Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira) is a 1954 Japanese science fiction kaiju film produced by Toho, directed by Ishirō Honda, and featuring special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. The film stars Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura and Haruo Nakajima who portrayed the titular character until his retirement in 1972.
The film tells the story of Godzilla, a prehistoric monster resurrected by repeated nuclear tests in the Pacific, who ravages Japan and reignites horrors of nuclear devastation to the very nation that experienced it first-hand. It was the first of many kaiju films released in Japan, paving the way and setting the standard for future kaiju films, many of which feature Godzilla.
In 1956, TransWorld Releasing Corp. released Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, a heavily re-edited "Americanized" version of the original film which featured new footage, featuring Canadian actor Raymond Burr, shot exclusively for its North American release. In 1977 Italian director Luigi Cozzi released a modified and colorized version to magnetic band and sensurround theaters of the 1956 American version, known as Cozzilla by fans. In 2004 Rialto Pictures gave the original a limited theatrical release in the United States to coincide with the original film's 50th anniversary.
When a Japanese fishing boat is attacked by a flash of light near Odo Island, another ship is sent to investigate only to meet the same fate with few survivors. On Odo Island, a village elder blames their poor fishing on a sea monster known as "Godzilla" and recalls that in earlier times girls were sacrificed to appease the giant sea monster. Word gets out and a helicopter arrives on the island with curious, but skeptical, reporters. Frightened natives perform a night-time ceremony to keep the monster away. However, that night, while the natives sleep, a storm arrives and something else comes with it, bringing death and destruction. A boy sees the cause during the midst of the destruction.
The next day, the witnesses arrive in Tokyo. Archeologist Kyohei Yamane suggests that investigators be sent to the island. On arrival, Yamane finds giant radioactive footprints, and a trilobite. When an alarm sounds, the villagers arm themselves with sticks and various weapons and run to the hills, only to be confronted by Godzilla, who is revealed to be an enormous dinosaur-like creature. After a quick skirmish, the villagers run for safety and Godzilla heads to the ocean.
Yamane returns to Tokyo to present his findings and concludes that Godzilla was unleashed by a nuclear explosion. Some want to conceal that fact, fearing international repercussions. Others say the truth must be revealed. They prevail and Godzilla's origins are announced to the public. Ships are sent with depth charges to kill the monster. When that fails, Godzilla appears again, frightening patrons on a party boat, and causing nationwide panic. Officials appeal to Dr. Yamane for some way to kill the monster, but Yamane wants him kept alive and studied.
Meanwhile, Emiko, Yamane's daughter, decides to break off her arranged engagement to Yamane's colleague, Daisuke Serizawa, because of her love for Hideto Ogata, a salvage ship captain. But Serizawa gives her a demonstration of a secret technology which horrifies her as she is sworn to secrecy while unable to break off the engagement. That night Godzilla climbs from Tokyo Bay and attacks the city. Though the attack is over quickly, there is much death and destruction. The next morning, the army constructs a line of 40-metre (130 ft) tall electrical towers along the coast of Tokyo that will send 50,000 volts of electricity through Godzilla, should it appear again. Civilians are evacuated from the city and put into bomb shelters. As night falls, Godzilla does indeed attack again. It easily breaks through the electric fence, melting the wires with its atomic breath. A bombardment of shells from the army tanks has no effect. Godzilla continues its rampage until much of the city is destroyed and thousands of civilians are dead or wounded. Godzilla descends unscathed into Tokyo Bay, despite a squadron of fighter jets' last-ditch attack.
The next morning finds Tokyo in ruins. Hospitals overflow with victims, including some with radiation poisoning. Witnessing the devastation, Emiko tells Ogata about Serizawa's secret Oxygen Destroyer which disintegrates oxygen atoms and the organisms die of a rotting asphyxiation while accidentally creating a new energy source. She hopes that the two can persuade Serizawa to use it to stop Godzilla. When Serizawa realizes Emiko has betrayed his secret, he refuses and ends up giving Ogata a minor head wound during the resulting fist fight. As Emiko treats Ogata's wound, Serizawa apologizes, but he refuses to use the weapon on Godzilla, citing the public bedlam his weapon could cause. Then a newscast shows the devastation Godzilla has caused. Choirs of children are shown singing a hymn. Finally realizing this, Serizawa decides he will use the weapon once as he then burns his life's research for the good of humanity. Emiko breaks down and cries when she sees this, understanding that Serizawa will sacrifice more than his life's work to stop Godzilla.
A navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. They don diving gear and descend into the water, where they find Godzilla at rest. Ogata returns to the surface as Serizawa activates the device, watching Godzilla die before cutting off his oxygen cord so that the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer will die with him. A dying Godzilla surfaces and lets out a final roar before sinking to the bottom where it completely disintegrates, save for its skeleton. Although the monster is gone, those aboard ship mourn the unexpected loss of Serizawa. Godzilla's death has come at a terrible price and Dr. Yamane believes that if mankind continues to test nuclear weapons, another Godzilla may appear again one day.
In the film, Godzilla is represented as a symbol for nuclear holocaust and ever since the film's initial release, Godzilla has been culturally identified as a strong metaphor for nuclear weapons. In the film, Godzilla's attack mirrors the same horrors the Japanese experienced near the end of World War II, with the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka stated that, "The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind." Director Ishirō Honda filmed Godzilla's rampage on Tokyo with the mentality that the monster's onslaught was a parallel to, and a physical manifestation of, an Atom bomb attack. He stated, "If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn't know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla."
The opening scene of the Eiko Maru being obliterated by Godzilla's first attack and later scenes of survivors of other attacks being found with radiation burns, were inspired by the U.S. testing of a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll. A real Japanese fishing ship, the Lucky Dragon 5, was overwhelmed when the U.S. Castle Bravo nuclear test had a yield of 15 megatons rather than the planned 6 megatons. Military personnel, island natives and several Lucky Dragon 5 crew members, persons believed to be in a zone of safety, suffered from radiation sickness and at least one died six months later. This created widespread fear of uncontrolled and unpredictable nuclear weapons, which the film makers symbolized with Godzilla. The actual event played a major role in drawing attention to the hazards of nuclear fallout, and concerns were widespread about radioactively contaminated fish affecting the Japanese food supply.
Godzilla's climactic attack on Tokyo was meant to exemplify a rolling nuclear attack, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only much more slowly. Honda had plotted it this way, having been shocked by the real devastation of those cities.
The film went through several different drafts. Science fiction and horror novelist Shigeru Kayama was hired to write the original story. The screenplay was written by Takeo Murata and Ishiro Honda. In Kayama's draft, originally entitled Kaitei ni-man mairu kara kita daikaijû (lit. "The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"), and then later renamed G-Sakuhun (lit. Project G, with the G standing for the English word for Giant), Dr. Yamane was the antagonist and was seen as a mad scientist wearing a cape who lived in a gothic style house. Godzilla's first appearance was to have him rise from the sea at night and destroy a light house. This was an obvious homage to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Murata and Honda altered and changed a few things from Kayama's draft and added new elements, like the love triangle between Emiko, Ogata, and Dr. Serizawa. Dr. Yamane was changed from a mad scientist to an acclaimed paleontologist who seeks to study Godzilla rather than destroy him. Godzilla itself was changed from Kayama's initial wild beast that came ashore to feed on live animals.
The monster story itself had been necessitated by an emergency. The producers had planned a completely different film, but that project had fallen apart. Toho demanded a film, any film, within a short time. During an airplane ride, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had read of the Lucky Dragon incident, and was inspired. The monster angle was derived from the success of Warner Bros.' 1953 film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. It was then that the creation of the monster's design began to take place, beginning with the film's special effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya's original suggestion of the monster being a giant octopus, the monster design later went several variations and features such as a hideous disproportionate ape-like creature with head shaped like a mushroom, recalling the suggested references of mushroom clouds. In the end, the filmmakers eventually settled on a dinosaur-like monster that was a cross of a Tyrannosaurus rex, an Iguanodon, a Stegosaurus, and a fire-breathing dragon.
