a markedly more introspective tone, using its sci-fi elements to explore thoughts of what it means to be human outside of just the form one’s body takes. Ishiro Honda seemed to regard this film highly, feeling it was very refreshing and injected new life into the Godzilla model.

It was also an absolute bomb, in its day. One of only two Godzilla films to sell less than a million tickets, and, depending on whose reports you’re using, is the least profitable Godzilla film in history. On the contrary, it’s also one of the favorites in the series for a lot of people now. But it didn’t really come out of a good environment. The Japanese film industry in general was experiencing a downturn in 1975, giant monster movies in particular were dropping fans all over the place, and it’s coming off a time where the Godzilla franchise wasn’t exactly clear on what type of film they were wanting to make. First the series was psychological horror, then it was fun monster movies with heavy, thoughtful themes and undertones, then it just threw ideas at you for a while, then it was simple kid-friendly movies, then it was adult oriented ultra-violent for its day stuff, then it was… this. So it was a little hard to follow the throughline unless you were a big giant sexy nerd like myself Except they didn’t really have those in the 70s. So rough sales time in there.

But hey, lots of people like it. Does Aether as well? Let’s find out.

The film opens up with a montage of the Godzilla against MechaGodzilla fights from last time. No mention of King Caesar, however. Brother has just been memory holed. Cut to a year later, and there’s a submarine searching the sea floor where Godzilla dropped MechaGodzilla to try and find his remains. Because apparently nobody thought that they should go check out the big giant alien monster up until now. So the submarine gets there, and then there’s this lady on the shore who’s watching them with her magic eye. And then some giant fishy monster starts beating his tail, which causes a whirlpool that forces the submarine up to the surface. And then said fish monster pounces on them, and drags them back down. Where they get destroyed.

Looks like that was an Interpol sub, and now Interpol is investigating what just went down. With a whole bunch of people who aren’t particularly creepy. After last movie, I would have guessed they had those. They call in Dr. Loverboy, a marine biologist, to help them figure out what they’re dealing with. When he heads in for the meeting, he’s greeted by Inspector Average. The two of them are old college buddies, thus elegantly avoiding the need to spend time building a relationship between them. Anyways, the Interpol captain then plays the sub’s final transmission, where the captain’s screaming something like “Oh my God! We’re getting attacked by a dinosaur!” Then Dr. Loverboy deduces “You know, perhaps they were attacked by a dinosaur.” This is why he gets paid the big scientist bucks.

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Project G-Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)

Alternative Title: The one that used all the fireworks in Japan.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla!  Where do we start with this one?  For some reason, trivia on the development of this movie seems to be much less available on the internet than for the other films, so… well, we’ll have to resort to conjecture for some of this, probably.

What we do know is that the Godzilla franchise had been making largely kid-oriented fare since Destroy All Monsters saw the original creative team leave the series for various reasons.  It’d also been waning in popularity for a while, never reaching the lofty peaks of commercial success established by King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Meanwhile, other kaiju productions were soundly beating the film in the very genre Big G had established.  Some of them were kid-friendly, sure.  Others proved there were a sizable audience of adults out there for kaiju films.  So, dudes here saw that, and figured, ‘You know, the whole kid thing isn’t exactly working out for us.  Maybe we should go after that market.  Those who can enjoy the big dumb giant monster battles on a whole other level.

And so, this film was made with that in mind.  Adult oriented.  Actioned way the heck up.  No more stock footage, because they’re not just playing to dumb children for whom they can get away with that.  More violent and gory than the series has been before, and possibly has been since.  Explosions and pyrotechnics up the giant monster-sized wazoo.  Life and death stakes, and people getting straight up killed on screen.  And not a single childly shortpant to be seen.  

This… ends up being a really weeeeeeeeiiiiiiird movie to watch.  Inconsistency is rampant throughout.  Do you love explosions?  I hope you do, because they are HERE with a statement.  The pyrotechnic work here is gratuitous and glorious.  The overlays; the beams, atomic breaths, aliens transforming, etc., look cartoonish and absolutely horrible.  Mechagodzilla looks amazing!  King Caesar is kind of ok, and the aliens are absolutely awful.  The action between the monsters is strong and exciting and visceral.  Everything going on with the people makes no sense and has way too many moving parts.  And a lot of the things that happen just don’t make any darn sense.  It’s amazing in parts, and laughably bad in others, and almost never anywhere in between.

