I’ve said it once and I will continue to say it as long as they don’t disappoint me. When you pick up a Criterion Collection Blu-ray/ DVD you have to savor it. Savor it as if it were a fine bottle of wine. Because whatever genre the picture is, it isn’t going to get any better than this. Rest assured Maniacs, Criterion Collection delivers again with Ishirô Honda’s Godzilla(a.k.a. Gojira, Spine #594).
When a 400 foot lizard, Godzilla, destroys several fishing boats and a village, the government calls in a young scientist, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), for help. Serizawa is quick with ideas but fears his latest invention will be used not only to stop the beast but as a weapon that could bring about another world war.
Gojira came out a couple of years after World War 2 and there is this immediate fear and concern with atomic energy and radiation. Scientists were experimenting with it and people were still trying to understand it. This launched a whole new era of film. The term in Hollywood for this kind of film was called "Atomic Age" films. These films always had a scientist, a hero, and a giant creature. The incredible thing about Gojira is that it was from Japan. Here was a foreign film (circa 1954) that was completely in tone with what Hollywood was doing. However, being that the film is Japanese, the fear and concern about radiation seems to have a poignancy that doesn't exist in American films. That fear is still ever present especially with all that has happened to Japan in the last year.
Gojira was an incredible treat to watch. It wasn't like so many of the Godzilla films I had seen on Sunday mornings (guys in rubber suits destroying miniature cities). There was a love story at the heart of Gojira between Serizawa and his betrothed. These actors delivered believable performances that passed through the language barrier. However, if that language barrier is a problem for some of you Criterion has added Godzilla, King of Monsters (1956) to their Blu-ray/ DVD release to handle that problem.
The die hard fans will know what that means. For those of you who don’t (and for me too, until recently) Godzilla, King of Monsters is the “Americanized” version of Gojira. The story is slightly different and begins just minutes after the destruction of Tokyo. American journalist Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) is in town visiting a friend when the story of life time rises right in front of him. The main plot of Gojira is still present although now we see it from a journalistic point of view. Martin interacts with many of the principle characters, yet he isn’t exactly present with the actors. We see and hear dialogue from behind their heads, over the phone, or (for the most part) Martin tells the story in a voice-over narrative. It works as we witness the devastation first hand. Oddly enough this storytelling device used to get around the language barrier seems more poignant today in our media heavy culture. In watching Godzilla, King of Monsters today you’llfeel right at home as you become both witness and spectator to Martin’s news story.
The major difference to Godzilla, King of Monsters is the love triangle between Serizawa, Emiko (Momoko Kôchi) and Ogata (Akira Takarada) which has been pushed to the side. It is spoken of by Martin but is practically non-existent in relation to Gojira. It is a sad turn in the re-editing of this film as it was the unexpected surprise of Gojira.
As I mentioned earlier, a Criterion Blu-ray/ DVD should be savored like a fine bottle of wine. What makes a Criterion release last so much longer is the wealth of supplemental materials included. There is an incredible featurette detailing the matte paintings and special effects used for Gojira. Key insights are supplied by the original special effects supervisor Koichi Kawakita and special effects director Motoyoshi Tomioka. This featurette is required watching upon completion of either version of the film. You’ll wonder how they did so much with simple camera tricks. A recent (2011) interview with Japanese-film critic Tado Sato opens the doors to impact Godzilla had on Japan and the world. Sato also elaborates on the men involved and how this was the biggest thing to ever come out of Japanese cinema. With all the rich commentaries and interviews on the disc, it was the short historical documentary about the Lucky Dragon #5 sailing ship that was the unexpected surprise. No, these sailors never met their end by the hands of a giant lizard. They were only witnesses to a hydrogen bomb test on the bikini atoll whose horrific story inspired the birth of Godzilla. Finishing off this documentary is look at the actual ship remains and its final resting place.
Godzilla films definitely have their nitch in the movie culture and are not for everyone. Criterion Collection’s release of Gojira and Godzilla, King of Monsters (trailer below)is a great introduction for the uninitiated and the curious. Where does one venture after this? I’m sure Mania’s community can supply enough answers in the comment section below.
Top 5 Picks of the Week:
1. Godzilla (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
2. Spellbound [Blu-ray]
3. Rebecca [Blu-ray]
4. Notorious [Blu-ray]
5. Wings [Blu-ray]
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