The Godzilla suit had actually been a last resort. Tsuburaya had been deeply impressed with the stop-motion animation method used in King Kong. However, that method was far too costly and time-consuming (even though stop-motion would be used briefly, in one scene where Godzilla destroys the Nichigeki Theatre with his tail). It was decided that the easiest way to go was a stuntman in a monster suit, and a scale-model of Tokyo. This also proved difficult. Stunt actor Haruo Nakajima volunteered to play (the full suit) Godzilla. Nakajima would play Godzilla in later sequels until his retirement from the character in 1972. The first attempt at a Godzilla suit was far too stiff and heavy, nearly impossible to use. They finally hit on a design that worked; but even that was grueling. The stuntman would suffer numerous bouts of heat exhaustion and dehydration. The suit had to have a valve to drain the sweat from it. Also, in order to avoid suffocation, the suit could have only been worn for three minutes. It has also been said that, at one point, Nakajima passed out in the suit due to heat exhaustion. Godzilla's name was also found difficult to accomplish. The monster went through several names prior to the final stages. Because the monster had no name, the first draft of the film was not called Gojira but rather titled G, also known as Kaihatsu keikaku G ("Development Plan G"), the "G" of the title stood for "Giant", however. Nakajima confirmed that Toho held a contest to name the monster. The monster was eventually named Gojira, a combination of the Japanese words Gorilla (gorira) and Whale (kujira). A myth spread to the fan base that a staff member of Toho inspired the name Gojira because that name was claimed to have been his nickname. One of Godzilla's names during production was "Anguirus". That name was saved and later reused as the name of Godzilla's opponent in the sequel Godzilla Raids Again. Anguirus would later become Godzilla's closest ally in the series. Also, Anguirus' roar would be used for Godzilla's for the American version of Godzilla Raids Again.
Toho Studios had balked at the suggestion of filming Godzilla in color. Ironically, the cheaper black-and-white film had actually enhanced the special effects (e.g. hiding wires and other things in the shadows), and otherwise adding to the overall chill of Godzilla's nighttime attacks. Two years later, Toho would film Rodan in color, which it would subsequently use in nearly all its giant-monster films.
For a special effects shoot for the movie, Nakajima, who was inside the Godzilla suit, was placed in a swimming pool. Masaaki Tachibana (an announcer of a scene in a steel tower) painted his face with olive oil to express that he was sweating with fear. There were many scenes filmed that were not used, but most have not been recovered. The best known example was the scene that was meant to replace the iconic appearance of Godzilla on Odo Island. Originally, Godzilla arrives holding a dead cow in his mouth, but the effect was not convincing enough and was cut, and only a few stills remain.
Box office and reception
When Godzilla was first released in 1954 the film sold approximately 9,610,000 tickets and was the eighth best-attended film in Japan that year. It remains the second most-attended "Godzilla" film in Japan, behind King Kong vs. Godzilla. Its box office earnings were 152 million Yen ($2.25 million).
The film initially received mixed to negative reviews in Japan. Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the widespread devastation that the country had suffered in World War II, as well as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru (Lucky Dragon) incident that occurred a few months before filming began. Ishiro Honda lamented years later in the Tokyo Journal, "They called it grotesque junk, and said it looked like something you'd spit up. I felt sorry for my crew because they had worked so hard!". However as time went on, the film gained more respect in its home country. Kinema Junpo magazine listed Gojira as one of the top 20 Japanese films of all time, while a survey of 370 Japanese movie critics published in Nihon Eiga Besuto 159 (Best 150 Japanese Films), had Godzilla ranked as the 27th best Japanese film ever made.
The film was nominated for two Japanese Movie Association awards. One for best special effects and the other for best film. It won best special effects but lost best picture to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.
In 1955 and in the 1960s, the original Gojira played in theaters catering to Japanese-Americans in predominantly Japanese neighborhoods in the United States. An English sub-titled version was shown at film festivals in New York, Chicago and other cities in 1982.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
In 1956, Jewell Enterprises re-edited, and eliminated many scenes from the film for American audiences. They combined the original Japanese footage of Godzilla with new American-made footage of Raymond Burr as an American reporter covering the monster's activities who would explain the action for an English-speaking audience with minimal dubbing. This version was released in Japan in 1957 in faux widescreen format, where, like the original, it became very popular.
2004 and 2014 releases
To coincide with Godzilla's 50th anniversary, art-house distributor Rialto Pictures gave the film a traveling tour style limited release coast to coast across the United States. Uncut and featuring English-language subtitles, the film's release began on May 7, 2004, and ran until December 19, 2004. Starting in two theaters, the film would gross $38,030 USD in its opening weekend. It never played on more than six screens at any given point during its run. By the end of its run, it grossed $412,520 USD. The film played in roughly sixty theaters and cities across the United States during its seven and a half month run.
