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Godzilla (1954 film)

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Godzilla
Gojira 1954 Japanese poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Japaneseゴジラ
HepburnGojira
Directed byIshirō Honda
Screenplay byTakeo Murata
Ishirō Honda
Story byShigeru Kayama
Produced byTomoyuki Tanaka
Starring
CinematographyMasao Tamai
Edited byTaichi Taira[1]
Music byAkira Ifukube
Production
company
Distributed byToho
Release dates
  • October 27, 1954 (1954-10-27) (Nagoya)
  • November 3, 1954 (1954-11-03) (Japan)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
Budget¥100,000,000 (equivalent to ¥617,574,127 in 2019)[a]
Box office$2.1 million[b]

Godzilla (Japanese: ゴジラ, Hepburn: Gojira)[c] is a 1954 Japanese kaiju film directed by Ishirō Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced and distributed by Toho Co., Ltd, it is the first film in the Godzilla franchise and the Shōwa era. The film stars Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, and Takashi Shimura, with Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka as Godzilla. In the film, Japan's authorities deal with the sudden appearance of a giant monster, whose attacks trigger fears of nuclear holocaust during post-war Japan.

Godzilla entered production after a Japanese-Indonesian co-production collapsed. Tsuburaya originally proposed for a giant octopus before the filmmakers decided on a dinosaur-inspired creature. Godzilla pioneered a form of special effects called suitmation, in which a stunt performer wearing a suit interacts with miniature sets. Principal photography ran 51 days, and special effects photography ran 71 days.

Godzilla was theatrically released in Japan on November 3, 1954, and grossed ¥183,000,000 (equivalent to ¥1,130,160,652 in 2019)[d] during its original theatrical run.[4] In 1956, a heavily re-edited "Americanized" version, titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was released in the United States.[10] The film spawned a multimedia franchise, being recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest-running film franchise in history.[11] The character Godzilla has since become an international pop culture icon. The film and Tsuburaya have been largely credited for establishing the template for tokusatsu media. Since its release, the film has been regarded as a cinematic achievement[12] and one of the best monster films ever made.[13][14][15]

The film was followed by Godzilla Raids Again, released on April 24, 1955.[16]

Plot[edit]

When the Japanese freighter Eiko-maru is destroyed near Odo Island, another ship—the Bingo-maru—is sent to investigate, only to meet the same fate with few survivors. A fishing boat from Odo is also destroyed, with one survivor. Fishing catches mysteriously drop to zero, blamed by an elder on the ancient sea creature known as "Godzilla". Reporters arrive on Odo Island to further investigate. A villager tells one of the reporters that something in the sea is ruining the fishing. That evening, a storm strikes the island, destroying the reporters' helicopter, and Godzilla, briefly seen, destroys 17 homes and kills nine people and 20 of the villagers' livestock.

Odo residents travel to Tokyo to demand disaster relief. The villagers' and reporters' evidence describes damage consistent with something large crushing the village. The government sends paleontologist Kyohei Yamane to lead an investigation on the island, where giant radioactive footprints and a trilobite are discovered. The village alarm bell is rung and Yamane and the villagers rush to see the monster, retreating after seeing that it is a giant dinosaur. Yamane presents his findings in Tokyo, estimating that Godzilla is 50 m tall and is evolved from an ancient sea creature becoming a terrestrial creature. He concludes that Godzilla has been disturbed by underwater hydrogen bomb testing. Debate ensues about notifying the public about the danger of the monster. Meanwhile, 17 ships are lost at sea.

Ten frigates are dispatched to attempt to kill the monster using depth charges. The mission disappoints Yamane, who wants Godzilla to be studied. When Godzilla survives the attack, officials appeal to Yamane for ideas to kill the monster, but Yamane tells them that Godzilla is unkillable, having survived H-bomb testing, and must be studied. Yamane's daughter, Emiko, decides to break off her arranged engagement to Yamane's colleague, Daisuke Serizawa, because of her love for Hideto Ogata, a salvage ship captain. When a reporter arrives and asks to interview Serizawa, Emiko escorts the reporter to Serizawa's home. After Serizawa refuses to divulge his current work to the reporter, he gives Emiko a demonstration of his recent project on the condition that she must keep it a secret. The demonstration horrifies her and she leaves without mentioning the engagement. Shortly after she returns home, Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay and attacks Shinagawa. After attacking a passing train, Godzilla returns to the ocean.

After consulting international experts, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces construct a 30 m tall and 50,000 volt electrified fence along the coast and deploy forces to stop and kill Godzilla. Dismayed that there is no plan to study Godzilla for its resistance to radiation, Yamane returns home, where Emiko and Ogata await, hoping to get his consent for them to wed. When Ogata disagrees with Yamane, arguing that the threat that Godzilla poses outweighs any potential benefits from studying the monster, Yamane tells him to leave. Godzilla resurfaces and breaks through the fence to Tokyo with its atomic breath, unleashing more destruction across the city. Further attempts to kill the monster with tanks and fighter jets fail and Godzilla returns to the ocean. The day after, hospitals and shelters are crowded with the maimed and the dead, with some survivors suffering from radiation sickness.

