Godzilla (1954)

Bikini spawns monster 
Guest Review by Mike Flores

Let me begin by saying if you saw the 1956 American version of Godzilla with Raymond Burr, you have not seen Godzilla. Not by a long shot. Reflecting the U.S. superiority of the day, Steve Martin becomes crucial to the entire Godzilla story, helping everyone from scientists to politicians. There is no Steve Martin in the original Godzilla film, now playing the art house circuit. What we have here is the re-telling of World War 2 from the Japanese viewpoint. This is one heavy, dark monster movie.

In March of 1954, Japan suffered from another nuclear disaster, though far smaller in scale than the 1954 bombings.  Tuna caught off the coast of Japan were found to carry high levels of radioactivity after a fishing ship, the Fukuryu Maru (“Lucky Dragon”), accidentally sailed into an American test site, contaminating the entire crew.  One crew member eventually died of what was reported as radiation poisoning and the Japanese press pointed the finger towards American irresponsibility.  The debate centered on whether the ship’s crew was at fault or whether the radius affected by the test far exceeded the estimated range and had in fact caught the ship.  The incident was dubbed “The Second Atomic Bombing of Mankind” by the Japanese press. (1)

Iwao Mori had been banned from working on Japanese films after the war because his thrilling war films made during the war were considered propaganda. However, after a few years of the Toho Studio being run by westerners the company was near bankruptcy. Toho re-hired Mori and he prepared to make a war film. That film however collapsed when Indonesia refused to give his stars work permits, but in the years of his return Toho made a triumphant return to film making.

Eiji Tsuburaya was a veteran cinematographer Mori knew was the expert who could produce extravagant films.  His special effects being of such high quality that following the war, the American Occupation forces frequently mistook the surviving fictional films for Japanese produced newsreel footage.  Unfortunately, like Mori, Tsuburaya would also be exiled from the industry by the SCAP.  When the occupation lifted Tsuburaya was invited back to Toho, where he and Mori took up where they had left off, with the first Japanese war picture in eight years, Eagle of the Pacific, which was directed by Ishiro Honda.

Tanaka’s choice for director, Ishiro Honda, had served in the Imperial Army during the war.  In 1944, between his second and third hitches in the Impearl Army, Honda returned to Tokyo to work with Yamamoto as second assistant on Colonel Kato’s Falcon Squadron, a wartime-spirit picture made at the time when Tokyo was being fire-bombed by the American Air Force.  Eventually he returned to China just as the Japanese regime was collapsing, and spent the last part of the war as a POW in China. In 1946 he returned to Japan, passing through the atomic-bombed shell of the city of Hiroshima. (2)

“Ever since I was little, I have been fond of the fact that there was once an awesome era of the Earth, when dinosaurs were living in the Jurassic and Cretaceous.  When word went out about the production, images of dinosaur-monsters were already brewing in my head. He would be twisted and mutated by it, into a rampaging uncontainable force; the A-bomb made flesh.”

 – Ishiro Honda

In the beginning of the film Japanese fishing boats are sunk, representing Japan’s naval defeats and merchant marine ships sunk by American submarines, when the U.S. entered the war. The Japanese government refused to release the information to the public (the Battle Of Midway for example was never reported) so the films beginning is a reflection on the silence of the Japanese government about sea losses during the war.

In the new, old version of Godzilla the Japanese Government decides to not tell people who is attacking the boats. Just as the Japanese government did prior to World War 2. (Interesting footnote: if they had gone public the argument of “sneak attack” would have been avoided by the – what is a sneak attack anyway? We poured ships full of men on the beaches of D-Day/ Overlord without the Germans knowing what was happening until it happened. Wasn’t that a sneak attack, since they didn’t know we were coming?)

The sounds of Godzilla approaching cities must have frightened Japanese audiences. The sounds were made to mimic the sounds of bombs being dropped from planes! We must keep in mind that Japan is the only nation on earth that has had nukes used on it, so the footage of Tokyo after the second attack looks like Hiroshima after the atomic bomb, the footage of the injured and dying in the hospital was all to real to the Japanese audience.

From this point on, Japan is fighting a nuclear foe.

Dr. Daisuke Serizawa has created a weapon even deadlier than nuclear bombs- an oxygen destroyer. But he does not want to reveal this as he knows it will quickly be used “by the devils” in warfare. After watching news footage of the destruction of Japan, he decides to use the weapon. He also decides he must die with Godzilla, so no government can ever use the weapon again.

The end of this remarkable film has a warning cut from the American release – that there are more Godzilla’s out there. Atomic bomb testing can only lead to destruction. Of course, when this film was made, no one even contemplated that one day terrorists could get their hands on one, and wreck havoc on the world.

It has always been said that history is written by the winner. In the 20th century however, technology has allowed the loser to make their case. GODZILLA is the Japanese side of World War 2. It is also one hell of a movie and a must see.

1, 2 FOOTNOTES: For more about Godzilla and World War 2 check out:

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