Also, I’ll say it again.  Explosions.  If you love things blowing up in your movies, man, the work here is obscene.  There’s one part in particular that had me in awe at just how spectacular it was.  There’s corners cut in this movie, yes.  But they did not spare the pyrotechnics in any way.

Let’s dig into this bombfest, shall we?

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Project G: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Alternative Title: The One with the Big Dumb Godzilla Dropkick

Godzilla vs. Megalon.  Here’s a particularly notable one.  And I imagine a rather love it or hate it affair.

So the backstory of Godzilla vs. Megalon is that once upon a time, some kid won a design-us-a-monster! contest with Toho, drawing a giant robot suit with a lot of similarities to Ultraman and Mazinger Z for use in a future monster movie.  Toho then made this design even more like Ultraman, to the point it didn’t really resemble the original contest design at all anymore.  And then they tried to put a movie together around it.  Hey, you know what’s really cool?  Ultraman.  That’s really cool.  Maybe we should make a movie like Ultraman.  

So you know what the problem is with making something that’s just like something else that’s really cool except your thing isn’t actually that cool?  You end up making something that’s just not as good as the original.  So this movie kind of kicked around for a while, with nobody really believing that the not-Ultraman was a strong enough character to carry the film, until producer Tomoyuki Tanaka came upon it and had the same thought I often think in the middle of bad movies, church services, and particularly average sessions of coitus: “This would be better with Godzilla in it.”

This wound up being the genius stroke that saved the project.  And at least two of my relationships.  But at this point, the producers just looked at each other, and decided that the film with all its troubled history had spent long enough in pre-production that it was time to move it right to shooting.  So what if they don’t even have a script yet!  They’ll figure something out.  And Tanaka had already raided his couch cushions for the spare change used for All Monsters Attacks’ budget, then the back seat of his car for the change for Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and they probably weren’t going to be able to get away with making a film so cheap to make its production actually created stacks of yen from thin air again like they did with Godzilla vs. Gigan.  So this time, they gave it a big massive budget, but it’s all in Imagibucks, the currency of Pretend Land.  And the exchange rate for that with the real world is really low.  

Once again, Jun Fukuda’s at the helm, who’s had kind of a spotty track record with Godzilla.  We’ve got a film where all they had to go on were storyboards and Fukuda literally had to create the script while they were filming and two of the four monsters in it were stapled onto the plot after the fact.  They’ve probably got more of a budget than they did for Godzilla vs. Gigan, but not by much.  And they’re needing to get through production incredibly quickly.  So, what do they do?  

You know how when big actors get roped into projects they know are going to be bad, they start hamming it up all over the place?  They figure if they have to make something that will be ill-remembered, they’re at least going to have a lot of goofy fun with it?  That’s what we get here.  A lot of Godzilla’s movie output has at least a bit of the dumb factor to it.  That’s one of the things I love about it.  And Godzilla vs. Megalon is the film that embraces that factor most whole-heartedly.  You shall see.  Oh, you shall see.  

The film opens with some nation performing some underground nuclear tests, which creates earthquakes that can be felt on Monster Island.  Supposedly far away from its epicenter.  Some time later, we get a nice little family playing at a lake in Japan.  Baby Rider, played by the same actor who was Ok Kid in Godzilla vs. Hedorah but is explicitly not the same character for that little bit of confusion, is playing on a little pedal boat thing in the lake while his older brother and older brother’s, uh, ‘friend’ enjoy a nice picnic.  So, these guys.  I don’t think it’s done deliberately, because this movie came out in the 1970s, which was not a time period where people were very open to these types of relationships, and is from Japan, which was not a place where people were very open to these types of relationships.  So, even though these are two men that seem incredibly close to each other, seem to be out for a rather intimate personal experience at the start of the film, and both seem to take a father-like relationship to the young boy in their charge, I’m not going to call the relationship what it obviously seems to be, because it was probably not intended on the part of the creators.  Let’s just say they’re very Happy.

So, they’re all doing their thing when an earthquake hits.  The Happy Pair call Baby Rider back to shore, so earthquake lake stuff doesn’t end up doing whatever to him.  But then a whirlpool appears in the lake!  And it starts draining!  And Baby Rider starts getting sucked in!  But luckily, the Happy Pair brought their grappling hook to the picnic.  You know, as is traditional.  So they grapple hook Baby Rider in, and watch as the lake drains completely into a new crack underneath.  Then they’re like ‘huh, that was weird.’ and then they go home, to the Happy Scientist’s lab.  

