Godzilla, King of the Monsters (Review)

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

aka Kaijû no Gojira


Raymond Burr as Steve Martin
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane
Akira Takarada as Hideto Ogata
Momoko Koochi as Emiko Yamane
Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Daisuke Serizawa
Frank Iwanaga as Security Officer Tomo Iwanaga
Toyoaki Suzuki as The Boy from Oto Island
Directed by Ishiro Honda and Terry O. Morse (USA)

Disclaimer: This is the 1956 American-cut version of Gojira. The 1954 film Gojira will be getting it’s own review eventually. Comparisons between the two will be discussed, but will not go into in depth at this time. So let’s get dangerous!

The original cinema production that introduced Godzilla to millions of Americans is still a powerful piece of film. Unlike later installments, when Godzilla was relegated to defending the world mode, here he’s non-stop brute force. People die, casualties of his attacks are seen in detail never reached again. Even so, the film is watered down from the original Japanese film. Thus, we’ll be hitting the brutality the hardest when the original is recapped. Be that as it may, we’re here with the American version, and we will soldier on. The major difference to even the most untrained eye is the addition of Raymond Burr. This was pre-Perry Mason. Pre-Ironside. Pre-Godzilla 1985. Raymond Burr plays American Reporter Steve Martin, no relation to our Steve Martin. He’s not a wild and crazy guy, he was not born a poor black man, and he doesn’t star in terrible remakes with 9,000,000 children. Burr and his translator wander around, inserting themselves into scenes from the original movie, basically recreating the film around him. Instead of a straight shot, the movie is recut to begin with a flashback to before Godzilla’s initial attack on Tokyo, and then regains real time after the plot has reached the initial beginning point. Thus, American audiences instantly see the destruction of Godzilla, without seeing the monster behind it. And so shall we…

Tokyo is in ruins. American Reporter Steve Martin emerges from beneath the rubble. He was in Tokyo on layover for a social call, but ended up covering the story of the century. He was on layover from a flight to Cairo (in Africa) and the plane stopped in Tokyo (in Asia) because he was flying Wrong Way Airlines, the wackiest airline in the skies. Martin heads to the hospital to insert himself into the aftermath scenes there, and speaks to Momoko Kochi, whom Steve knows. Actually, he speaks to her body double, as they didn’t film new scenes with the actors from the original film. They don’t tell you until a few minutes later, but I’ll spoil it here, Steve Martin visited Tokyo to see his old college friend, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. Dr. Serizawa is engaged to Momoko Yamane, who is the daughter of Dr. Yamane, Dr. Serizawa’s mentor. We’ll ignore how a American Reporter became best buds with an antisocial Japanese scientist until later. The scenes in the hospital are chilling, in their shots of injured people, radioactive children, and crying orphans. Nothing like this appears again for many many films.

Steve begins his flashbacks. He arrives in Tokyo via plane, but his friend Dr. Serizawa is busy, but sends an assistant to greet him, as it’s easier to insert Martin into the story this way. The entire plane’s passenger list is questioned by the police, as they passed over a ship that was destroyed by a mysterious force. Steve is brought into the control room that was in the real film, and then scenes follow explaining the back-story, as Martin’s translator acts as a speaking subtitle. Yes, the flashback is having a flashback recap. More ships are destroyed with no trace, and a nation panics. Steve narrates while a meeting takes place, saving us from having to endure horrid dubbing, or, even worse, subtitles! (GASP!!) Great minds meet in the meeting, including the afore mentioned Dr. Yamane, whom Steve has met via Dr. Serizawa (how often does Steve go to Japan? The life of an American Reporter!) “‘Fraid my Japanese is a little rusty,” says Steve, giving his translator more time to translate the meeting. His translator seems to be a high ranking police officer or military man, showing the importance of American Reporters. The ships are all disappearing around Odo island, and the natives are frightened. I’d be frightened as well if the shape shifter from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was terrorizing my island, sinking ships, and turning into handbags. The Japanese officials decide to investigate.

