GOJIRA terrorized Japan in 1954, laying waste to Tokyo. The dinosaurian destruction display a success, the World’s Most Famous/Feared/Beloved Lizard lumbered into US theaters two years later, reedited, adorned with the presence of Raymond Burr and christened with an ever-after monicker, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!
‘Gojira’ was the first Giant Radioactively Spawned Sea Creature to stomp Honshu into a tampopo patch, but saurian-savvy American kids, while impressed with his 400-foot height and vapo-breath, knew ‘Godzilla’s anti-human reptilian anger had already been expressed by (the somewhat punier, but equally surly) The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Mission? Motive? Monster! Mom, can I have my allowance early? *
Roused from the depths of the Pacific by radiation, his sink & stomp attitude toward boats and buildings enhanced by an ability to light up and spew atomic breath, the signature honking roar letting panic-stricken crowds, stunned scientists and stymied soldiers know that tanks, jets and mass zaps of electricity just tick him off to no end, Gojira/Godzilla wins the admiration of children like no-one since Santa.
Produced with ample imagination for the equivalent of $275,000, Gojira struck pay-yen in Japan, making $1,600,000, and went on to gross close to $2,000,000 by the time he’d clobbered American matinees as Godzilla, King Of The Monsters! (exclamation point added by Joseph E. Levine in case rubes doubted the advertising)
The Japanese version clocks 96 minutes (lots of talk), the Yankee edit just 80, with the added benefit of listening to Burr’s narration. The special effects (elaborate miniatures, amusing man-in-suit clomping, enacted by stunt-zilla Haruo Nakajima, and neat animation for his bad breath) range from excellent to primitive. A major assist in the awe-department is the ominous music scoring from Akira Ifukube: the “Godzilla March” is hard to dismiss.
Along with increasing Godzilla’s size, the U.S. market tampering did away with the atomic destruction theme permeating the Japanese original. Modern reviewers turn somersaults attempting to attribute and/or explain the meanings of it all, getting downright embarrassing in their adulation.
With Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirada and Takashi Shimura. Directed by Ishirō Honda. Screenplay for Gojira written by Takeo Murata and director Honda. Special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Terry Morse directed scenes shot for the American version (looking up his credits is a good source of humor).
* Enough to acknowledge the playground confusion of American boy-boomers (did girls named Kathy or Debbie care about lizards unless that Peterson creep dropped one on their ponytail?) with the idea that Davy Crockett could be both Fess Parker and John Wayne, we mention Honshu as the island Tokyo sprawls on because while the average Japanese grade-school kid can name every state capitol in the U.S., the typical American college senior would be hard pressed to know which ocean Japan is in. (A: the one that’s now radioactive).