Friday, April 29, 2011

Film #63: Gojira (1954)

This sushi craze is really getting out of control.
Now Godzilla is getting in on the fad?! What a trend whore.
Sure enough, all throughout the film bearing his name Godzilla can be seen noshing on Scott-based sashimi (when he’s on the go) and Tammy-style tempura (when his fire breath is set on high).
The slob didn’t even have the courtesy to use chop sticks, he just popped those folks right into his people-hole.

But, Godzilla’s unstoppable appetite and horrible manners are the least of Tokyo's worries, as the giant lizard stomps and burns his way across Japan in this week’s flick, “Gojira.”

You might be asking, isn’t this movie named “Godzilla”? Yes and no. The Americanized version of this classic monster movie, released in 1956 and altered from the original, is called Godzilla. This week the RDHP viewed Gojira (the way Japanese people pronounce Godzilla), which is the 1954 original, and much darker, film.

Things were going just fine in post-WWII Japan, until a series of freighters mysteriously explode in the ocean. Is it a volcano? Or maybe some left over mines from the war? None of the above, says one old timer. It must be Gojira, a mystical beast said to lurk in the deep waters off the coast of Japan only to rise and dine on sacrificial Japanese virgins when his mojo is a go-go. (Sounds like someone we’ve met before…)

Sailors who survived the explosions state that indeed a giant monster animal destroyed their ships. Scientists are convened to do sciency things, and soon determine that deep, deep, deep in the ocean off the coast of Japan a prehistoric species of dinosaurs has thrived for millions of years.

The scientists state that the blasts from the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima caused radiation to sink into the ocean bed near these dino’s habitat. This radiation mutated one of the beasts into a giant, pissed off Gojira who breathes laser like fire and loves to smash the hell out of buildings.
Seems the specter of WWII, and its heavy consequences for the Japanese people, still hangs over the land… now in mutated dino form.

After the Japanese army can’t stop Gojira, people begin to lose all hope. However, a young one eyed scientist may just have the key to stop Gojira’s rampage… if he has the stones to use a new weapon he’s invented – one more powerful than the atom bomb!

Can Gojira be stopped?
Will he get Jeremy Piven style mercury poisoning from eating all that human sushi?
Does this look infected?
Find out in the 1954 monster movie classic, “Gojira!”

Godzilla (1954) - movie trailer by yagu0000

RDHP Ratings and Review

C-Rating: 4.4
Chris Dimick raptor-roars:
“Godzilla is a clown… in modern day. Much like Frankenstein, Dracula and I’d argue Michael Meyers and Jason Voorhees, Godzilla has devolved from a horrifying monster to a clich├ęd laughingstock. Such is the circle of life with horror icons. In the original and its first few sequels, the monster scares and intrigues.
But then the freak gets too popular for its own good, becomes a parody target, cultural feelings on what’s scary change, and by film #10 a killer like Voorhees seems as cuddly as a pussycat.

Such was my impression of Godzilla going into this film, my view tainted by the campy but fun incarnations of the monster in TOHO films like Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla (above) – where the “monster’s” back zipper is clearly visible.

You’d imagine my surprise when we viewed this original, in which the movie not only look its title character seriously, but actually devoted a well written and acted plot to the disaster scenario!

While still not scary, the bite has not gone out of Godzilla’s jaws in “Gojira.” An allegory for the long lingering and devastating after-effects of nuclear war, this movie is a dark, creepy, and haunting look into the subconscious of post WWII Japanese citizens.

The downfall of any monster movie is when it devotes too much of its energy and time to the destruction scenes. While Gojira’s rampage across Tokyo might seem long by today’s standards, the special effects would have been novel for its time and the scenes are probably appropriately long enough. And anyway, who doesn’t like to see a good old fashioned ass whomping by a mutant dino?

While Gojira brought the smashies, it also brought the emotion. The film balanced plot with destruction, a method that allows the audience to actually give a flying rat’s crap that these people are having their lives destroyed by a giant fire breathing atomic dinosaur.

Most interesting was the plot line in the film that had a young scientist grabbling with the question of whether the use of a purely evil weapon can be justified if it has an overall “good” outcome. This of course was the argument used for the creation and eventual use of the atomic bomb by the US during World War II. Paired with the other nuclear themes present in the film, Gojira is elevated far beyond your standard smash and grab monster movie.

You’ll come for the Godzilla scenes, but stay for the dark plot undercurrents.
And I promise there isn’t a dino-suit zipper in sight.”

N-Rating: 2.9
Nick Rich raptor-roars:
"We all have monsters in our lives.
Monsters can come in many forms: the cigarette habit that started in college 'socially' and has given way to addiction... the boss who doesn't care about life outside of the workplace and thereby makes yours very unpleasant... moving from your friends and dream house as a child.