So they do. Hey, guess what! Steve Martin joins them! I bet you didn’t see that coming. Steve is a prototype Kenny, he has level 5 security clearance and can go wherever he wants, yet is without short pants, thankfully. The group stays the night amid rumors of a monster, and Steve witnesses a ceremony the natives perform to protect themselves from Godzilla. That night, a super storm hits (perhaps, the Perfect Storm???) and the natives claim it’s Godzilla! That would make a Perfect Storm in my book. Large pieces of this scene are chopped out from the original. The next day, officials bring islanders to Tokyo for direct reports. Steve talks to Dr. Yamane’s body double, and gets on a ship Yamane is taking to investigate. On that ship as well is Hideto Ozawa, a young adult male. Steve then explains to us the Emiko/Ogata/Dr. Serizawa love triangle, oddly enough he’s up on all this gossip despite Dr. Serizawa not seeming to know much and him never even meeting Ogata before.

With all of the principles introduced, we should go over the cast at this point. You probably are aware that Steve Martin is Raymond Burr, famous for starring as Perry Mason and Ironside in series of the same name. This was pre-Perry Mason, just like Godzilla 1985 was pre-Perry Mason TV movies. Steve Martin’s “friend” Dr. Daisuke Serizawa is Akihiko Hirata, who became one of the most prolific G-series actors, until his untimely death in 1984. Previously seen here in Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, also sporting an eye patch. Emiko Yamane is played by Momoko Koochi, who retired a bit later from film, until reprising the role in Godzilla vs. Destroyah forty years later, before dying of cancer two years after. Hideto Ogata was played by Akira Takarada, who is still starring in Godzilla films to this day (as he was in the last one, Godzilla Final Wars. He was also seen here in Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. Finally, Dr. Yamane is played by wonderful actor Takashi Shimura, who is best remembered for this role, and the leader of the samurai in Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai. Now that you’ve been properly introduced, let’s go on with the show!

On the next island, Dr. Yamane strolls around with a Geiger Counter, detecting radioactivity, but discovering a trilobite. A living trilobite, which is odd since they’ve been extinct for 250 million years. This discovery isn’t dwelt on much, as the natives sound the warning because Godzilla is here! They ring the Godzilla Bell of Dangerous Danger! The people run for the hills, though Steve stops in the middle of the rush to straighten his tie. We finally get to see the Big G as he peeks his head out over the side of the mountain. Godzilla is the old school model, complete with ears and fangs that will vanish by the time of King Kong vs. Godzilla, but reappear when rebooted in Godzilla 1985.

Later, Dr. Yamane explains that dinosaurs have been extinct for 2 million years. He’s only 63 million years off. Oddly enough, that’s a direct translation from Gojira, where they also state 2 million years, so the translators did a literal job, but failed to do any fact checking. Perhaps Dr. Yamane was speaking in dog years, or maybe Godzilla years. The theory is Godzilla survived but was hidden until H-bombs made him radioactive and ticked off. He must have been hiding with his pet trilobite, and is now ticked off because it ran away. The Japanese Government decides to use SONAR to find Godzilla, and then depth bombs to kill him (or so they think!) Steve calls “Dr. Serizawa” (this time the body double is hidden behind tubes and pipes) and Emiko comes over to tell Serizawa about Ogata, but instead he shows her the oxygen destroyer weapon.

It’s Depth Charge Time! Dr. Yamane is upset that Godzilla is to be destroyed instead of studied, because he is pre-Godzilla thinking. Godzilla shows up later that night, popping up in Tokyo Harbor. The military Japan isn’t supposed to have rolls out to meet the threat. Guns fail to stop him as he swims ashore, smashing things left and right, as well as eating an electric rail car. The rail car smashing into him is very similar to the on in King Kong, except this one is on the ground. Then Godzilla wanders off.

