mag·nif·i·cent/magˈnifəsənt/ (adj.)

1. Impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking.
2. Very good; excellent.

Synonyms: splendid - gorgeous - grand - superb - glorious

WARNING: Some spoilers may be bound but I try to keep them light.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

       "He wants to turn that egg into the golden egg."

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) (モスラ対ゴジラ), also known as Godzilla vs. the Thing, is a Japanese kaiju film directed by Ishiro Honda. This film is a sequel to both Mothra (1961) and Godzilla vs. King Kong (1962) and is the first time Toho tried pitting one of its previously stand-alone kaiju against Godzilla, a trend that would continue quite a bit after this and often lead to some of the most popular fan-favorites of the kaiju films.

When a typhoon washes a giant egg ashore, the capitalist heads of Happy Corporation decide to turn it into a giant tourist attraction. A group of reporters investigating discover Mothra's twin fairies who beg them to help return the egg to it's home on Infant Island. But when the capitalists refuse, and Godzilla was also re-awakened by the typhoon Japan finds itself right in the middle of a giant monster battle.

[Note: this review is referencing the original Japanese version of the film.]

The moral tale in this film works really well, it may be a little heavy handed in the end but it's the key that ties the human protagonists story together with that of Mothra's story.

This film's story is basically a remake of the original Mothra (and to a lesser extent King Kong vs. Godzilla too) but what I liked about it is that each of these films isn't a direct remake and it really feels like Ishiro Honda (who directed all three) is experimenting with each one and trying something new, which in this case works out because he takes the plot of Mothra and the better protagonist story from King Kong vs. Godzilla and incorporates Godzilla into the story also and it is in my opinion the best of the trio. I also really liked the twist toward the end involving the egg. It's a clever way to catch even your big kaiju-fans on their toes and keep everyone interested in the film!

Despite being a little jarring at first, I actually thought the super-cartoonish portrayal of the capitalists actually works really well, and quickly helps you to root against these guys. I just don't understand why they get killed off so early? Maybe Honda just got tired with this particular storyline as it's the third time he's done it?

I also felt the endangered school children on the island at the end was a little over dramatic for my tastes but it really did help up the ante and provide more drama and suspense for the final battle of the film.

The special effects and use of models here are better than they've been in the last few films actually. It feels like Honda really took the time to shoot each of what works best on it's separate medium (models, costumes, live-action) and incorporate them as best as possible.

This is the first in the series they didn't even try to explain a lot of things (for example the origin of the first Mothra and Godzilla) this isn't necessarily a bad thing as the film works more or less on its own, and I feel like it was bound to happen with this being the fourth Godzilla film and probably the eight or so kaiju film Toho had made up until this point. I already thought the film rushes a bit in the beginning to set up everything but you're going to feel extra rushed if you haven't already had an intro to Godzilla or Mothra before this film.

I feel like this film is a prime example of a movie that could use a better structure. It seems like the film speeds up just to slow down in parts and we lose track of our human protagonists during giant monster battles that seem unfocused and there's large parts of the film that just go needlessly on for a bit too long.

Also maybe this was the result of a technical issue with scale or the models or something but the first battle with Mothra is WAY too close for some reason? There's a tone of super-close up shots during this battle that quickly cut to each other and make the otherwise very cool monster fight pretty hard to watch.

I really love the human protagonists in this film! They're probably the first ones since the original Gojira (1954) that actually made the human element of the film really worthwhile. They're a bit pure and idealized but their goodness plays into helping the kaiju in the story really well so it works for the film.

Also super note-worth is this is the first Godzilla film in a while where they actually took the time to show the destructive nature of Godzilla and how he affected people on the ground level on screen. Also this film cleverly incorporates his radioactivity into the story and ties nuclear testing on Infant Island into the theme and plot without over doing it very masterfully.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) is a very enjoyable kaiju film, one of the good ones where the humans' story works really well with giant battling monsters' story.

4/5 Stars.

 Happy watching!

I'm tackling most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films in honor of the newest Godzilla (2014)

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film (and 5 other classic kaiju films) through these links:

Friday, May 23, 2014

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

       "King Kong can't make a monkey out of us!"

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) (キングコング対ゴジラ) is an Japanese kaiju film by Toho and directed by Ishiro Honda and is technically a direct sequel to Godzilla Raids Again (1955) and less so to King Kong (1933).

An American submarine gets caught in an inceberg that happens to be the same iceberg that Godzilla is trapped in and accidently awakens the kaiju from his slumbler. As the world becomes aware of Godzilla's reappearance, it's world leaders quickly try to figure out a solution. At the same time looking for something to boost ratings on a television program he sponsors, Mr. Tako the head of a pharmaceuticals company just confirmed the existance of King Kong on the tiny Faro Island. Tako sees this as an opportunity to stop Godzilla and boost ratings at the same time.