Distraught by the devastation, Emiko tells Ogata about Serizawa's research, a weapon called the "Oxygen Destroyer", which disintegrates oxygen atoms and causes organisms to die of a rotting asphyxiation. Emiko and Ogata go to Serizawa to convince him to use the Oxygen Destroyer but he initially refuses, explaining that if he uses the device, the superpowers of the world will surely force him to construct more Oxygen Destroyers for use as a superweapon. After watching a program displaying the nation's current tragedy, Serizawa finally accepts their pleas. As Serizawa burns his notes, Emiko breaks down crying.

A navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. After finding Godzilla, Serizawa unloads the device and cuts off his air support, taking the secret of the Oxygen Destroyer to his grave. Godzilla is destroyed, but many mourn Serizawa's death. Yamane believes that if nuclear weapons testing continues, another Godzilla may rise in the future.

Cast[edit]

  • Akira Takarada as Hideto Ogata
  • Momoko Kōchi as Emiko Yamane
  • Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Daisuke Serizawa
  • Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane
  • Fuyuki Murakami as Dr. Tanabe
  • Sachio Sakai as Hagiwara
  • Ren Yamamoto as Masaji Yamada
  • Toyoaki Suzuki as Shinkichi Yamada
  • Toranosuke Ogawa as the President of the Nankai Shipping Company
  • Hiroshi Hayashi as the Chairman of Diet Committee
  • Seijiro Onda as Oyama, Diet Committee member
  • Kin Sugai as Ozawa, Diet Committee member
  • Kokuten Kōdō as the old fisherman
  • Tadashi Okabe as the assistant of Dr. Tanabe
  • Jiro Mitsuaki as an employee of the Nankai Salvage Company
  • Ren Imaizumi as a radio officer of the Nankai Salvage Company
  • Sokichi Maki as the chief at the Maritime Safety Agency
  • Kenji Sahara as a partygoer
  • Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla and a reporter
  • Katsumi Tezuka as Godzilla and a newspaper deskman

Cast taken from Japan's Favorite Mon-Star.[17]

Themes[edit]

In the film, Godzilla symbolizes nuclear holocaust from Japan's perspective and has since been culturally identified as a strong metaphor for nuclear weapons.[18] Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka stated that, "The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind."[19] Director Ishirō Honda filmed Godzilla's Tokyo rampage to mirror the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stating, "If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn't know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla."[19]

On March 1, 1954, just a few months before the film was made, the Japanese fishing vessel Daigo Fukuryū Maru ("Lucky Dragon No. 5") had been showered with radioactive fallout from the U.S. military's 15-megaton "Castle Bravo" hydrogen bomb test at nearby Bikini Atoll.[20] The boat's catch was contaminated, spurring a panic in Japan about the safety of eating fish, and the crew was sickened, with one crew member eventually dying from radiation sickness.[20] This event led to the emergence of a large and enduring anti-nuclear movement that gathered 30 million signatures on an anti-nuclear petition by August 1955 and eventually became institutionalized as the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs.[20] The film's opening scene of Godzilla destroying a Japanese vessel is a direct reference to these events, and had a strong impact on Japanese viewers with this recent event still fresh in the mind of the public.[21]

Academics Anne Allison, Thomas Schnellbächer, and Steve Ryfle have said that Godzilla contains political and cultural undertones that can be attributed to what the Japanese had experienced in World War II and that Japanese audiences were able to connect emotionally to the monster. They theorized that these viewers saw Godzilla as a victim and felt that the creature's backstory reminded them of their experiences in World War II. These academics have also claimed that as the atomic bomb testing that woke Godzilla was carried out by the United States, the film in a way can be seen to blame the United States for the problems and struggles that Japan experienced after World War II had ended. They also felt that the film could have served as a cultural coping method to help the people of Japan move on from the events of the war.[22][23][19]

Brian Merchant from Motherboard called the film "a bleak, powerful metaphor for nuclear power that still endures today" and on its themes, he stated: "It's an unflinchingly bleak, deceptively powerful film about coping with and taking responsibility for incomprehensible, manmade tragedy. Specifically, nuclear tragedies. It's arguably the best window into post-war attitudes towards nuclear power we've got—as seen from the perspective of its greatest victims."[18] Terrence Rafferty from The New York Times said Godzilla was "an obvious gigantic, unsubtle, grimly purposeful metaphor for the atomic bomb" and felt the film was "extraordinarily solemn, full of earnest discussions".[24]

Mark Jacobson from the website of New York magazine said that Godzilla "transcends humanist prattle. Very few constructs have so perfectly embodied the overriding fears of a particular era. He is the symbol of a world gone wrong, a work of man that once created cannot be taken back or deleted. He rears up out of the sea as a creature of no particular belief system, apart from even the most elastic version of evolution and taxonomy, a reptilian id that lives inside the deepest recesses of the collective unconscious that cannot be reasoned with, a merciless undertaker who broaches no deals." Regarding the film, Jacobson stated, "Honda's first Godzilla... is in line with these inwardly turned post-war films and perhaps the most brutally unforgiving of them. Shame-ridden self-flagellation was in order, and who better to supply the rubber-suited psychic punishment than the Rorschach-shaped big fella himself?"[25]

Tim Martin from The Daily Telegraph (London) said that the original 1954 film was "a far cry from its B-movie successors. It was a sober allegory of a film with ambitions as large as its thrice-normal budget, designed to shock and horrify an adult audience. Its roster of frightening images—cities in flames, overstuffed hospitals, irradiated children—would have been all too familiar to cinemagoers for whom memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still less than a decade old, while its script posed deliberately inflammatory questions about the balance of postwar power and the development of nuclear energy." Martin also commented how the film's themes were omitted in the American version, stating, "Its thematic preoccupation with nuclear energy proved even less acceptable to the American distributors who, after buying the film, began an extensive reshoot and recut for Western markets."[26]

