Believe it or not, there was a time where everyone wasn’t in everyone else’s movies. A character would show up in their own movie and if people enjoyed it enough, they’d come back for sequels. Now it seems that there are more crossover films than standalone titles. I’m not complaining about this, however, because prior to 2016, the amount of times I had seen Batman fight Superman in a live action capacity was exactly zero, and I don’t recall Spider-Man ever catching Captain America’s shield on the big screen either. I love all these characters, and like most people, I’m willing to pay lots of money to continue to see them interact with each other.
Because this is such a profitable trend right now, it was only a matter of time before other franchises decided to follow suit. One of those is the newly titled Monsterverse, a shared universe of the classic Toho monsters, as well as others including the most recent cinematic addition, King Kong. So, in honor of these larger than life creature’s return to the big screen, I’m watching through all of Godzilla’s cinematic appearances and writing my thoughts as we go. Which brings us to the very first installment, Gojira.
Leave all your preconceived notions of what a Godzilla film is at the door for this one, folks. If you’re expecting a silly, trippy B-movie involving buddy monsters and UFO’s, you should skip this one, as all that stuff comes later. Godzilla was much different the first time he appeared on the big screen.
When Ishiro Honda first brought Godzilla to the big screen, he presented him very much as a metaphor for nuclear weaponry. Godzilla was the product of man tampering with things he ought not to, so instead of saving mankind, he’s destroying it. The film starts off with several boats being destroyed mysteriously, and the peoples attempts at explaining it. This search for answers eventually leads to an island near where most of the attacks happen, and we are soon introduced to the myth, Godzilla. Though it’s awhile before we finally see the titular creature, the film does an excellent job in creating a foreboding atmosphere. Godzilla’s menacing presence is felt before we even see him. Honda does this by showing us the attacks on the boats, and in the way the islands residents reverently speak about him. Then, after being fully established as a force to be reckoned with, Godzilla shows up and does what he does best. Destroy Tokyo.
Given the films age, Honda does an admiral job at making Godzilla feel huge. He only shoots the camera from low angles, effectively making Godzilla look like a giant monster destroying a city, as opposed to a costumed man messing around in a miniature set. And the destruction itself feels heavy, never playful as it would appear in later installments. Shots of citizens fleeing and a mother comforting her children in their last moments give these scenes of destruction the weight that this films scenes are meant to carry. Really, my only criticism of the film is that these scenes of destruction often go on for too long, to the point that I’m pretty sure shots are re-used. In the wake of this destruction, the film continues to carry a dour and bleak tone, with montages of dead and injured, shots of the ruined cityscape, and a choir of school girls singing a song of lamentation.
The film also has a plot, outside of Godzilla’s rampages, that covers both a political and family drama. Hideto Ogata and Emiko Yamane, an engaged couple, act as our chief characters. Dr. Yamane, Emiko’s father, ends up giving most of the exposition of the film, and provides most of the explanation for Godzilla’s existence. The most interesting character is Dr. Serizawa, a genius who is plagued by knowing the power of his most recent scientific discovery. These characters aren’t given extreme amounts of depth, but enough to make us care for them, and the plot itself interesting.
While its effects are cheesy by todays standards, its themes and tone still translate effectively. This film stands out among other monster movies of the time because it actually had something to say. The film ends with Dr. Yaname ominously warning that if man continues to experiment with nuclear power, another Godzilla may re-emerge. Of course, another Godzilla does emerge, but this time it’s different. Much different.