Waiting for Godzilla

Waiting for Godzilla

In 1954, Japan’s Toho Film Studios released the monster that would change, if not completely destroy the world: Godzilla – or Gojira in Japanese. Directed by veteran filmmaker Ishirō Honda, Godzilla became an international hit, and its fire-breathing prehistoric star a pop culture icon, spawning 28 sequels from Toho Studios, countless emulators, and myriad novelty products. However, the English dubbed version released in America, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” was radically chopped and re-edited with new studio footage featuring Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason fame) as an American reporter who watches and narrates while Godzilla rampages through Tokyo. The resulting version is to the original as “What’s Up Tiger Lilly” is to “The Seven Samurai.” What becomes evident to anyone who sees the decidedly dark original is that the American version wasn’t merely edited; it was censorial.

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, U.S. occupation of Japan lasted until 1952, with a moratorium on press coverage of the atomic aftermath for fear that it would prove counterproductive to U.S. political efforts. That didn’t stop the U.S. from conducting the Bikini Island nuclear test, which exposed a Japanese fishing ship, the “Lucky Dragon,” and its crew to radioactive fallout. That was in 1954, just before Godzilla’s release, its opening scene: a fishing crew terrorized by a mysterious and deadly flash of light. The premise was that nuclear testing had awakened the dinosaur, which goes on to almost entirely decimate Tokyo. Thus the authentic Godzilla served as a thinly disguised metaphor for the horrors of nuclear weapons, but America wasn’t having it – until recently.

In 1998 a new American production proved nearly as risible as the Raymond Burr fiasco. Now on May 16, Legendary Pictures releases a new version directed by Gareth Edwards, and if the trailers are any indication, the world doesn't stand a chance. 60 years older, Godzilla has managed to grow 350 feet tall, and even the Statue of Liberty isn’t safe. In anticipation, Rialto Pictures is screening a new digital restoration of the original, uncut Japanese-language masterpiece at select theaters nationwide. The restored Godzilla/Gojira is also available on DVD. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a revelation – the old monster is not only mean, but also thought provoking, and at times even poetic. Let’s hope his new incarnation retains some of his better qualities.

 

By Jorge Socarras