Special Effects by
Akira Takarada – Ogata
Momoko Kochi – Emiko Yamane
Akihiko Hirata – Dr. Serizawa
Takashi Shimura – Dr. Yamane
Toyoaki Suzuki – Shinkichi
Sachio Sakai – Hagiwara, reporter
This is where it all began; the birth of the international icon known as Godzilla.
Working from a well structured script, Ishiro Honda directs the film like a maestro conducting an orchestra, skilfully balancing allegory and monster mayhem, while sustaining an atmosphere of ominous menace. The acting and character development are excellent, with Akihiko Hirata giving an especially strong performance as the tormented Dr. Serizawa, and the human story is never overruled by the unfolding destruction. However, the pacing leaves room for improvement, as several scenes, most unfortunately the climax, drag passed their optimum length. Back on the plus side, the film has considerable emotional resonance, and there are several scenes, such as the hospital scene after Godzilla’s rampage, the children’s prayer for peace, and Serizawa’s sacrifice, which are deeply moving. But what really makes Gojira such a great film is the fact that unlike in most monster movies, Godzilla himself is not simply a token threat, but a symbol; a representation of a serious issue. Not until GMK (2001) would Godzilla have as much allegorical depth as he does here.
On the more technical side of things, Eiji Tsubaraya’s special effects, while dated by today’s standards, are very good for their time. The miniature cityscapes are meticulous and convincing, and the scenes of Tokyo burning are chillingly impressive to this day.
Unfortunately, even for a film made in the 1950s, there are some flaws which stand out rather sorely, such as the fire trucks crashing, and the visible wires on the planes which attack Godzilla. As a whole, however, the special effects in Gojira are a success.
Akira Ifukube’s score is a triumph, packed with memorable themes which range from powerful and haunting to tense and suspenseful. Several themes which would go on to become staples of Godzilla’s musical side make their first appearance here, and the fact that they are still used decades later is a testament to their excellence. Until the end of Ifukube’s work on the series, only a handful of his later scores would surpass this one.
For 47 years and 23 sequels, Gojira remained the greatest Godzilla film of all, before it was finally topped by Shusuke Kaneko’s mythological masterpiece GMK. Still, it remains the second best, and after over half a century, its message is as relevant today as it ever was.
Max’s verdict: 9.5/10
10/10. This is were the 28-part series began, with Ishiro Honda's grim, allegory for the devastation wrought on Japan by the atomic bomb. For his visual metaphor, Honda uses a 400-foot tall mutant dinosaur called Gojira(Godzilla), awakened from the depths of the sea as a rampaging nuclear nightmare, complete with glowing dorsal fins and fiery, radioactive breath. Crushing ships, villages, and buildings in his wake, Gojira marches toward Tokyo, bringing all of the country's worst nightmares back until an evil, more terrible bomb returns the monster to its watery grave. Most of the movie was very watered down for the US release, but in the uncut version you get a feel for how scary Gojira really is.