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Project G-Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Alternative Title: The one that was made on drugs, probably

Ask Godzilla fans what they think about Godzilla vs. Hedorah and you’ll get reactions ranging from “eh, it’s OK” to “OMG this is the worst!”  One thing they’ll all agree on though, is that this film is balls to the wall, pants on head, writers with cocaine and a dartboard WEIRD.  This movie runs like a fever dream.  Full of things that you never expected, never thought you’d see, and after you saw them, you’ll wonder why the hell they showed it to you in the first place.  

So this one follows up on Son of Godzilla, being a low budget, quick turnaround, child-oriented take on Godzilla, which is frankly where the series is going for the next while, so buckle in.  Had a new director, Yoshimitsu Banno for this one.  He got fired from the series after this.  Longtime series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka absolutely hated this film.  But Banno did come back to help out with the 2014 American Godzilla.  So… that I guess.  Anyways, this wasn’t a film that was set up to succeed, and then had some really weird and questionable decisions upon release, was reviewed horribly upon release, and had significant ramifications for that.

But, at the same time, there are some interesting things it does.  It’s limited budget was used with purpose, Hedorah is legitimately threatening, and it has some neat parallels to some of the better Godzilla films, so it has some layers to it.

Also, Banno started this film with an ENVIRONMENTAL message in mind, inspired by seeing heavy pollution in the rivers and smog in cities.  So there is an absolutely heavy ENVIRONMENTAL moral to this story.  That being that the ENVIRONMENT IS GOOD and POLLUTION IS BAD.  It will hit you over and over again with all the grace of a jackhammer.  So, keep that in mind as you’re reading this.  To be fair, this was made at a point where ENVIRONMENTAL conditions in Japan were absolutely horrible, and it got better in the years following this film, so maybe it was super called for and Godzilla vs. Hedorah is exactly what Japan needed to make a comeback.  But in any case, there are few morals that will be slammed into your brain harder than this.  It will crash and splatter everywhere.  Kind of messy, in all.  If there’s ever a point while you’re reading this that you’re thinking something other than how absolutely terrible it is that there’s POLLUTION in the ENVIRONMENT, you need to adjust your expectations and start over again.  It doesn’t matter that nothing else in the film makes sense.  ENVIRONMENT!!!

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Project G-Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Alternative Title: The grand finale that wasn’t really the grand finale. OR The one that did the Avengers thing before it was cool.

So, it’s 1967 or whenever this film was being made.  The Godzilla movies were once a big deal, but ticket sales had been sunsetting, and it wasn’t the solid moneymaker it once was.  Toho decided that maybe it was time for a change.  Let’s give the Godzilla film series one big finale, then let’s move it from movies to a cartoon show.  The kids love the cartoons, right?  Except it’ll be anime.  Because we’re Japanese.  That’s what we’ll do!  So they got all the people most responsible for making the Godzilla franchise what it was together, told them to give it a big send off.

Then all these guys, director Ishiro Honda, special effects producer Eiji Tsuburaya (supervising, his protege actually handled the work here, but still), composer Akira Ifukube, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, they were all sitting together, thinking, “You know?  This will be the last Godzilla film.  And even if, by some crazy, insane miracle that nobody can even dream of, something so infinitisemally possible it’s not even worth talking about, it’s not, it’ll still be the last time we’re all working together.  We need to send if off in some great way.  But how do we take this big, dumb series, and give it a finale that will make a proper impact?”

They found an answer.  And that answer is to make it biggest and the dumbest.  And not just of Godzilla.  This is the Avengers of Godzilla films.  The culmination of the kaijuverse.  Godzilla already absorbed monsters from other films, but this one is the king of it.  We don’t just get Godzilla and his rogue’s gallery here. This film is importing Kaiju from a whole bunch of movies in Toho’s shared universe. This is the crisis crossover, the end of this entire universe of stories.

And obviously, it worked.  It wasn’t the highest reviewed at the time, but it resonated really well with the general audience, and brought in enough dough that Tojo shelved their plans to shelve the series, and had them doing a whole bunch of follow up films.  Moreover, time has been far kinder to the film, and it ranks in the list of top Godzilla movies today.  

