The Spring of Sci-Fi Review #6
Godzilla, released in 1954 and directed by Ishiro Honda, is a classic science fiction film. Godzilla is truly a landmark of cinema, a piece of history that has inspired numerous films that came after. The franchise that this film has spawned includes 36 films in total; 32 produced in Japan, and 4 produced in America. The most recent of these films is 2021s Godzilla vs. Kong (that will be reviewed on another day, today we focus on the original masterpiece).
Godzilla tells the story of a prehistoric beast awoken after an h-bomb test in the ocean. Godzilla serves as an allegory, dealing with Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s destruction after they were terrorized by nuclear bombs during the Second World War. The film dramatizes the toll that Godzilla’s destruction has had on the lives of the Japanese people. The movie begins with ships destroyed near Odo Island. A paleontologist named Kyohei Yamane (played by the magnificent Takashi Shimura) discovers not only a prehistoric trilobite but also a giant radioactive footprint belonging to Godzilla. It is at this moment that we get our first glimpse of Godzilla. The special effects created by Eiji Tsuburaya are legendary, iconically created a magnificent and terrifying monster that still presides over our screens to this very day.
Godzilla premiered at a landmark time for the sci-fi film. The sci-fi films of the 50s were inspired by the advancement made in science, as well as the destruction that it caused in the war close to a decade earlier. One of the things that makes Godzilla such a powerful film is the connection Japan and the filmmakers had to this destruction. The film serves as a cautionary tale and a reminder of the lives lost in this kind of destruction. Shimura’s Dr. Yamane gives a warning at the end, warning that as long as we continue testing nuclear weapons, Godzilla could rise again. We also get a representation of the nuclear conflict in the character of Serizawa (an excellent performance by Akihiko Hirata). He has designed a dangerous, and possibly a world-ending device that could destroy Godzilla and end his rampage, however; he is torn between helping rid the world of Godzilla but potentially awarding it a destructive weapon on the same level as the atomic bomb. His character’s arc throughout the movie is one of the most dramatically satisfying and helps give the story a soul.
The franchise Godzilla spawned ranges from serious to campy, but this first film is more than a monster movie, it serves as a reminder of the destruction caused at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the lives lost in its wake. Godzilla is powerful, awe-inspiring, terrorizing, and melancholic. It is truly a masterpiece that birthed The King of the Monsters, and he reigns supreme to this day.