Production[edit]

Crew[edit]

  • Ishirō Honda – director, co-writer
  • Eiji Tsuburaya – special effects director
  • Kōji Kajita – assistant director
  • Teruo Maki – production manager
  • Choshiro Ishii – lighting
  • Takeo Kita – chief art director
  • Satoshi Chuko – art director
  • Akira Watanabe – special effects art director
  • Kuichirō Kishida – special effects lighting
  • Teizō Toshimitsu – monster builder
  • Hisashi Shimonaga – sound recording
  • Ichiro Minawa[e] – sound and musical effects

Personnel taken from Japan's Favorite Mon-Star.[27]

Development[edit]

[If] our hearts were not in it 100 percent it would not have worked. We wanted [the monster] to possess the terrifying characteristics of an atomic bomb. This was our approach, without any reservations.

– Honda on his and the crew's vision for the film.[28]

In 1954, Toho originally planned to produce In the Shadow of Glory (栄光の影に, Eikō no Kage ni), a Japanese-Indonesian co-production about the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. However, anti-Japanese sentiment in Indonesia forced political pressure on the government to deny visas for the Japanese filmmakers.[29] The film was to be co-produced with Perfini, filmed on location in Jakarta in color (a first for a major Toho production), and was to open markets for Japanese films in Southeast Asia.[28]

Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka flew to Jakarta to renegotiate with the Indonesian government but was unsuccessful and on the flight back to Japan, conceived the idea for a giant monster film inspired by the 1953 film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident that happened in March 1954.[30] The film's opening sequence is a direct reference to the incident.[21] Tanaka felt the film had potential due to nuclear fears generating news and monster films becoming popular, due to the financial success of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the 1952 re-release of King Kong, the latter of which earned more money than previous releases.[31]

During his flight, Tanaka wrote an outline with the working title The Giant Monster from 20,000 Miles Beneath the Sea (底二万哩から来た大怪獣, Kaiteinimanmairu kara Kita Daikaijū) and pitched it to executive producer Iwao Mori. Mori approved the project in mid–April 1954 after special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya agreed to do the film's effects and confirmed that the film was financially feasible.[32] Mori also felt the project was a perfect vehicle for Tsuburaya and to test the storyboarding system that he instituted at the time.[30] Mori also approved Tanaka's choice to have Ishirō Honda direct the film and shortened the title of the production to Project G (G for Giant), as well as giving the production classified status and ordered Tanaka to minimize his attention on other films and mainly focus on Project G.[30][32]

Toho originally intended for Senkichi Taniguchi to direct the film, as he was originally attached to direct In the Shadow of Glory, however, Taniguchi declined the assignment.[33] Honda was not Toho's first choice for the film's director, however, his war-time experience made him an ideal candidate for the film's anti-nuclear themes.[34] Several other directors passed on the project, feeling the idea was "stupid", however, Honda accepted the assignment due to this interest in science and "unusual things", stating, "I had no problem taking it seriously."[31] It was during the production of Godzilla that Honda worked with assistant director Kōji Kajita for the first time.[3] Afterwards, Kajita would go on to collaborate with Honda as his chief assistant director for 17 films over the course of 10 years.[35] Due to sci-fi films lacking respect from film critics, Honda, Tanaka, and Tsuburaya agreed on depicting a monster attack as if it were a real event, with the serious tone of a documentary.[28]

Writing[edit]

Tsuburaya submitted an outline of his own, written three years prior to Godzilla; it featured a giant octopus attacking ships in the Indian Ocean.[30] In May 1954, Tanaka hired sci-fi writer Shigeru Kayama to write the story. Only 50 pages long and written in 11 days, Kayama's treatment depicted Dr. Yamane wearing dark shades, a cape and living in a European-style house from which he only emerged at night. Godzilla was portrayed as more animal-like by coming ashore to feed on animals, with an ostensibly gorilla-like interest in females. Kayama's story also featured less destruction and borrowed a scene from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms by having Godzilla attack a lighthouse.[36][30]

Takeo Murata and Honda co-wrote the screenplay in three weeks, confining themselves in a Japanese inn in Tokyo's Shibuya ward. On writing the script, Murata stated, "Director Honda and I... racked our brains to make Mr. Kayama's original treatment into a full, working vision." Murata said that Tsuburaya and Tanaka pitched their ideas as well. Tanaka requested that they do not spend too much money, while Tsuburaya encouraged them to "do whatever it takes to make it work". Murata and Honda redeveloped key characters and elements by adding Emiko's love triangle. In Kayama's story, Serizawa was depicted as merely a colleague of Dr. Yamane's. Godzilla's full appearance was to be revealed during the Odo Island hurricane but Honda and Murata opted to show parts of the creature as the film built up to his full reveal. Honda and Murata also introduced the characters Hagiwara and Dr. Tanabe in their draft but the role of Shinkichi, who had a substantial role in Kayama's story, was cut down.[37]

A novelization, written by Kayama, was published on October 25, 1954 by Iwatani Bookstore as Monster Godzilla (怪獣ゴジラ, Kaijū Gojira).[38]

Creature design[edit]

Godzilla stands against an armada; used for marketing purposes.
The filmmakers took inspiration from various dinosaurs to shape Godzilla's final iconic design.