[Note: this review is referencing the English-dubbed, American cut of the film.]

The overall story of this film isn't bad. It's actually very similar to Mothra (1961) and shares a lot of the same themes and character moments as that film. I also enjoyed our protagonists' story/journey here, not the most original, but the characters are likable and they definitely give you something to root for.

One of the coolest things about this story is that it actually works on its own perfectly and is the sequel to Godzilla Raids Again (1955) at the same time. The last time we saw Godzilla he was defeated by firing missiles into a mountain causing the kaiju to be buried in ice, which is where we find him is this film. The genius thing about the start of this movie is that if you've never seen a Godzilla movie in your life, you can watch this movie and just assume that it's Godzilla awaking for the very first time since the Ice Age because it pretty much plays that way here.

The other good thing about this film is how very humorous it is. It's not a good film at all, but it's very watchable.

First off the English-dub for this film is absolutely terrible. Someone thought that in order to make this film more watchable we'd need to constantly cut to these TERRIBLE English inserts that were shot to explain what is happening inside the story. Guess what we don't. The inserts were clearly shot at a different time, have a much poorer production design, and are just hilariously bad.

This may also be a weird dub thing but the film introduces all of these "weird science" rules like for some reason Kong is energized when exposed to electricity, while it has the opposite effect on Godzilla...? Which doesn't make sense because I clearly remember a scene of Godzilla tearing through electric powerlines in the original Gojira (1954).

This is one of those things that is overly apparent because I recently watched the original King Kong (1933), but Kong's acting in this is terrible. The funny thing about this statement is that I thought Kong's acting was really good in the original and that was all stop-motion, where here you have an actor in a suit and it's so much worse? In the original they based the way Kong moved off of wrestlers, if these filmmakers even looked at the original (which after watching this, I'm not really sure they even did) they would have notice the distinctive way he moves! Though Godzilla's acting here is pretty bad also so maybe the movie is just a good example of why fight choreography and story boards are necessary.

Another weird thing is for some reason this Kong is narcoleptic in this film? There's at least 4 times where Kong just lays down and goes to sleep, I was fine with it once but when it kept happening I started to think that maybe Kong needs to lay off the medication.

This is the first of Toho's kaiju films where I really felt like everything here was models and guys in suits. I don't know if this production was on a swifter budget, or Ishiro Honda had made a few of these by now, so with each one he cared less and less or what? One of the things that I noticed that may have added to this was that this film has an over-reliance on models. Where many of the other kaiju films would go shoot anything they could outside against a mountain or a hill, this film is mostly indoors and anytime the characters go outside it's on a set, overall it's just lazier.

The one magnificent thing about this movie is how bad it is considering all of the things it had going for it. This is one of the first "Godzilla vs." movies. They've pitted Godzilla, their most popular kaiju, against King Kong who greatly inspired the original creators of Gojira and the entire Toho kaiju franchise. And if that wasn't enough Ishiro Honda is directing, who literally has created all the best kaiju films I've seen up to this point. Some of this is probably due to some things being lost in translation with the English dub and the American cut, (to which I can't comment because I haven't seen the original Japanese version yet...) but still.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) is not a good movie, but it is very watchable and strangely enjoyable  too.

3/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

I'm tackling all or most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films in honor of the newest Godzilla (2014), check back next time as I review the fan favorite: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964).

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film (and two others) through these links:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mothra (1961)

       "Mothra will soon be here!"

Mothra (1961) (モスラ) is an early Japanese kaiju film by Toho and directed by Ishiro Honda who directed the original Gojira (1954).  Mothra is based on the serialized novel The Luminous Fairies and Mothra by Takehiko Fukunada, Shinichiro Nakamura, and Yoshie Hotta.

While investigating the presumably uninhabited Infant Island a group of sailors find the island is not only inhabited by humans but other strange beings including small human-like fairies. However when capitalist Clark Nelson decides to kidnap the fairies and bring then back to Japan to make a profit off their existence, he may be putting all of Japan in harms way without even realizing it.

[Note: this review is referencing the original Japanese version of the film.]

I really liked the story of this film. Its almost a remake of the King Kong (1933) plot, but then it works in the environmentalist message a lot better than that film ever did. And the entire film has such and interesting mood to it, its very much unlike anything else.

This is actually a really good film to watch if you are learning Japanese, because the characters speak relatively slowly the entire film and they don't actually use a lot of complicated words most of the time. So that's interesting.

