Friday, July 1, 2016

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

After three years of talking about giant monsters during the month where people love to shoot off fireworks (and annoy me deeply in doing so), there has been one major constant. We always kick things off by talking highlighting the king of the kaiju, Godzilla. This year will be extra special though, as we're going all the way back to when he first stomped his way into American cinemas. We're going to the movie that really put him on the world map. But wait, why did I say American cinemas? He's a Japanese giant monster.

Except for those times where he wasn't.

Well, the reason is because back in the day it was a bit harder to see foreign films stateside, so generally the only way you'd see one is if Americans decided to bring it over in some fashion, either by dubbing it, possibly presenting it with subtitles (which was fairly rare at the time because we're lazy fucks who don't like to read), or by re-editing it to include American actors. That third one? Yep, that's what happened here. It does create an interesting watch though when compared to original Japanese film, as you see essentially the same story unfolding but through the eyes of an outsider. And since that was the film that got Americans to begin their love affair with the Big G, we're taking a gander at it today. Without any more beating around any 1950s era bushes, let's get on with the show.

The great thing about 1950s bush is that it censors the vagina so I don't have to.
The film actually opens up on the aftermath of Godzilla's attack on Tokyo. Our narrator and main character in this version, a reporter named Steve Martin, awakes in the wreckage amazed that he's alive. He's taken off with other survivors to a hospital where we see that some people died not only from the rampage, but seemingly also because radioactive exposure. Emiko, one of his friends, comes to check up on him. And this is where we see an example of the editing to put American actors in a previously made film. As they're talking, we mostly only see her from behind. This is because the obviously have a stand-in actress. It's not terribly jarring though and it is understandable. I will give them credit though, as they do show one dubbed bit of her face supposedly talking to him. Mostly though, it's just him staring up at an uncredited actress. I sadly have not been able to find out who she was either, even after a lot of digging.

I salute you, ma'am. Whoever you are, you helped usher in this experience. Or rather, the back of you did.
He asks about her father, clearly showing he has a relationship with both of them, and she assures him that's he okay. From here, the majority of the film is straight-up flashback as Steve recalls the events that lead to this moment. During a stopover in Tokyo, he finds himself drawn into a story about many ships being destroyed mysteriously. Supposedly, a bright light of some kind is responsible. Steve decides to stick around and see how it all unfolds, as it would clearly make a very interesting story for him to cover. A survivor who doesn't immediately die finally shows up over on Odo Island, so Steve and Tomo Iwanaga. a Japanese security representative, go out to check things out there.

Because when has going to an island in a giant monster film ever ended badly for a white dude?
But no, there are no giant worms here to devour Steve, just a lot of stories about a mythological creature called Godzilla. The islanders firmly believe Big G is back here to punish them all, likely due to either the fact that the don't sacrifice young girls to him anymore or because they decided to get buddy-buddy with Nazis. I'm just saying, maybe the Big G just isn't so keen on that sort of thing. While everyone rests, a typhoon seemingly shows up and causes quite a stir that wakes our heroes up so they can stare awkwardly at one another in their underwear. I wonder what they're thinking?

"Loooooving yooou is easy 'cause you're beautiful..."
But before any handsome man makeout sessions can kick into gear, the storm tears their tent apart and the we see the islanders screaming at the devastation, which is heavily implied to be less the result of weather and more the result of a large angry lizard god tearing shit up. Heading back to mainland, we see Dr. Yamane, Emiko's father, is mounting an expedition to the island to investigate further due the island being the closest landmass to the incidents. Steve tags along, noting that Emiko herself seems to be smitten with one of the crew, Ogata. On the island, the examine the destruction, discovering heavy radioactivity and a trilobite (a previously thought extinct ocean creature). Oh, and they discover a giant lizard god who decides to peek over a mountain.

"Heeeeeeyyyy, yoooooouuuu guuuuuuyyyyys!"
Everybody freaks the fuck out, of course, and Emiko faints because it's the 1950s and she's a woman in a movie. Big G doesn't really cause much trouble this time though, basically just saying hi before stomping back into the ocean, leaving massive footprints behind him and maybe some large piles of fecal matter. Our heroes return to mainland where Yamane shares his findings and professes that he believes Godzilla woke up because of nuclear weapons testing waking him up. Now, this is important to note because, even though is a giant monster film, it's actually a lot more than that. You see, the original film was very much meant to be a bit of a protest film against nuclear armaments. And the idea of Godzilla being an extension of the Earth's will, striking at the people who are hurting the Earth, is a very cool idea. Sadly, it's an idea that is dialed back quite a bit in the American version though.