Godzilla was designed by Teizō Toshimitsu and Akira Watanabe under Eiji Tsuburaya's supervision.[39] Early on, Tanaka contemplated having the monster be gorilla-like or whale-like in design, due to the name "Gojira" (a combination of the Japanese words for "gorilla", ゴリラ gorira, and "whale", クジラ kujira), but eventually settled on a dinosaur-like design.[40] Kazuyoshi Abe was hired earlier to design Godzilla but his ideas were later rejected due to Godzilla looking too humanoid and mammalian, with a head shaped like a mushroom cloud;[39] however, Abe was retained to help draw the film's storyboards.[41]

Toshimitsu and Watanabe decided to base Godzilla's design on dinosaurs and, by using dinosaur books and magazines as a reference, combined elements of a Tyrannosaurus, Iguanodon and the dorsal fins of a Stegosaurus.[39] Despite wanting to have utilized stop motion animation, Tsuburaya reluctantly settled on suitmation.[39] Toshimitsu sculpted three clay models on which the suit would be based. The first two were rejected but the third was approved by Tsuburaya, Tanaka, and Honda.[39]

The Godzilla suit was constructed by Kanji Yagi, Koei Yagi, and Eizo Kaimai, who used thin bamboo sticks and wire to build a frame for the interior of the suit and added metal mesh and cushioning over it to bolster its structure and finally applied coats of latex.[39] Coats of molten rubber were additionally applied, followed by carved indentations and strips of latex glued onto the surface of the suit to create Godzilla's scaly hide.[39] This first version of the suit weighed 100 kilograms (220 pounds). For close-ups, Toshimitsu created a smaller scale, mechanical, hand-operated puppet that sprayed streams of mist from its mouth to act as Godzilla's atomic breath.[42]

Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka were chosen to perform in the Godzilla suit, due to their strength and endurance.[39] At the first costume fitting, Nakajima fell down while inside the suit,[43] due to the heavy latex and inflexible materials used to create the suit.[39] This first version of the suit was cut in half and used for scenes requiring only partial shots of Godzilla or close-ups, with the lower-half fitted with rope suspenders for Nakajima to wear.[43][42] For full-body shots, a second identical suit was created which was made lighter than the first suit, but Nakajima was still only able to be inside for three minutes before passing out.[43] Nakajima lost 20 pounds during the production of the film.[44] Nakajima would go on to portray Godzilla and other monsters until his retirement in 1972.[45] Tezuka filmed scenes in the Godzilla suit but, due to his older body, he was unable to fully commit to the physical demands required by the role. As a result, few of his scenes made it to the final cut as very few scenes were considered usable.[46] Tezuka filled in for Nakajima when he was unavailable or needed relief from the physically demanding role.[42]

Godzilla's name was also a source of consternation for the filmmakers. Because the monster had no name, the first draft of the film was not called Gojira but rather titled G, also known as Kaihatsu keikaku G ("Development Plan G"), the "G" of the title stood for "Giant", however. Nakajima confirmed that Toho held a contest to name the monster.[47] The monster was eventually named Gojira.[48] One explanation that is chalked up to legend is that a hulking Toho Studios employee's physical attributes led him to be nicknamed Gojira.[48] In a 1998 BBC documentary on Godzilla, Kimi Honda, the widow of the director, dismissed the employee-name story as a tall tale, believing that Honda, Tanaka, and Tsuburaya gave "considerable thought" to the name of the monster, stating, "the backstage boys at Toho loved to joke around with tall stories, but I don't believe that one".[40] In 2003, a Japanese television special claimed to have identified the anonymous hulking Toho employee as Shiro Amikura, a Toho contract actor from the 1950s.[49]

Special effects[edit]

Effects assistants help suit performer Nakajima set up a crucial scene.
The Godzilla suit was produced with rough materials, which only granted suit-performer Haruo Nakajima three minutes in the suit before passing out from heat and exhaustion. The miniatures were constructed at certain scales to appear smaller than the Godzilla suit.

The film's special effects were directed by Eiji Tsuburaya.[50] In order for the effects footage to sync with the live-action footage, Honda and Tsuburaya would develop plans early during development and briefly meet prior to the day's shoot. Kajita would shuttle Tsuburaya to Honda's set to observe how a scene was being shot and where the actors were being positioned. Kajita also ushered Honda to the effects stage to observe how Tsuburaya was shooting certain effects. While Honda edited the live-action footage, he left blank leaders for Tsuburaya to insert the effects footage. At times, Honda had to cut out certain effects footage. Tsuburaya disapproved of these decisions due to Honda's cuts not matching the effects; however, Honda had final say in these matters.[51]

Tsuburaya originally wanted to use stop motion for the film's special effects but realized it would have taken seven years to complete based on the then-current staff and infrastructure at Toho.[52] Settling on suitmation and miniature effects, Tsuburaya and his crew scouted the locations Godzilla was to destroy and were nearly arrested after a security guard overheard their plans for destruction but were released after showing police their Toho business cards.[43] Kintaro Makino, the chief of miniature construction, was given blueprints by Akira Watanabe for the miniatures and assigned 30 to 40 workers from the carpentry department to build them, which took a month to build the scaled down version of Ginza.[43] A majority of the miniatures were built at 1:25 scale but the Diet building was scaled down to a 1:33 scale to look smaller than Godzilla.[43] While it proved to be too expensive to use stop-motion extensively throughout the picture, the final film did include a stop-motion scene of Godzilla's tail destroying the Nichigeki Theater building.[53][54]