I felt like the kaiju in Mothra were a bit hit and miss. I really liked Mothra's larva form a lot and thought it looked unique and moved in a very interesting way. But I didn't really care for Mothra's moth form truthfully. I just felt like they didn't really do enough with it, and even felt like she was far less menacing as a moth than in her larva form. Also coming after Rodan (1956), it's interesting that two of the very first kaiju films they made were of flying creatures. They're very different films, and very different creatures but I still wonder about how intentional or what the reasoning behind that decision was.

I really didn't like our lead character, played by Japanese comedian Frankie Sakai. Sure he was a bit funny, and there's something that's hard to hate about his character's boyish innocence during the whole film. But his character is just really jarring and seems out of place against the mood and tone (and even themes) of the rest of the film. And cutting between the drama of a giant monster attacking Tokyo and the underlying environmentalist message and this Lou Costello-esque comedian really didn't work at all for me.

The ending took too long to conclude. I think it's suposed to be this beautiful thing but it just takes way too long when everyone knows what has to happen after the main antagonist is no longer in the picture. Finish and get out people.

Also for some reason this film has a lot of English speaking minor roles, which are filled with tons of unintentional humor. Which although this is fun, it's jarring and kills the dramatic mood that the scenes are supposed to have most of the time.

The one thing I really loved about this film was the music. Yuji Koseki's score is really awesome. It's got its suspenseful moments, fun parts and the "Mothra song" is so haunting it really brings a lot to the movie and the story on it's own. It really works for this film.

Mothra (1961) is an very different and interesting take on the kaiju film genre. Not exactly to my tastes truthfully, but I appreciated it and did think it was quite an interesting watch.

4/5 Stars.

 Happy watching!

I'm tackling all or most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films in honor of the newest Godzilla (2014), check back next time as we finally return to our main kaiju, Godzilla himself in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film (and two others) through these links:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Rodan (1956)

       "I have lost one plane, but we're still in pursuit!"

Rodan (1956) (空の大怪獣 ラドン) [literally: Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky], also known as Rodan! The Flying Monster!, is an early Japanese kaiju film and the first color kaiju film released by Toho. Rodan is directed by Ishiro Honda who directed the original Gojira (1954).

A group of miners in the outskirts of Kyushu go deeper than anyone has ever gone before, but when miners start to go missing or are found dead and mutilated they soon realize they've unearthed prehistoric creatures that haven't been seen on earth for millions of years.

[Note: this review is referencing the American, English-dubbed edit of the film.]

The English-dub for this film didn't bother me too much. It's a bit dramatic, which is in-line with the tone of many other American 50's monster movies. Unfortunately some of the main characters speak with a broken English, which today reads as pretty racist. And like any dub that tries to match the lips too closely, its got plenty of hilarious moments too.

Over all the effects in this film are pretty impressive. The color and lighting doesn't really compare to how well the black and white helped the believability of the original Gojira, and some of the models (mostly the tanks) didn't really work as well as some of the plane shots.

Unlike Gojira there's not a whole lot to Rodan. It's literally just a supernatural horror/survival film. No huge message, not a lot to it really. Now I'm not saying that's a problem, it is refreshingly simple, but this is a reason why a movie like Gojira is far superior, and will stand the test of time longer.

One of the best things about this film is the mystery and horror of it all. Rodan doesn't show up until the halfway point in the movie and the movie really builds super well up until that point! The horror of the people disappearing in the mines or returning as mauled corpses really plays well, and the mystery of what is down there is awesome. These are the things that really made me feel like Ishiro Honda was at the helm again. This film is like Gojira where the masterful editing storytelling really drags you into the film long before you even see a monster, and then even once you know what is attacking Honda is really good about only giving you brief glimpses of the monstrous kaiju initially and then gradually more and more.

One reason I really recommend people check out this film is the impressive dogfight scenes. There's a really impressive sequence about three-quarters into the film where a group of jet fighter pilots are perusing the Rodan, and the film really excelently is cutting between real stock footage, superimposed monster models and pilots shot on a set and it all works together super simply and well. I was amazed at how exciting is and well this sequence looks almost 60 years later!

Rodan (1956) is an often over-looked early kaiju film that really works well to this day, I highly recommend it!

4.5/5 Stars.

 Happy watching!

I'm tackling all or most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films in honor of the newest Godzilla (2014), check back next time to see my review of another classic Toho kaiju and her(pre-Godzilla battle) origin film; Mothra (1961).

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film (and 5 other classic kaiju films) through these links:

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

     "And it is going to send us all back to the Stone Age!"

Godzilla (2014) is the second attempt at making an original American version of the Japanese monster movie series starring Godzilla. This film from Legendary Pictures is the sophomore outing of Director Gareth Edwards.

Ford's father is obsessed with what he believes is a government cover up that killed his wife. When he travels to Japan to try and bring his father home, he realizes his father was right and the whole world is about to have huge problems.