It’s also a pretty significant turning point for the film.  As previously stated, this is the last time a lot of the key creative minds in the Godzilla franchise all worked on one of its movies together.  This is also, thanks to the big time jump, the final chronological story of the Showa era.  So the handful of movies coming after this all took place beforehand.  Meaning this is the one that gets to have the final say on what this segment of the Godzilla canon is to be.  

So, what’s the Aether take on it?  How does it hold up?  Aether loves big dumb things, but is this the right kind of big and the right kind of dumb?

Let’s explore.

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Project G-Son of Godzilla (1967)

Alternate Title: Ok, I guess Godzilla’s a dad now?

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I don’t care about this movie.  You can’t make me care about this movie.  I can barely bring myself to write this post.

That’s how you know this post is going to be a good one, right?

So this movie is another Jun Fukuda joint, the same director behind the previous film that wasn’t quite up to what we’ve come to expect from Godzilla and didn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense but was still kind of ok.  As I believe I previously mentioned Fukuda wasn’t a big fan of his own Godzilla output in retrospect, although I would say he’s probably being a bit too harsh on himself, overall.  He did make a few that are really good for those like me who love the extra dumb ridiculous stuff.

That probably doesn’t sound like it’s a compliment, but I’m intending it as such.

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Where was I?  Oh yeah, I was crapping all over this movie.  So whereas Ishiro Honda would direct Godzilla films to be about big dumb monster action but also had this hidden theme of social commentary layered underneath it, and underneath that would have a sense of vague sense of “you know, this is all good fun but this would also be crazy horrible to live through”.  Three layers there.  It’s like a cake where the top layer is crazy fun but the middle layer has encyclopedia pages in it that make you think of how horrible society as a whole is, and the bottom layer has a picture of your abs crying in it so you regret the whole thing.  That analogy got away from me a bit, I think.  But yeah, Honda’s movies were more dumb fun that made you think a bit about it.  Jun Fukuda cut out the thinking part.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it didn’t.  It didn’t here.

Son of Godzilla is notable for introducing Minilla, the hideously ugly Godzilla baby whose existence proves there is no such thing as a kind and loving god in the Godzilla universe.  Even as far as child-relating young versions of Godzilla, Minilla somehow manages to be even less cool than Godzooky, and at the modern day, we’ve gotten exposed to Godzilla Jr. who is both way cuter than Minilla could ever be and could mop the floor with him without even getting short of breath.

Minilla

Look at him.  Doesn’t that make your soul shrivel up a little?

Anyways, lets get on with the recap.

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Project G-Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)

Alternate Title: The one where Godzilla gets lasered in the dick.

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The Godzillaverse has a revolving cast of monsters in it, but there are a bunch that show up with consistency.  You get four of the main ones appearing all together for the first time this film, with the monster who’s widely considered Godzilla’s greatest rival getting the big introduction.  Heck, he’s even supplanted Godzilla in the title here!  So you know he’s got to be a big deal!

So with the introduction of King Ghidorah and with bringing Rodan in to the Godzilla canon, this movie establishes a couple of set pieces and the way things work that other films in the series will continue on with.  This is also the most pulp sci-fiish of the Godzilla films we’ve seen yet, also establishing a new trend for the series.

And, it’s also where the movie wades knee deep into the goofiness the old Godzilla films where known for.  Which, it’s been moving in this direction.  This isn’t out of nowhere.  King Kong vs. Godzilla had a lot of parody and cartoonish moments.  But this takes it a step further.  Some parts here are just downright slapstick.  And there’s no going back from that.  Kids were making up a big share of the movie market in Japan at this time, and apparently, they don’t go for big, deep, metaphorical critiques on the nature of war like adults do.  Go figure.

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The film centers around a brother-sister duo.  Media Girl is part of the production team behind one of those History Channel shows about aliens and weird conspiracy theories that my own sister spends too much energy on.  Detective Bland is, well, a bland detective.  The princess of the Ruffle Kingdom is coming to Japan for some reason or other, and Detective Bland is assigned to be her security.  Also, it’s January, but there’s a freak heat wave going on so it’s like 80 degrees out.  This never actually matters, but hey, global warming is bad, okay?