On April 18, 2014, Rialto re-released the film in another traveling tour style limited release coast to coast across the United States. This was to coincide with not only Godzilla's 60th anniversary, but also in celebration of the new Godzilla movie, which was released in theaters in May. To avoid confusion with the Hollywood film, the re-release was subtitled The Japanese Original. The film opened with $10,903 playing in one theater in New York City. Rialto plans to release the film in roughly 65 theaters in 63 cities up to at least October 18.
The 2004 American re-release of Godzilla received acclaim by many critics who had never seen the film in its original form without Raymond Burr. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has received a "certified fresh" rating of 94%.
In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Glieberman, who gave the film an A- rating, wrote:
"Godzilla, an ancient beast roused from the ocean depths and irradiated by Japanese H-bomb tests, reduces Tokyo to a pile of ash, yet, like Kong, he grows more sympathetic as his rampage goes on. The characters talk about him not as an enemy but as a force of destiny, a "god". The inescapable subtext is that Japan, in some bizarre way, deserves this hell. Godzilla is pop culture's grandest symbol of nuclear apocalypse, but he is also the primordial spirit of Japanese aggression turned, with something like fate, against itself."
In the Dallas Observer, Luke Y. Thompson wrote:
"A lot of people are likely to be surprised by what they see. The 1954 Japanese cut is shot like a classic film noir, and the buildup to Tokyo's inevitable thrashing is quite slow by today's standards. The echoes of World War II are very strong, and the devastation wrought by Godzilla (played by Haruo Nakajima) is not sugar-coated; it eerily mirrors that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the deaths and injuries are dwelt upon. The monster himself is not fully revealed for quite a while, and even when he finally shows up, he's a malevolent black predator with glistening skin, who stays mostly in the shadows, many times more fearsome than the green-skinned cookie monster who showed up in the various sequels to layeth the smacketh down on the candyasses of numerous alien invaders in ugly leotards."
One of the few recent mixed reviews was written by Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert admitted the film was "an important one" and "properly decoded, was the Fahrenheit 9/11 of its time", but he also said:
"In these days of flawless special effects, Godzilla and the city he destroys are equally crude. Godzilla at times looks uncannily like a man in a rubber suit, stomping on cardboard sets, as indeed he was, and did. Other scenes show him as a stuffed, awkward animatronic model. This was not state-of-the-art even at the time; King Kong (1933) was much more convincing. When Dr. Serizawa demonstrates the Oxygen Destroyer to his fiancee, Emiko , the super weapon is somewhat anticlimactic. He drops a pill into a tank of tropical fish, the tank lights up, he shouts, "stand back!" the fiancée screams, and the fish go belly-up. Yeah, that'll stop Godzilla in his tracks."
Since its release, Godzilla has been regarded not only as one of the best giant monster films ever made but an important cinematic achievement. The film was ranked #31 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
The film became popular enough to spawn 27 Toho sequels and inspire countless ripoffs, imitations, parodies, tributes, a 1998 American reimagining and a 2014 American reboot. Since his debut, Godzilla has morphed into a worldwide cultural icon.
The score by Akira Ifukube was released three times over a period of 13 years. The first recording was released by Futureland Toshiba in 1993, and nearly contained the film's complete score, missing only a brief source cue used for the pleasure boat scene. The track list is as follows:
1. "Main Title" 1:31
2. "Footsteps (SFX)" 0:49
3. "Eiko-Maru Sinking" 1:06
4. "Bingo-Maru Sinking" 0:23
5. "Uneasiness on Odo Island" 0:49
6. "Rituals of Odo Island (Source Music)" 1:21
7. "The Storm on Odo Island" 1:53
8. "Theme from Odo Island" 0:34
9. "Frigate March I" 0:42
10. "Horror of the Water Tank" 0:42
11. "Godzilla Comes Ashore" 1:52
12. "Fury of Godzilla" 2:25
13. "Deadly Broadcast" 1:12
14. "Godzilla heads to Tokyo Bay" 1:25
15. "Attack Godzilla!" 1:27
16. "Devastated Tokyo (Contains SFX)" 2:18
17. "The Oxygen Destroyer" 3:11
18. "Prayer for Peace" 2:48
19. "Frigate March II" 0:21
20. "Godzilla Under the Sea" 6:20
21. "Ending" 1:41
The most recent release of the soundtrack was in April 2010, by Classic Media. It included the above tracks and an additional five tracks:
1. "Godzilla Leaving" 1:04
2. "Main Title (extended)" 2:03
3. "First Landing" 3:37
4. "Tokyo In Flames" 2:17
5. "Last Assault" 2:21
The 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters! version of the film was released on DVD by Simitar in 1998 and Classic Media in 2002. A DVD of the original Japanese version of the film was released in Japan in 2002. The quality of the print used for the Japanese version was partially restored and remastered, including three audio tracks (the original mono track, an isolated audio track, and an isolated track and special effects track), and an interview with Akira Ifukube.