The buildings' framework were made of thin wooden boards reinforced with a mixture of plaster and white chalk.[43] Explosives were installed inside miniatures that were to be destroyed by Godzilla's atomic breath while some were sprayed with gasoline to make them burn more easily; others included small cracks so they could crumble easily.[43] Optical animation techniques were used for Godzilla's glowing dorsal fins by having hundreds of cells drawn frame-by-frame.[55] Haruo Nakajima perspired inside the suit so much that the Yagi brothers had to dry out the cotton lining every morning and sometimes re-line the interior of the suit and repair damages.[55]

The typhoon waves were created by stagehands who overturned barrels of water into a water tank where the miniature Odo Island shoreline was built.[56] Multiple composition shots were used for the Odo Island scenes.[57] Most of the Odo Island scenes were filmed near rice fields.[58] Toho hired en masse part-time employees to work on the film's optical effects.[59] Half of the 400 hired staff were mostly part-timers with little to no experience.[60] An early version of Godzilla's full reveal was filmed that featured Godzilla, via hand-operated puppet, devouring a cow. Sadamasa Arikawa thought the scene was too gruesome and convinced Tsuburaya to re-film it.[61] Optical effects were utilized for Godzilla's footprints on the beach by painting them onto glass and inserting it onto an area of the live-action footage.[62] Special effects photography lasted for 71 days.[55]

Filming[edit]

On the first day of filming, Honda addressed a crew of 30 to read the script and leave the project if they did not feel convinced, wanting only to work with those who had confidence in him and the film.[3] Most of the film was shot in the Toho lot.[63] Honda's team also filmed on location in the Shima Peninsula in Mie Prefecture to film the Odo Island scenes, which used 50 Toho extras and Honda's team establishing their base in the town of Toba.[63] Local villagers were also used as extras for the Odo Island scenes.[64] The dance ritual scene was filmed on location in Mie Prefecture, with local villagers performing as the dancers.[65] The cast and crew commuted every morning by boat to Toba, Mie, working under harsh weather temperatures. Honda worked shirtless and as a result, suffered blistering sunburn on his back that left permanent scars.[35]

Toho had negotiated with the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to film scenes requiring the military and filmed target practices and drills for the film; Honda's team followed a convoy of JSDF vehicles for the convoy dispatch scene.[63] Two thousand girls were used from an all-girls high school for the prayer for peace scene.[63] The filmmakers had little cooperation from the JSDF and had to rely on World War II stock footage, provided by the Japanese military, for certain scenes.[66] The stock footage was sourced from 16mm prints.[67] Honda's team spent 51 days shooting the film.[63]

Music and sound effects[edit]

The film's score was composed by Akira Ifukube. After meeting with Tanaka, Tsuburaya, and Honda, Ifukube enthusiastically accepted the job after learning that the main character was a monster, Ifukube said, "I couldn't sit still when I heard that in this movie the main character was a reptile that would be rampaging through the city." Ifukube was not shown the final film and only had a week to compose his music. Within that time, he was only shown a model of Godzilla and the screenplay. Tsuburaya briefly showed Ifukube some footage, albeit with the effects missing and Tsuburaya attempting to describe how the scene would unfold, Ifukube recalled, "I was very confused. So I tried to make music that would remind you of something enormous." Ifukube used low-pitch brass and string instruments.[68]

It was Honda's idea to make Godzilla roar, despite the fact that reptiles do not have vocal cords. Shimonaga and Minawa were originally tasked with creating the roar, however, Ifukube became involved after taking interest in creating sound effects. Ifukube discussed with Honda regarding what type of sounds were going to be used in certain scenes and other details concerning sounds. Minawa went to the zoo and recorded various animal roars that were played back at certain speeds. However, these sounds proved unsatisfactory and went unused. Ifukube borrowed a contrabass from the Japan Art University's music department and created Godzilla's roar by loosening the strings and rubbing them with a leather glove. The sound was recorded and played at a reduced speed, which achieved the effect of the roar used in the film. This technique would be adopted by Toho as a standard method in creating monster roars in the following years.[68]

There are conflicting reports as to how Godzilla's footsteps were created. One claim states that the roar was created with a knotted rope hitting a kettle drum that was recorded and processed through an echo box. However, Ifukube told Cult Movies that the footsteps were created using a primitive amplifier that made a loud clap when struck. Some Japanese texts claim that the footsteps were sourced from an explosion with the ending clipped off and processed through an electronic reverb unit. The optical recording equipment contained four audio tracks: one for principal dialogue, one for background chatter, ambient noises, tanks, planes, and one for the roars and footsteps. An independent audio track was used to prevent bleeding over other audio.[69]

The music and sound effects of Godzilla's rampage were recorded live simultaneously. While Ifukube conducted the NHK Philharmonic orchestra, a foley artists watched Godzilla's rampage projected on a screen and used tin, concrete debris, wood, and other equipment to simulate sounds that would sync with the footage. A new take would be needed if the foley artist had missed a cue.[2] Many of Ifukube's themes and motifs associated with Godzilla were introduced in the film, such as the March, the Horror theme, and the Requiem. The "Self Defense Force March" had become synonymous with Godzilla that Ifukube later referred to it as "Godzilla's theme." Ifukube considers his music for the film his finest film score.[70]