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Unfortunately for the Princess, her uncle wants her dead for political reasons.  These guys are the worst dressed.  Absolutely the worst.  Look at that picture up there.  Imagine a whole country of them.  So they put a bomb on her plane as it’s heading towards Japan.  Princess is watching a meteor shower from the plane, when she starts hearing a voice telling her to get out.  So she apparently bails from a plane in flight, just as it blows up.  Did she make it out in time?  Who knows?!  I do, because I watched the movie.

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Project G-Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Alternate Title: The start of the shared universe

So, you know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is kind of a thing?  Notable in that all the stories impact each other, and the characters intersect much in the same way they do in comics?  Toho’s announced that, starting whenever they start making these movies in sequence again, they’re wanting to use a similar model for Godzilla films.  Which is a little strange to me.  Because they totally did that already.  40-some years before the Marvel films started having Agent Coulson hanging around.

So, there was a big gap in between the second and third Godzilla films.  Of like seven years or so.  But Toho wasn’t done with giant monsters in that meanwhile.  In fact, they made a whole bunch of kaiju films after Godzilla gave that genre a jump start.  And King Kong vs. Godzilla, being the most successful film in the Godzilla franchise, it made a buck or two.  And Mr. Toho, he thought to himself, “I sure like having dollars.  Maybe I should make another movie so I can get another dollar.”  But how do you follow up on a clash of two of cinema’s greatest titans, crossing over from disparate universes?  Well, you just do it again.  Except you go back into one of the worlds you already own, so you don’t have to pay those crazy huge King Kong licensing fees.  And wouldn’t you know it, you just had a really successful and well-received movie just a few years before.  Maybe you could cross that over with your marquee guy.

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And that’s how we ended up with Mothra vs. Godzilla, a sequel to both 1961’s Mothra and 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla.  And in so doing, Tojo tied all their Kaiju films of the era together into one continuous universe.  You start seeing monsters cross over in each others films, Godzilla himself gets a few recurring enemies that started in other movies, and you’ll even get a few films centered not on individual monsters but the people living within them, such as Destroy All Monsters, which we’ll be getting to in a few of these posts.

This is also regarded as one of the best movies of the Showa era, thus proving this was a concept with some real mileage.  So no wonder they’d get some mileage out of it.

Note that this is not Godzilla vs. Mothra.  That is a very different movie.  Yes, the Godzilla franchise sucks at titles.  Kind of an easy way of remembering it is that this move was made when Godzilla was undisputedly the bad guy.  So Mothra, the heroine, gets top billing.  As opposed to Godzilla vs Mothra, which was made when Godzilla was only sometimes the bad guy, so you could still cheer for him.  So he gets top billing then.  See, simple.

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Project G-Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Memorable Title: The cheap cash-in that’s more than just a cheap cash-in

Just a lead in, when I was originally planning this series, I was just going to be going over the films I had managed to acquire, and the Showa series of Godzilla films was going to end up being incomplete.  Thanks to Red Metal pointing me to where, when, and how I could buy the complete Showa series on the cheap, we get to have all the Godzilla movies here.  So shout out to him for making this all possible.

The OG Godzilla film was a pretty big risk for Toho.  Big, expensive, ambitious, in a largely unknown genre.  And, as it turns out, with some of the other high expense movies they were making at the time, Toho was gambling with their very existence.  Either those films turned a profit, or Toho was bankrupting itself out of existence.  And, in the type of example that would be glorified in the average business textbook, their risk payed off.  Godzilla was a big success.  So was the Seven Samurai, for that matter, which was another film they had in production at the time, but we’re not going to talk about that right now.  Godzilla made it big, baby!

And what do you do when you have a huge success?  You do another business textbook thing, and you reinvest.  You strike while the iron’s hot!  You take all that goodwill and interest and you hit when it’s at its peak!  What, the director of the original is already committed to other projects?  Who cares?!  We’ve got directors lined up out the door!  And you want what kind of budget!?  No, no, of course not, we just barely escaped bankruptcy!  We made the original at a time that we needed to escape bankruptcy, that’s why it had the giant budget it did!  Yes, there is a massive difference between the two situations.  Don’t ask questions, just go make the movie.