Everything seems bleak, but Steve’s translator explains the new plan is to set up a wall of electric power lines around Tokyo that will fry anything that tries to get through them. 300,000 Volts of electricity surging through the lines. The city is evacuated. Godzilla emerges again later that night. The first thing he does is head right for the electric lines, like he’s drawn there magnetically. We all know those power lines ain’t going to stop him, and Big G smashes and fire breaths his way through them. Now Tokyo is defenseless, and Godzilla flames houses, buildings, people, fuel tanks, business, and military tanks. The Godzilla puppet looks odd in some of the close-up shots. Thanks to no translation, the scene where a mother is holding her three children in a burning building and telling them that soon they will be with their dead father is much less sad. Godzilla goes on a rampage smashing things he doesn’t like. Godzilla dislikes police cars. Godzilla dislikes ringing clocks. Godzilla dislikes flashbulbs just like King Kong. Godzilla dislikes Steve Martin, and tries to smash him as well, but we know he makes it, as he’s narrating the flashback. Godzilla also eats a tower that a very excited Japanese journalist is in, thanks to no translation, we don’t know that he’s narrating his own demise like a samurai warrior or something instead of running like anyone with some sense would do. He isn’t narrating a flashback, so he’s out of the picture.

Jets arrive and start firing sparklers at Godzilla. People cheer as Godzilla is driven off, but for how long?

Not that long!

FLASHBACK OVER. It’s present time (well, present for 1954/1956) Emiko tells Steve and Ogata about the oxygen destroyer (Steve is inserting himself into scenes again.) Emiko and Ogata go to talk to Serizawa about using the weapon. Serizawa is against it, as he doesn’t want it to fall into evil hands. But Ogata fails to convinces him (after a brief scuffle) to use it, but a national prayer for the survivors does. So Serizawa burns his notes. Godzilla is asleep in Tokyo Harbor, so Ogata and Serizawa dive down to operate the device. We get some neat underwater scenes, and Godzilla wakes up and notices the two divers. Ogata goes back up first, so Serizawa can turn on the device. He does so, but then cuts his line, so he can’t be rescued. The Oxygen Destroyer will kill him as well. The Oxygen destroyer acts like it turns the surrounding water all bubbly, like it’s soda going flat at an accelerated rate. Godzilla pops up for one last scream before sinking back to the depths, to first be relegated into a skeleton, and finally into nothing. The tragedy is over, everyone is safe, for now.

The American version is weaker than the original, which is a powerful anti-nuclear piece. They even change the final speech, where Dr. Yamane should be speaking about the dangers of nuclear weapons, but instead it’s Steve giving an upbeat speech. Setting aside the debate over the ethics of using the nuclear bomb, the lack of translation at other points cut at some of the emotional power of the original film. Still, it’s a good piece, but the original is much better, and far easier to obtain now than when I was a kid. The original does suffer from slowness at parts, but that’s easily forgivable. I prefer the straight narrative to the 75% flashback movie any day.

And a special interview, we’ll be chatting with the other star of Godzilla vs. Megalon, Megalon!

Greetings Mr. Megalon, welcome to TarsTarkas.NET!
Why, thank you, little one! I do enjoy this place.
How have you been since Godzilla vs. Megalon?
Well, I’ve been pretty busy. I run a small theater company outside Phoenix, Arizona. I also work nights at a hardware store, loading things, cutting wood, all that stuff. My old high school buddy and I share a house there.
That’s great. You’re still friends with people and didn’t let the fame go to your head.
Yeah. His wife wasn’t too happy when I moved in, but she can’t beat the free day care I provide. Sure, one of the kids had to go to the hospital for drinking paint, but that kid’s an idiot anyway.
Okay, perhaps we should change the subject..
That dumb kid. One time, he tried to stick his hand under a moving lawn mower! I had to swerve it at the last second and ended up chopping up a garden hose, and ruining the blade.
Okay, enough of the kid..
Yesterday he asked me if crayons were made from glue! This is the type of idoicy I’m talking about!
Shut up!
Let me tell you where he thinks babies come from! It involves a spatula and poop-
THANK YOU! Goodbye, everyone!

Rated 6/10 (Godzilla vs. Nixon, Trilobite of Terror, Howl of the Godzilla, One-eyed diver, Godzilla Bell, The Translator for Rusty Steve)

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