Saturday, June 2, 2007

Now Playing: Gojira

The first Godzilla film hasn’t been available in the United States since it was originally released in Japan back in 1953, and the only way we’ve seen it since then was the hacked together Hollywood version starring Raymond Burr. Last year it was finally released as a two-disc DVD set with the original, uncut film on the first disc while the Hollywood version was put on the second disc. A pamphlet included in the set explains how the film was brought over to the States by a couple of producers who saw value in the monster movie appeal but decided to jettison pretty much everything else.

What stunned me was just how powerful all the excised footage was.

This revelation was akin to watching Jaws 4 for years and thinking all the rest of the films were like that, only to see the original for the first time and think, "Oooooohhhh..." Gojira was written in direct response to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in only eight years before and as such the film is a powerful commentary on the dangers of nuclear bombs. Godzilla himself is, in essence, a giant metaphor for the inescapable devastation nuclear bombs cause and I was simply floored at how bleak a film this was.

I can completely understand why American producers at the time figured that the public wouldn’t accept anything outside of a giant lizard stomping through Tokyo. The producers re-cut the film and inserted Burr to give it an American perspective that makes it an entirely different film. The American version is little more than a generic monster flick, albeit one that introduced Godzilla to the world. The uncut Japanese version though is an entirely different animal altogether and one that I, frankly, was left stunned by.

Godzilla films do not feature a terrified mother clutching her children to her as she assures them that they’ll be with daddy in heaven soon. Godzilla films do not feature incredibly cute kids sitting shell-shocked in a hospital as doctors watch helplessly as their Geiger counters spike when near the children. This is a deadly serious film that was created by people who were intimately familiar with the two dual bombings and it is a powerful anti-war and anti-nuclear message.

If you have the chance to watch the original version of Gojira then by all means do so. It is a little hokey in parts due to its age, but the message has only increased in power as nuclear weapons have proliferated across the globe. Don’t miss this.

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