Godzilla - Gojira Deluxe Collector's Edition (2 DVD set) (1956)

Actors: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kohi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami
Director: Ishiru Honda
Collector's Edition, Color, NTSC
Number of discs:
Run Time:
90 minutes

DVD Features:

  • Audio commentaries
  • Original trailers
  • "Making of the Suite" Featurette
  • "Godzilla: Story Development" featurette



Back in the mid-1950s some enterprising American film distributors saw potential in a Black & White Japanese monster flick named Gojira about a giant fire-breathing reptile that goes on rampage destroying much of Tokyo in the process.

The only problem was that the movie only featured Japanese actors and was thought to be inaccessible to Western audiences.

No, problem they decided, and simply excised twenty minutes of footage from the film and inserted newly filmed scenes featuring American B-movie actor Raymond Burr.

Burr wasn't given much to do plot-wise: he just occasionally "interacted" with some of the actors in the existing movie as well as react to and comment on events. In that sense he was a sort of contemporary version of those choruses in ancient Greek tragedies. It was a thankless job, and one supposes that Burr did what he could under the circumstances. (Rumor has it that all his scenes were shot within a 24-hour period. And no, despite popular lore, none of them were actually filmed in Japan itself.)

Sure, there is some cultural chauvinism in inserting a Western actor in order to tell a Japanese story, but this wasn't the first and last time Hollywood would use American leading men to tell "ethnic" stories. Consider also using Kevin Kline in telling the story of South African activist Steve Biko in Cry Freedom and Patrick Swayze in City of Joy in bringing the poverty in India to the attention of western audiences.

However, the original Japanese version of the movie doesn't have a central character of any sort to anchor the story; even Godzilla himself seems to be a bit actor in his own movie, walking in and out of scenes almost randomly. Burr - even though his character contributes nothing plot-wise - does supply some sort of central focus to the film.

The movie was re-titled Godzilla King of the Monsters and a modern pop cultural icon was born, so much so that the makers of Independence Day would do an over-hyped big budget remake in the late 1990s in which said reptile trashed New York instead of Tokyo for a change. The American Godzilla remake wasn't any good, but so to be honest were the many Japanese Godzilla movies, including this one which started it all.

What makes this first Godzilla movie interesting is how serious it is. Made less than a decade after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, the movie is obsessed with issues such as radioactivity (the Godzilla monster itself is radioactive) and the morality of producing super-weapons (one is finally used to destroy Godzilla, but its maker is reluctant for it to be used).

Much of these issues are toned down in the American version and it is easy to understand why, considering that the Americans were the ones who dropped the atom bomb on Japan in the first place! No doubt the last thing American cinema audiences wanted a decade after WWII were a movie which incessantly whined on about this.

THE DISCS: Both versions - the American and the original Japanese one - are available on this double disc set. On both films the image suffers from the occasional speckles and scratches, but I suppose that that they are in as good a condition as can be expected for a film that is half a century old. Still, don't go expecting as pristine a restoration as the one done on, let's say, Them, a monster flick about oversized killer ants also made in 1954.

Sound is somewhat tinny. Image is presented in accurate full screen aspect ratio. The audio commentaries by some film historians are a bit on the dry side - one would expect for such fans of Japanese monster movies to be a bit more jovial.

WORTH IT? To be honest while this first Godzilla flick has achieved a "classic" status of sorts throughout the years, it isn't very good. The American version is unintentionally funny while the Japanese one is a slow-moving solemn bore. In the American version actor Burr's mugging in reaction to off-screen events is simply camp, while the Japanese version lingers too long on Godzilla's victims, something which frankly takes the fun out of what is essentially a movie about a stuntman in a rubber suit destroying models of a city.

Later Godzilla movies would realize what a ridiculous premise it all is and would be a whole lot less serious. In these movies Godzilla would become sort of a champion of the Japanese people and their island, endlessly defending them against other gigantic monsters.

RECOMMENDATION: Fans of this particular subgenre would definitely want to check out this disc set. More casual fans - expecting Mystery Science Theater 3000-style buffoonery - should think twice before deciding on a purchase. After all, that Japanese version really is a downer . . .



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