Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gojira


I watched Gojira for the first time. Not, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, which I've seen a couple of times over the years.

I'm not going to get into a issue over the two translations of the name, as the actual Japanese sounds is actually somewhere in between the way we'd naturally say "Gojira" or "Godzilla", although "Gojira" does sound closer to my ear. I'll stick with calling the original 1954 Japanese movie Gojira, however, just for the sake of simplicity.

Gojira did make a brief theatrical appearance here last year and I missed it. I'm more sorry now than I was then that I missed it. It's a beautiful, haunting, sad movie.

To put into perspective how much difference there is, Gojira is 98 minutes, while Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is 80 minutes. The running time alone is a cut of nearly twenty minutes and the latter movie also contains new scenes with Raymond Burr, so we're likely talking over a half-hour cut for the US release, which has been the only easily viewed version of it in this country for 50 years.

Some changes are purely cultural. The subplot of the arranged marriage is lost. Dr. Yamane's arguments against using military force against Godzilla is lost. This is a particularly harsh cut as Takashi Shimura, star of Kurosawa's Ikiru and The Seven Samurai, gives a powerful and understated performance that keeps the movie grounded. Also a lot of scenes that add resonance to the ending are cut short. Not to mention the overt references to the fire bombing of Tokyo as well as the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of which happened less than 10 years prior to its release.

I've spent several paragraphs discussing what Gojira is not and very little on what it is. It is a powerful stories of rather ordinary people brought together to witness a genuine horror unleashed onto the Earth, an unstoppable force that leaves their friends and countryman dead, without homes, injured beyond repair and orphaned. It is about how they deal with it and the choices it forces upon them personally and morally.

This is a great work of cinema that has been lost to American viewers for the last 50 years and the recent theatrical and DVD release goes some distance to rectify that. Your part is to watch.

Not to say I'm not a fan of the whole cycle of daikaiju, or "giant monster", movies that followed. I used to watch them Saturday's at noon on the local TV sci-fi theater when I was a kid. I always favored Rodan myself. I'm intrigued to note that Rodan, like Gojira, was directed by Ishirô Honda. I may have to give that a fresh look one of these days as well.

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