You may think my last example a bit strange, but as a child moving can be one of the single greatest traumas one can endure. Think about it, your home is the place you spend 95% of your time as a child (before schooling starts of course). It is the place you learned to relate to the existence you find yourself in, where you learned of pain, love, anger... and cookies. The point is: it's important, and to be ripped from one's world in such a way is tough; at least it was in my experience.

Little did I know that the moving was just the beginning... the true monster awaited me on the other side of my move in the form of making new friends. Making friends can be difficult and at an age when most children gain friends by the law of proximity and shared history; needless to say it can be a challenge to integrate yourself as the new kid. You're seen as something unfamiliar which means there is curiosity mixed with a healthy does of hopefulness (that the new kid will be cool), skepticism (that he isn't), caution (seriously, the new kid might not be cool) and of course, jack-assery (as I learned, some people are born as such). Yes gentle readers, not only had I been ripped from my world, but I also had the misfortune to be planted right next door to a bona fide bully.

I didn't understand why someone would hate me for merely existing, but oh how I learned that it could happen. There was verbal abuse, glares and yes, even pushing (there may have been punching as well, but to be honest, there was this epic push that dominates my memory, so I can neither confirm nor deny punching). This hostile environment resulted in two things: 1) a Ghandi like disposition of non-violence (at least towards those stronger than me) and 2) the search for allies (I was raised on the Beatles and believed that one 'got by' with a little help from their friends... as yet, I did not understand the 'get high' part of the song).

As I mentioned before, making friends could be a challenge, but thankfully the Japanese were there for me in providing the greatest friendship generator (besides cocaine) of the 80s: the Nintendo.

I had one, which brought with it welcome friendship, but one game in particular allowed me to venture into two new worlds: the cool kid across the street's house and horror. The game was called Rampage and it allowed anyone to assume control of a crazed monster (my first memory of classic horror icons King Kong, Godzilla, and Wolfman) and wreck havoc on the world. To a child pestered by a seemingly ever-present bully, this was a dream... to scale buildings and smash them as I went, to crush tanks and helicopters as they tried to vanquish me, to gobble up puny humans with one bite... all in the company of the coolest kid on the block.

I had finally found refuge.

Of course there are also monsters like giant radioactive lizards that engulf a nation in terror, but I personally don't have much experience with them... or do I?
Gojira actually played out a lot like the experience I just shared with you. Gojira was torn from his world by circumstances beyond his control and tried merely to exist in his new situation. Unfortunately, his existence mortally offended those who were newly faced with him, to which their response was fear, hostility and violence. Who knows? Perhaps Gojira was just the new kid on the block trying to acclimate to his new environment, simply looking for a friend... only to be answered with artillery fire.

Try as he might with gestures of affection (hugging things with his mouth, warming the hearts of other with electric-fire breath, trying to take long walks with his potential friends, etc.), nothing seemed to work for poor Gojira in his quest for acceptance and friendship... and unfortunately for him, Japan had yet to invent the Nintendo.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if for no other reason than to round out your film history education... or if you've ever wondered how emo Japanese can be.

Things We Learned From Gojira:
-It’s impossible to say the title of this movie without sounding racist.
-Wireless telegraphs were once on the razor’s edge of technology’s blade.
-Like Charlie Brown, Japanese fishermen can only catch rocks in their sacks.
-The name Emiko is like Jennifer in Japan.
-Godzilla’s scream is intoxicating.
-The ocean has many deep pockets, with secrets yet to be revealed.
-Godzilla has a hard time finding clothing in Japan.
-Eye patches are internationally sexy.
-Even Godzilla takes a day off each week.
-Four hundred school kids signing a depressing song is what it takes to change a mad scientist’s mind.
-Fire scares Frankenstein. Crosses scare Dracula. Jets scare Godzilla:

Quote of the Viewing:
[Nick and Chris discuss how Godzilla’s feet are not being shown as proportionate to the rest of his body. Soon this conversation devolves into a discussion of Godzilla’s shoe size.]

Nick: “You would not want to hear what the girls in the locker room whisper about Godzilla’s big feet.”
Chris: “Oh I know, they’d say he wears big shoes, right?”
Nick: “No, that he has big thighs.”
Chris: “That he as a big something...”

Can’t Stop Godzilla… Or the Rock:

RDHP Presents:
The big green beast is one of the biggest pop culture icons in Japan this side of Hello Kitty. He’s no slouch either in the US, with one Ferris Bueller starring remake under its belt and a rumored series reboot in the works for 2014. Below a look at some random Godzilla goodness floating through web-land:

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