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And so they did.  Starting pre-production just weeks after the release of the original Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again is the traditional tag-along sequel, made to capitalize on the success of the original, capture its momentum, and share in its success, with speed of release being more important than quality.  It brought back much of the creatives of the original Godzilla, with one notable exception.  OG director Ishiro Honda was already wrist deep in his next project, leaving Motoyushi Oda to take the helm on this one.  The rest of the crew was largely the same, with Tomoyuki Tanaka producing, Eiji Tsuburaya directing the special effects, and Haruo Nakajima taking the place of the big G inside the suit.  And rapid-fire sequel though it is, it does bring in a development that would change the Godzilla franchise forever.  So, you know how giant monsters are metal as hell, right?  What if you had, get this, two of them!  Blowing your mind right?  And they hate each other!  Kickass monster battles, man!

The movie ostensibly has its protagonist, but the way it rolls out, it really seems to have two dudes in the leading role.  And the film opens with both of them in action.  You have Planebro and a character I don’t even need to make up a memorable nickname for because the movie did it for me, Mr. Groom, doing their day jobs as aerial spotters for a fishing company in Osaka.  After Godzilla struck Tokyo in the original movie, that city’s still pretty ruined, so Osaka has become the center of Japanese civilization.  Mr. Groom’s seaplane suffers a major malfunction and he has to make an emergency landing near some island.  Planebro rolls in for the rescue, and the two of them pal around on the island for a few minutes until SUDDENLY!  There’s Godzilla!  And some other giant monster!  And they’re beating the hell out of each other!  And then they fall into the ocean.  Planebro and Mr. Groom wisely decide to get the hell out of there.

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Project G-Godzilla (1954)

We’re going to be doing things a little differently with this one than I’m planning on doing with all the rest.  There’s reasons for this, of course.  I never do things without reason.  Even if that reason is just ‘because I feel like it’.

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In this case however, frankly, the original Godzilla is a little bit different.  It’s incredibly different in tone from what the series would become, or even the rest of the genre it helped found.  Although it’s considered a Showa era film, it has continuity and repurcussions among all the rest of the Godzilla films of every era.  And really, this movie is a lot more serious, haunting, and downright reverent for its subject matter than what’s to come in this series.  So I’ll be treating this one different than the rest of what’s to come.  Usually, we’ll review in bulk, but here, Godzilla stands alone.  I’m planning on snarking up the place, but this film deserves more than that.  So let’s go.

Godzilla (1954)

Memorable Title: The OG Godzilla

Before we start proper, I should mention, I am horrible with names.  I’m especially horrible with names that aren’t in one of the languages I speak.  And I’m super horrible with names that only come up a few times over the course of my run with a film.  So, as will be common with these reviews, I’ll only call people by the names I remember.  If I don’t remember a name, I’m making one up.

Anyways, we’ll lead with a synopsis.  At least, as best I can remember, some time after watching the film and with a drink in hand now.  The film opens with a vaguely seen monster wrecking some boat near some island.  Another boat goes there to check it out, and the monster wrecks that too, leaving few survivors, including, if I’m remembering correctly, Some Guy.  Some Guy will be important later.  In any case, the monster proceeds to also wreck a fishing boat because it’s there, and it turns out that even when he’s not out wrecking boats, he’s still eating all the fish near an island.  This is important enough to get a film crew in the area to investigate.  They learn that the island used to sacrifice it’s nubile maidens to a sea monster named “Godzilla” in exchange for a good harvest of fish.  Godzilla decides to crush the island that night, reporters see, then everyone goes to Tokyo to ask them to do something about the giant monster breaking all the stuff.

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The government sends a mission to the island, consisting of, among others, Dr. Dinosaur, Some Guy, and for some reason the Dr.’s daughter, Daft Tart.  Seeing them off is Dr. Serizawa.  Dude’s a scientist and is really married to his job, but it’s an open relationship, so he’s also engaged to Daft Tart.  Daft Tart and Some Guy are schtupping on the fly, but Serizawa knows about it and is cool with it, because again, open relationship.  Anyways, the mission heads there, takes a look at some footprints.  Dr. Dinosaur notices some extinct creature living in the footprint, notices that it’s radioactive as all hell, and also notices that a bunch of kids have gotten a fatal dose of radiation in them.  The group continues exploring until they spot Godzilla in broad daylight, screaming at them from over a hill.  Dr. Dinosaur takes his knowledge back to Tokyo, presenting that Godzilla’s this still-living dinosaur who had been residing in an evolutionarily and biologically isolated underwater pocket until he was mutated by an errant H-bomb test.  This leads to a bit of furor as some insist that Godzilla’s existence should be hidden to prevent panic and protect Japan’s international relations, while others insist everyone has a right to know.  Either way, everyone agrees that the big giant thing that has killed tons of people should probably not be alive to kill a bunch of other people, except for Dr. Dinosaur who wants to keep the big guy alive so he can do science stuff on him.

