Godzilla (1954)

Genres - Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Creature Film, Natural Horror, Sci-Fi Horror, Sci-Fi Action  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

While you might have a hard time convincing most people, Inoshiro Honda's Gojira -- the film whose success launched the long-running Godzilla series and helped to make Japanese monster movies one of the nation's best known exports -- is actually an intelligent and somber parable about the legacy and consequences of the atomic bomb, told from the perspective of a people who had witnessed its impact firsthand only nine years earlier. Unfortunately, the film's serious intentions are muffled in the American release version, which has not only been dubbed and re-edited, but features new footage of Raymond Burr as American newsman Steve Martin (a name that started getting laughs of its own about 22 years after the film arrived in the States), acting alongside a handful of Asian extras who keep popping up in increasingly surreal contexts. While the U.S. cut still holds on to some of the original's dark tone, it mostly trivializes a film that deserves better; while still a low-budget monster movie, Honda's original Gojira manages to convey a genuine respect for the gravity of the issues it raises (leaving little doubt that its fire-breathing monster is, in this context, a stand-in for the bombs which leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki), as well as a compassion for both the victims and the emotionally wounded people who left scars upon their nation while fighting the menace. If the opportunity to see Honda's original Japanese-language version of Gojira presents itself, it's a simple but powerful work well worth your time, while the Americanized cut manages to save the cut-rate spectacle but leave out what gave the original film its resonance.