Halloween Endurance Test: Gojira (1954)

It seemed only fitting to follow up last year’s King Kong with the other important gargantuan monster movie, Gojira. Unfortunately, I don’t have any books conjecturing about the size of Gojira’s penis, unlike our simian forerunner. Any change in size for Gojira is easily explainable, unlike with Kong, since Gojira is a product of the atomic bomb. Thus any changes in stature/size can easily be attributed to radiation fluctuations.

A big Halloween Endurance Testthank you!” goes out to my brother here; for hooking me up with both the Japanese and American versions of the film. It turns out everyone I know is an enabler, not just my sister and my ex-girlfriend.

[Oops! In hindsight I’ve remembered that Craig also hooked me up with the Host. I know, right? Gojira and the Host, yet he claims to not be an Asiaphile?]

The version you watch plays a large part in the film; much larger than just determining how much Raymond Burr screen-time you have to sit through. In Gojira, the monster isn’t just a leftover dinosaur irradiated to preternatural size. Instead Gojira is an anthropomorphized nuclear blast, let loose once again in Japan, a mere nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

[Think about it. To steal a point made by Little Black Starin his review, as of my writing this eight years had passed since 9/11. And that involved two buildings being destroyed, instead of two cities.]

The Japanese film is filled with these reminders. Opening with a fishing expedition that accidentally runs into a mushroom cloud; the crew soon dies from their injuries. (This scene mirrors the real-life Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident; a ship that unknowingly became the first victims in what would become a nuclear arms race.)

During Gojira’s attack, we see what’s left of a family trying to take shelter in the burning city. As the buildings around them blaze, the children cry, as the mother knowingly reassures them to not worry, as they’ll be reunited with their father soon. A scene that obviously wouldn’t play well in America.

Going further, Gojira’s protagonists symbolize the ideas behind the nuclear arms race. The paleontologist, Dr. Yaname, wants Gojira to be allowed to live, even as it burns Tokyo down, so that they can learn from it. His daughter’s suitor, the eye-patch wearing/Oxygen Destroyer-creating, Daisuke Serizawa, believes that the beast should be destroyed for the sake of mankind.

(Through the magic of modern motion pictures, we, the audience, get both. Gojira is eventually destroyed, but would return shortly (a/k/a only six months) in the sequel Godzilla Raids Again!)

Leading us to the differences in the Japanese original and American version . As the Americans were already used to seeing giant-sized creatures terrorize the world (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman), Gojira changed from a cautionary tale to an exploitative one when it crossed the ocean. Serving only to remind us of other life forms (in this case ancient lizards) that we wouldn’t necessarily want to see exaggerated to fantastic proportions.

Art imitating life, never again would Gojira play so fearsome. With each subsequent incarnation the underlying subject matter would be further removed from its hellish origins. Where once we were reminded of men caught in a heat wave so intense that it vaporized their bodies and left their shadows burnt into brick, eventually we had Gojira’s son, Minilla, as well as other monsters such as Gamera, and Mothra crowding the theaters. The Japanese equivalent of the US’ atomic monsters Toho originally managed to avoid creating.

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