Government sends a bunch of ships out to sea to go bomb Godzilla.  They fail to do any serious damage.  This will be a theme in future movies.  They do, however, manage to lead Godzilla back to Japan, where he destroys a train and some other stuff before heading back to the ocean.  Government gets with Dr. Dinosaur about what to do about Godzilla, who tells them that Godzilla is unkillable and also don’t shine lights at him.  Dr. Serizawa shows Daft Tart what he’s been working on, the Oxygen Destroyer, which…. destroys oxygen.  Good name, I guess.  Literally eliminates oxygen molecules from whatever it comes into contact with.  Serizawa is a WW2 vet, saw the impact of the atomic bombings, and is absolutely distraught that he’s created the world’s next great super-weapon.  He resolves to keep his discovery an absolute secret until he’s found a peaceful, truly helpful application to it, worried that if anyone else finds out about it, it’s just going to be used to kill.

Japan builds a giant electric fence around the country, thinking that it will stop Godzilla if he ever attacks.  Godzilla attacks.  It bothers him for a second, but then he unleashes something nobody ever expected, his atomic breath, to melt his way through it.  He then lays siege to Tokyo.

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Absolute siege.  I feel I can’t understate it enough.  By the modern day, we’ve seen Godzilla go on a rampage tons of times.  Even compared to that, the destruction he inflicts on Tokyo in this film is absolutely brutal.  And you see it all from the people affected by it.  Those fleeing.  Those hiding.  Those who can go no more, and know that they’re going die.  Moreover, the military is absolutely ineffective against him.  There is nothing they can do that is not futile.  Yet they keep trying, because they have to, and they die by the ton for it.  A big theme in this film is the consequences of the atomic bombing, and you see it heavily here.

The day after, every single place that can care for the injured is absolutely flooded with the wounded survivors.  Daft Tart sees this, and tells Some Guy about Dr. Serizawa’s new potential superweapon.  They confront Serizawa about it, expressing the need to kill Godzilla before he does this again.  Serizawa begins destroying his work at this, leading to a confrontation with Some Guy in which Some Guy gets bloodied, and Serizawa hates himself for the violence.  Then he watches TV, sees what’s going on, and agrees to turn his invention into a weapon, but still destroys all his work so it can never be replicated.

Even with the knowledge that the Oxygen Destroyer is going to wreck the local ecosystem, the government’s behind the plan.  Some Guy and Dr. Serizawa head out to sea, where the military has tracked Godzilla.  Contrary to his previous appearances, here, Godzilla is completely peaceful, and makes no move against the two.  Serizawa plants the Oxygen Destroyer, sends Some Guy back up, then severs his own ties to the ship and his oxygen line, taking the only surviving knowledge of how to create the Oxygen Destroyer with him and keeping it from being unleashed on the world.  The Oxygen Destroyer goes off, and strips Godzilla to the bone.  With Godzilla dead, and Serizawa with it, those above have a bittersweet moment, remembering the heroic scientist and the potentially tragic beast, while also realizing that, if the world keeps on the path it’s on, more Godzillas may well be created.

And let the credits roll.

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Godzilla could have just been another of the stupid fun monster bash movies that I’ve gotten so hooked on, exactly what the series became.  The original film, though, is far, far deeper than that.  You can’t enjoy this film the same way you enjoy the rest of the Godzilla movies.  Overall Godzilla fans may not enjoy this film, and fans of this film may not enjoy the rest of the franchise.  It’s very, very different.  In particular, it’s the themes of this film and the mindset of the people who made it that makes this special.  This is a film about war, about destruction, and about the atomic bomb created by the survivors and veterans of World War II who were witness to its most devastating events and lived through the aftermath.  This type of film could only have come from this creative team and at this time, and it offers a unique perspective into the mentality of the Japanese populace in the years they spent recovering from the end of World War II.