Godzilla: Soundtrack Perfect Collection – Box 1
Soundtrack album by
Akira Ifukube[71]
ReleasedSeptember 20, 2004[71]
GenreSoundtrack, film score
Length46:23[71]
LabelToho Music Corporation[71]
No.TitleLength
1."Main Title (M2 + M1)"02:11
2."Sinking of Eikou-Maru (M3)"01:10
3."Sinking of Bingou-Marou (M4)"00:26
4."Anxieties on Ootojima Island (M5)"00:52
5."Odo Island Temple Festival (M6)"01:23
6."Storm on Odo Island (M7)"01:57
7."Departure (Frigate March I) (M11)"00:41
8."Theme for Odo Island (M9)"00:35
9."Godzilla Appears on Odo Island (M10)"00:54
10."Horror of the Water Tank (M13)"00:46
11."Chaos in Shinagawa (M14 + M7-T1)"01:49
12."Intercept Godzilla (M16)"01:29
13."Godzilla Comes Ashore Again (M14)"01:55
14."Godzilla's Rampage (MA')"02:29
15."Desperate Broadcast (MB)"01:16
16."Godzilla Comes to Tokyo Bay (MC)"01:27
17."In Pursuit of Godzilla (M1)"01:36
18."Tragic Sight of the Imperial Capital (M19)"02:19
19."Oxygen Destroyer (M20)"03:14
20."Prayer for Peace"03:05
21."Frigate March II (M21)"00:22
22."Godzilla at the Ocean Floor (M22)"06:25
23."Ending (M23)"01:47
24."Main Title · Footsteps and Roaring (M2)"02:14
25."Storm on Odo Island"01:53
26."Pleasure Cruise Music"01:14
27."Radio Music"00:53
Total length:46:23

Release[edit]

Marketing[edit]

During production, Mori devised promotional strategies to generate public interest. Amongst these strategies was a radio play titled Monster Godzilla (怪獣ゴジラ, Kaijū Gojira). 11 episodes were produced based on the screenplay, and aired on Saturdays on the NHK radio network from July 17, 1954 to September 25, 1954. In an attempt to build mystery, Mori banned reporters from the set, kept the special effects techniques and other behind the scenes crafts secret. Nakajima's suit performance as Godzilla would not be revealed until the 1960s. However, Godzilla's image was widely publicized. Godzilla's image was added to the company stationary, cut-out pictures and posters were displayed in theaters and stores, large advertisement balloons were flown to major Japanese cities, and a Godzilla doll was mounted onto a truck and driven around Tokyo. The film's theatrical trailer debuted in theaters on October 20, 1954.[2]

Theatrical[edit]

Godzilla was first released in Nagoya on October 27, 1954,[72] and released nationwide on November 3, 1954.[73] At the time of the film's release, it set a new opening day record for any Toho film, selling 33,000 tickets at Toho's cinemas in Tokyo and selling out at Nichigeki Theater. As a result, Toho's CEO personally called Honda to congratulate him. Honda's wife, Kimi, noted "that sort of thing didn't usually happen."[74]

From 1955 into the 1960s, Godzilla played in theaters catering to Japanese-Americans in predominantly Japanese neighborhoods in the United States. An English subtitled version was shown at film festivals in New York, Chicago, and other cities in 1982.[75] An 84-minute cut of the Japanese version was theatrically released in West Germany on April 10, 1956, as Godzilla. This version removes the Japanese Parliament argument, acknowledgement of Godzilla as a "child of the H-bomb", references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and an altered translation of the mother holding her children.[76] The film was re-released theatrically in Japan on November 21, 1982, to commemorate Toho's 50th anniversary.[77] Since its release, the 1954 film remained unavailable officially in the United States until 2004.[78]

To coincide with Godzilla's 50th anniversary, art-house distributor Rialto Pictures gave the film a traveling tour-style limited release, coast-to-coast, across the United States, on May 7, 2004. It ran uncut with English subtitles until December 19, 2004.[6] The film never played on more than six screens at any given point during its limited release. The film played in roughly sixty theaters and cities across the United States during its 7+12-month release. On April 18, 2014, Rialto re-released the film in the United States, coast-to-coast, using another limited-style traveling tour. This coincided with not only Godzilla's 60th anniversary, but also celebrated the American Godzilla film which was released that same year. To avoid confusion with the Hollywood feature, the Rialto release was subtitled The Japanese Original.[9] It was screened in 66 theaters in 64 cities from April 18 to October 31, 2014.[79]

For its 67th anniversary, a 4K remaster of the film, along with other Godzilla films, was screened in Alamo Drafthouse Cinema locations on November 3, 2021.[80]

American version[edit]

Following the film's success in Japan, Toho sold the American rights to Joseph E. Levine for $25,000. A heavily altered version of the film was released in the United States and worldwide as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! on April 27, 1956.[81] This version trimmed the original down to 80 minutes and featured new footage with Canadian actor Raymond Burr interacting with body doubles mixed with Honda's footage to make it seem like he was part of the original Japanese production. Many of the film's political themes were trimmed or removed completely. It was this version of the original Godzilla film that introduced audiences worldwide to the character and franchise and the only version that critics and scholars had access to until 2004 when the 1954 film was released in select theaters in North America. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! grossed $2 million during its theatrical run, more than what the 1954 film grossed in Japan.[82]