We wouldn't want people thinking nuclear stuff was bad, after all.
Steve calls up Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, Emiko's husband to be, who just so happens to be his old college buddy. Serizawa tells him can't hang out for dinner because he's busy. Meanwhile, Emiko goes over to break things off with Dr. Handsome because she's got a sailor on the line. Before she can though, Serizawa asks to show her what he's been working on, the results of which cause her to shriek in terror. We don't get see yet, but don't worry, it'll come up. He asks her to not tell anyone about it, and she agrees. Meanwhile, back in "HOLY SHIT THERE'S A GIANT ANGRY MONSTER" land, Godzilla attacks Tokyo and everyone collectively craps theirselves. Since something clearly needs to be done.

I mean...yeah, they should probably do something. He did kind of eat a train.
Their plan is to use the electrical towers around the city to try and electrocute him. It doesn't go so well, as he shows up the next evening and promptly breathes fire on them until they melt, before going around town doing more of the same. Just goes to show you, setting off explosives in the largest most unexplored part of the Earth is probably going to end badly. During the chaos and destruction, many people die and Steve himself gets caught in collapsing building while he's doing his job reporting the story. That leads us back around the beginning of the film where he's getting bandaged up because the handsome levels in this film are getting dangerous.

"I think Godzilla let me live...because I'm actually Canadian."
Emiko finally spills the beans to Ogata and Steve about Serizawa's experiment. Apparently he accidentally created something he calls an Oxygen Destroyer, which basically kills anything exposed to it in the water, disintegrating down to bits. Yeah, that's a bit gruesome. Steve pleads with her to go talk him into letting them use it, as he firmly believes it may be the only way to stop Godzilla, but he clearly can't go because he's too injured. And because it would mean having film a scene of him in a room with three actors' backs to the camera, and that could be pushing it. They've already done that twice and we don't want them going over-budget here.

Godzilla looks a lot less impressive when you cut the budget too much.
Emiko and Ogata go to talk to Serizawa and he is very resistant, to the point where knocks the shit out of Ogata, but he ultimately agrees to let them use it. But he makes sure to destroy his formula first, so that he's the only one who knows how to create it, thus insuring it won't be replicated and misused. The day of truth arrives and Serizawa insists that he accompany Ogata as they deliver the Oxygen Destroyer near the sleeping Godzilla. It seems the divers seem to rouse Big G though, as he begins trucking towards them. Ogata makes it topside, but Serizawa doesn't follow, activating the Oxygen Destroyer and telling Ogata from below that he wants he and Emiko to be happy together. Then he cuts his line and oxygen hose, obviously letting himself die alongside the great beast he has felled. Godzilla rises from the water one last time to roar, before falling into the deep and dying. Thus ends our tale, with Emiko weeping over her fiancee's death and Steve probably feeling rather hugnry since he never did have that dinner with his now dead buddy.

"I'm so hungry, I could eat a giant lizard god who lashed out against the hubris of man."
Now, we're not going to get into which version is better because the truth is the original tops this one. It had a stronger message, more scenes focusing on the love triangle sub-plot, and just a much better overall narrative. That being said, I still really enjoyed this version of the film. It has a lot going for it with some strong performances from the actors present and Raymond Burr does a great job playing the everyman character for western audiences, because he very much feels like a foreign presence there. He needs help understanding things just as we do and it's a good way to bring the western audience into this story they would normally probably feel removed from due to the large cast of Japanese characters. And thankfully, he's really the only non-Japanese character in the film and never does it come off as an American saving the day. He's a victim here too.

Of course, in coach we're all victims.
One of the major complaints I've heard lobbied at American Godzilla films, most recently at the 2014 version, is that there is too much focus on the human characters and not enough on Godzilla. The truth is, it has always been that way. Godzilla is great, but he doesn't talk or have a strong motivation beyond protecting the Earth, whether it be from other kaiju, aliens, or humanity itself. He may be the main attraction, but he can't carry it all on his own any more than any lead can. The humans have always been important to these stories as a grounding element. In this particular film, that is especially true, as the struggle of the human characters is what makes you care. Overall, while I do prefer the later films, I still love looking back on the opening entry (or entries) in the series. It's important to appreciate what came before, both for its strengths and its weaknesses. So, until Godzilla starts talking and makes everyone feel really uncomfortable in doing so, I'll be here hammering out words to entertain you. Later days, bleeders.

And remember, Godzilla says: "BRUSH YOUR FUCKING TEETH! SERIOUSLY! HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT I LOOK LIKE NOW? GINGIVITIS IS THE REAL MONSTER!!"

No comments:

Post a Comment