I don’t see any way around this.  Let’s set the scene here.  Pre-WW2, Japan was one of the most vicious, cruel, and inhumane nations on the planet.  World War 2 was the cap for them on at least 30 years of continuous aggressive action and numerous war crimes against China, Korea, Russia, and beyond.  Active and expansive slavery, comfort women, the Rape of Nanking, the Asian Holocaust, the list of horrors that they committed goes on and on.  As the war turned against them, they turned against their own citizens as well, committing to the use of kamikaze pilots long after they ceased being any sort of effective, aggressively encouraging families in soon-to-be Ally-controlled territories to commit suicide in order to keep their populace from finding out that life under Allied occupation is not near as horrible as they’ve been saying, or press-ganging millions of their civilians into military service, arming them with suicide weaponry, and telling them to make their deaths count.  Nazi Germany may be getting the most focus for WW2 horrors, but Imperial Japan was right there with them.

And the atomic bombs hit them so hard they turned into a nation of pacifists.

Granted, there was a lot more involved in their societal change than just that.  Saying it that way makes for a way more dramatic picture, though.  And it’s really hard to understate the impact the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Japan.  The film Godzilla gives you a bit of a glimpse of it, though, wrapped up in a much more palatable fantasy horror shell.  Yes, you’re watching a movie about a giant monster terrifying Japan.  But, the monster Godzilla is the atomic bomb.  And that takes things to a deeper level here.

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Director Ishiro Honda, if memory serves, was in the Japanese military during World War II, and returned to see the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima.  He drew from those images in creating Godzilla, and I imagine a fair bit of the feelings of the time, too.  The military is helpless against Godzilla, much like they were against Fat Man and Little Boy.  The aftermath of Godzilla’s rampage sees hospitals overcrowded, medical staff overwhelmed, and even the immediate survivors aren’t safe, as radiation poisoning grabs hold.  As was common following the atomic bomb.  Godzilla, who, as the film points out, was mutated by the H-bomb himself, has skin that’s scarred and warped much like that of real-world survivors of the atomic bombings was.  It is not subtle in its metaphors.

Given that the initial American version of this film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, cut out some “anti-American” scenes, the Japanese Godzilla has picked up a bit of a reputation.  However, I didn’t really see much in the way of anti-Americanism in the original version I watched.  Granted, my copy of it is by Criterion, whom I know retranslated the subtitles from earlier versions, but given their reputation for maintaining movies in their original format, I would think it would be more accurate.  In any case, I just didn’t see it here.  It is strongly against H-bomb testing, and frankly, given that this came out shortly after the Lucky Dragon incident, I can’t blame them for that, but anything that’s really targeted at America is only by extended implication.  Hell, it’s at least as anti-Japanese government as it is anti-American, as you see some mindset to leave people vulnerable and keep Godzilla hidden in order to protect their own interests, and they lead the assault against Godzilla that ends up leading him back to them and provoking even worse devastation.  It is against the advancements of the new biggest, baddest weapons and the use of science to kill people in general, as seen in basically everything to do with Dr. Serizawa.  Even then, though, it doesn’t make a flat statement against them.  I don’t necessarily know if this was the intended statement or not, but there did hit a threshold in this movie where it was necessary to use the new big, bad superweapon to keep the nation from being wiped out, even when that did have lingering effects.  The message ends up being more “only use the superweapons in the direst peril, and even then take care that they don’t develop further” rather than a simple “atomic bombs=BAD!”

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As far as the quality of the movie, well, I know I enjoy my films very differently than your average consumer.  I had a very fine time with it, however.  It’s typical in Godzilla films to have a long time building up tension before Big G appears while they develop the human interest side of things, and that’s definitely the case here.  It’s a very different tension here than you usually see, though, building up fear and danger rather than the thrill of impending chaos.  Several of the characters have a surprising amount of nuance, moreso than was typical for this time period.  And I really have to applaud it for making you feel its themes.  This film has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and it would have been very easy for it to end up basically screaming what the developers really thought at you without any hope for absorption, as so many attempts at “thoughtful” media end up doing.  But this film doesn’t do that.  Godzilla exhibits a high level of “show, don’t tell” that makes its themes, blunt as they are, way more impactful, and really promotes an understanding of them.  This is a monster movie at its core, sure.  But it’s a monster movie that makes you think, and it’s one that has lingered with me well beyond when I finished watching it.

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