In 2006, Classic Media released a two-disc DVD set titled Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece. This release features both the original 1954 Japanese Gojira film and the 1956 American Godzilla, King of the Monsters! version, making the original Japanese version of the film available on DVD in North America for the first time. This release features theatrical trailers for both films, audio commentary tracks on both films with Godzilla experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, two 13-minute documentaries titled "Godzilla Story Development" and "Making of the Godzilla Suit," and a 12-page essay booklet that was written by Steve Ryfle. This release also restores the original ending credits of the American film, which, until recently, were thought to have been lost.
In the fall of 2005, BFI released the original Japanese version in the UK theatrically, and later in the same year on DVD. The DVD includes the original mono track and several extra features, such as documentaries and commentary tracks by Steve Ryfle, Ed Godziszewski, and Keith Aiken. The DVD also includes a documentary about the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, a Japanese fishing boat that was caught in an American nuclear blast and partially inspired the creation of the movie. A region-4 DVD was released in Australia by Mad Co. Ltd in 2004 for the film's 50th Anniversary.
Classic Media released Godzilla on Blu-ray on September 22, 2009. This release includes the theatrical trailers, featurettes, and audio commentary on Godzilla by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski from the 2006 Classic Media DVD release, but it does not include the 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters! version of the film.
On January 24, 2012, the Criterion Collection released a "new high-definition digital restoration" of Godzilla on Blu-ray and DVD. Included as a special feature is Godzilla, King of the Monsters as well as commentary on both films by David Kalat, author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series. Also included are interviews with Akira Ikufube, Japanese-film critic Tadao Sato, actor Akira Takarada, Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima, and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai.
Criterion Collection #594 - Region A - Blu-Ray
Picture Format: 1.37:1 (1080p 24fps) [MPEG-4 AVC]
Soundtrack(s): Japanese LPCM 1.0 Mono (Japanese Version only) English LPCM 1.0 Mono (US Version only)
Subtitles: English (Optional)
Extras: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! [In English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles] (81 min, 1080p)
Audio Commentary with film historian David Kalat (Both Versions)
Cast and Crew Interviews (in Japanese with optional English subtitles) (1080i):
-Akira Takarada (12:58)
-Haruo Nakajima (9:48)
-Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai (30:08)
-Akira Ifukube (50:43)
Photographic Effects (Featurette) [with introduction by Koichi Kawakita and Motoyoshi Tomioka ] (Japanese with English subtitles) (1080i, 9:05)
Interview with Japanese film critic Tadao Sato (Japanese with English subtitles) (1080i, 14:05)
The Unluckiest Dragon (Audio [English] essay with historian Greg Pflugfelder) (1080p, 9:38 mins)
Original Theatrical Trailer (Japanese with English subtitles) (1080i, 3 mins)
US Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:56)
Case type: Slipcover in original pressing DigiPack (In one word a "BOX")
Notes: Comes with a booklet featuring an essay by critic J. Hoberman.
In 1998, TriStar Pictures released a reimagining of Godzilla. The film was a financial success but was an ultimate failure with critics and fans of the franchise. In 2011, writer and producer Dean Devlin apologized for the film, blaming the script that he and director Roland Emmerich wrote. Emmerich admitted to never liking the original Godzilla films.
In 2014, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures released a reboot of Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards. The film depicted the character and source material in a style faithful to the Toho films. The film's critical and financial success prompted the studio to move forward with a sequel with the hopes of creating a potential trilogy.
Awards and nominations
Japan Movie Association Awards (1954)
Winner - Special Effects
Nominated - Best Picture
Details (Original film)