Honda was unaware that Godzilla had been re-edited until Toho released Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in Japan in May 1957 as Monster King Godzilla. Toho converted the entire film from its original scope to a widescreen 2.35:1 scope, which resulted in an awkward crop for the entire film. Japanese subtitles were given to the Japanese actors since their original dialogue differed greatly from the original script and were dubbed in English.[82] Since the release of the film, Toho had adopted the moniker "King of the Monsters" for Godzilla, which has since appeared in official marketing, advertisement, and promotional materials.[83]

Home media[edit]

The 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters! version of the film was released on DVD by Simitar in 1998[84] and Classic Media in 2002.[85] In 2005, BFI released the original Japanese version in the UK theatrically, and later in the same year on DVD. The DVD includes the original mono track and several extra features, such as documentaries and commentary tracks by Steve Ryfle, Ed Godziszewski, and Keith Aiken. The DVD also includes a documentary about the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, a Japanese fishing boat that was caught in an American nuclear blast and partially inspired the creation of the film.[86]

In 2006, Classic Media and Sony BMG Music Entertainment Home Entertainment released a two-disc DVD set titled Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece. This release features both the 1954 Japanese version and the 1956 American version, making the Japanese version of the film available on DVD in North America for the first time. This release features theatrical trailers for both films, audio commentary tracks on both films with Godzilla scholars Steve Ryfle (author of Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G) and Ed Godziszewski (editor of Japanese Giants Magazine), two 13-minute documentaries titled "Godzilla Story Development" and "Making of the Godzilla Suit", and a 12-page essay booklet by Steve Ryfle. This release also restores the original ending credits of the American film which, until recently, were thought to have been lost.[87]

In 2009, Classic Media released Godzilla on Blu-ray. This release includes the same special features from the 2006 Classic Media DVD release, but does not feature the 1956 American version.[88] In 2012, the Criterion Collection released a "new high-definition digital restoration" of Godzilla on Blu-ray and DVD. This release includes a remaster of the 1956 American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, as well as other special features such as interviews with Akira Ikufube, Japanese film critic Tadao Sato, actor Akira Takarada, Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima, effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai and audio commentaries on both films by David Kalat, author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series.[1][8]

In 2014, Classic Media reissued Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! on DVD, to commemorate the release of Legendary's Godzilla film. This release retained the same specs and features as the 2006 DVD release.[89] In 2017, Janus Films and the Criterion Collection acquired the film, as well as other Godzilla titles, to stream on Starz and FilmStruck.[90] In 2019, the film and the American version were included in the Godzilla: The Showa Era Films Blu-ray box set released by the Criterion Collection, which included all 15 films from the franchise's Shōwa era.[91] In May 2020, the film became available on HBO Max upon its launch.[92]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

During its initial Japanese theatrical run, the film sold approximately 9.6 million tickets and was the eighth best-attended film in Japan that year.[93] The film earned a distribution rental income of ¥183,000,000 (equivalent to ¥1,130,160,652 in 2019), $1.6 million unadjusted for inflation.[4] During its 2004 limited theatrical release in North America, the film grossed $38,030 on its opening weekend and grossed $412,520 by the end of its limited run. For the 2014 limited re-release in North America, it grossed $10,903 after playing in one theater in New York and grossed $150,191 at the end of its run.[5] In the United Kingdom, the film sold 3,643 tickets from limited releases during 2005–2006 and 2016–2017.[94]

Critical response in Japan[edit]

Prior to the release of the film, skeptics predicted the film would flop.[3] At the time of the film's release, Japanese reviews were mixed.[95] Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the widespread devastation that the country had suffered in World War II,[96] as well as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident that occurred a few months before filming began. Ishiro Honda lamented years later in the Tokyo Journal, "They called it grotesque junk, and said it looked like something you'd spit up. I felt sorry for my crew because they had worked so hard!"[95]

Others said that depicting a fire breathing organism was strange. Honda also believed Japanese critics began to change their minds after the good reviews the film received in the United States. He stated "The first film critics to appreciate Godzilla were those in the U.S. When Godzilla was released there as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in 1956, the critics said such things as, 'For the start, this film frankly depicts the horrors of the Atomic Bomb', and by these evaluations, the assessment began to impact critics in Japan and has changed their opinions over the years."[97]

As time went on, the film gained more respect in its home country. In 1984, Kinema Junpo magazine listed Godzilla as one of the top 20 Japanese films of all time, while a survey of 370 Japanese film critics published in Nihon Eiga Besuto 150 (Best 150 Japanese Films), had Godzilla ranked as the 27th best Japanese film ever made.[98] The film was nominated for two Japanese Movie Association awards. One for best special effects and the other for best film. It won best special effects[99] but lost best picture to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.[100]

Critical response internationally[edit]

Godzilla received generally positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 93% based on 74 reviews, with an average score of 7.60/10. The site's consensus states, "More than straight monster-movie fare, Gojira offers potent, sobering postwar commentary".[101] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 78/100, based on 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[102]

Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly noted the film is more "serious" than the 1956 American cut yet "its tone just veers closer to that of solemn American B-horror cheese like Them! The real difference is that the film's famous metaphor for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki looks more nuttily masochistic than ever."[103] Luke Y. Thompson from Dallas Observer defended the film's effects as products of their time and felt that viewers would be "surprised by what they see", stating, "This ain't your standard goofy monster rampage."[104] Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian awarded the film four stars out of five, praising the storytelling as "muscular" and the nuclear themes as "passionate and fascinatingly ambiguous", stating, "the sheer fervency of this film takes it beyond the crash-bang entertainment of most blockbusters, ancient and modern."[105] David Nusair from Reel Film Reviews awarded the film one and a half stars out of four, saying the film turns into a "terminally erratic narrative that's more dull than engrossing." Nusair criticized Honda for his "inability to offer up even a single compelling human character" and found the film's ending as "anticlimactic and pointless", concluding, "the film is entirely lacking in elements designed to capture and hold the viewer's ongoing attention."[106]

Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film one and a half stars out of four, stating, "regaled for 50 years by the stupendous idiocy of the American version of Godzilla, audiences can now see the original Japanese version, which is equally idiotic, but, properly decoded, was the Fahrenheit 9/11 of its time." Ebert criticized the effects as looking "crude", feeling the effects of the 1933 film King Kong were "more convincing" and concluded that "This is a bad movie, but it has earned its place in history."[107]

Keith Uhlich from Time Out awarded the film four stars out of five, calling the film "Pop Art as purge", and praising the film's characters, themes, and Godzilla as a "potent and provocative metaphor, a lumbering embodiment of atomic-age anxieties birthed from mankind's own desire to destroy."[108] Desson Thomson from the Washington Post called the film's effects "pretty extraordinary" and "amazingly credible" for their time. Thomson felt some of the acting was "ham-handed" but said "there's a surprisingly powerful thrust to this film."[109] Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle called the film a "classic", stating, "Such moments go beyond spectacle. Godzilla is a collective metaphor and a collective nightmare, a message film that says more than its message, that captures, with a horrified poetry, the terrors that stomped through the minds of people 50 years ago."[110]

Since its release, Godzilla has been regarded as one of the best giant monster films ever made: critic Allen Perkins called the film "not just a classic monster movie, but also an important cinematic achievement."[12] In 2010, the film was ranked No. 31 in Empire magazine's "100 Best Films Of World Cinema".[111] In 2013, Rolling Stone ranked the film No. 1 on their "Best Monster Movies of All Time" list.[15] In 2015, Variety listed the film amongst their "10 Best Monster Movies of All-Time" list.[13] In 2019, Time Out Film ranked the film No. 9 on their "50 best monster movies" list.[14]

Accolades[edit]

In 1954, Eiji Tsuburaya won the Japanese Film Technique award for the film's special effects.[112] In 2007, Classic Media's DVD release of the film won "Best DVD of 2006" by the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards and Best DVD Classic Film Release by the Saturn Awards.[113][114]

Legacy[edit]

The film spawned a multimedia franchise consisting of 33 films in total, video games, books, comics, toys and other media.[115] The Godzilla franchise has been recognized by Guinness World Records as being the longest-running film franchise in history.[11] Since his debut, Godzilla became an international pop culture icon, inspiring countless rip-offs, imitations, parodies and tributes.[116][117][118] The 1954 film and its special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya have been largely credited for establishing the template for tokusatsu, a technique of practical special effects filmmaking that would become essential in Japan's film industry since the release of Godzilla. Critic and scholar Ryusuke Hikawa said: "Disney created the template for American animation, In the same way, (special-effects studio) Tsuburaya created the template for the Japanese movie business. It was their use of cheap but craftsman-like approaches to movie-making that made tokusatsu unique."[119] Steven Spielberg cited Godzilla as an inspiration for Jurassic Park (1993), specifically Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), which he grew up watching.[120]

American films[edit]

In 1998, TriStar Pictures released a reimagining, titled Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich. Emmerich wanted his Godzilla to have nothing to do with Toho's Godzilla but chose to retain key elements from the 1954 film, stating, "We took part of [the original movie's] basic storyline, in that the creature becomes created by radiation and it becomes a big challenge. But that's all we took."[121]

In 2014, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures released a reboot, also titled Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards. Edwards stated that his film was inspired by the 1954 film,[122] and attempted to retain some of its themes, stating, "Godzilla is a metaphor for Hiroshima in the original movie. We tried to keep that, and there are a lot of themes from the '54 movie that we've kept."[123]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The film had a production budget of ¥60,000,000 (equivalent to ¥370,544,476 in 2019). Print and advertisement costs brought the total budget to ¥100,000,000 (equivalent to ¥617,574,127 in 2019), roughly US$275,000, unadjusted for inflation.[2][3]
  2. ^ The film grossed ¥183 million ($1.6 million) during its initial Japanese theatrical run.[4] In 2004, the film earned $412,520 from its limited North American re-release. In 2014, the film was re-released in North America and earned $150,191.[5]
  3. ^ In 2004, Rialto Pictures released the film in a limited theatrical run as Godzilla.[6] In 2006, Classic Media released the film on DVD/Blu-ray as Gojira.[7] In 2012, Criterion released its own remastered version on DVD/Blu-ray as Godzilla.[8] In 2014, Rialto Pictures re-released the film in a limited theatrical run as Godzilla: The Japanese Original, to avoid confusion with Legendary's Godzilla film.[9]
  4. ^ US$1.6 million, unadjusted for inflation.
  5. ^ Sometimes credited as Ichiro Mitsunawa.[17]

References[edit]

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Sources[edit]

External links[edit]