[Note: this review is a bit spoiler-heavy compared to others, if you care see the movie before reading on.]

The score to Godzilla is pretty good, I enjoyed it and felt it helped add a lot to the action on screen. My only two qualms are that I wish it was more memorable because I honestly couldn't sing any of it right now and sometimes it tipped its cards a little too early revealing something big was coming before it was on screen.

I think a lot of this film's issues come from the bad writing. First off the film has a bunch of bad references to the original Gojira (1954), for seemingly no reason. For example, Ken Watanabe's character is named Dr. Serizawa who happens to be the (eye-patched) character that is the key to defeating Godzilla in the original, and sacrifices himself to do it. Watanabe's character does neither of these things in the new film and clearly isn't related (if these were the same world) because the original guy didn't have kids (he was in the losing side of a love triangle at the time of his death) and Watanabe says his father was killed in Hiroshima. When you do things like this it just makes me think about the original and how much better the ending to that film is than this one! Early on this film sets up the radioactive nature of these creatures, the Muto even feed off of it! And yet the rest of the film doesn't even seem to keep this in mind at all. They drop a nuke that "makes the bombs they had in 1954 look like a firecracker" directly into the San Francisco bay and show absolutely no consequences or even reaction to it! That's just bad writing!

As if that wasn't enough, so much of this film relies on poorly written exposition scenes to explain what the heck is happening. Where characters deliver poorly thought out speeches and have pseudo conversations where they come up with answers with out any explanation (like the sexes of the Muto? How did you decide which one was male and which was female?) Even when the writing isn't horrible it's just mediocre and just the very typical stuff you've seen a million times before. Our lead happens to be at nearly every single place the giant monsters make stop including Japan, Hawaii, Oakland and SF, if that isn't convenient, then I don't know what is! Why does Godzilla wait so long (3 Muto battles I believe?) before he decides to try burning the damn things with his atomic breath? Why is the news reporting Godzilla is a hero when he probably did as much damage as the Muto and he hasn't even left the city yet? Oh yes, convenience. I could go on and on...

Overall the acting in this movie is really great! Bryan Cranston brings so much gravity to the role of a raving lunatic (how often can you say that?) You'll wish he was the only main character! Elizabeth Olsen does so much with the tiny part they gave her that I think she's the only reason I cared about their family at at all. And on the less good part is poor Ken Watanabe who got stuck with a horrible part, his character is two dimensional and really gets stepped over every time he's on screen. Don't they know Ken Watanabe is an amazing actor and deserves better than that? And our lead, Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives a solid performance, but it kind of left me wishing there was something more there. I loved the guy in Kick-Ass (2010) so I'm guessing the issue here is script-based too.

The direction of this film is quite good, I was really impressed. Suddenly it makes sense why the studios would have trusted such a huge property with such a new, young director. Especially if the script is as bad as I imagine, this movie really would have been far worse in the hands of a lesser director. He does a great job of balancing far away up-shots of the kaiju and the straight on monsters fighting shots that are traditionally associated with Japanese kaiju films, while keeping the variety of shots interesting and mixing it up.

There's lots of very memorable parts here too (direction-wise), I loved the way we see close ups of parts of Godzilla but we never really see Godzilla in full until he's right up against the Muto in Hawaii. This helped build a ton of suspense and really helps the viewer see Godzilla as a hero (more so than Dr. Serizawa's babbling) and I loved the first time we see Godzilla use his atomic breath, the way the light starts and builds is such an awesome thing to anyone who's a Godzilla fan and immediately knows what's coming!

I really liked the art direction in this film too. Loved the look of San Francisco in the the final battle with all the fire and the fog, it's such an unique look! And for the most part I really liked the monster/kaiju designs, there was just a couple of weird things like the weird kind of "C" shape that the Muto hatch out of in the beginning don't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Almost every part of Godzilla (2014) is better than your average Summer blockbuster film, every part except the writing.

3.5/5 Stars.

 Happy watching!

Be sure to check back because in honor of this movie, I'm tackling all or most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films. Check back next time for my review of Toho's first color kaiju film, Rodan (1956).

Like this blog? You can support it by the art book to this film through these links:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

     "So, they believe that this Godzilla is responsible for all the ship disasters?"

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) is the American edit of the original Japanese film Gojira (1954). The American edit was directed by Terry Morse and features extended scenes of actor Raymond Burr (who you mig recognize as Perry Mason) spliced in as an American reporter who happens to be in Japan during the initial Godzilla attacks.

[Note: this review is referencing the American, dubbed edit of the film.]

Surprisingly, the English writing in this film is actually pretty good. It's a bit over dramatic but that was the style of the 50s monster movies, so it's very much in line with that.

The Raymond Burr scenes are inserted into the film rather flawlessly. This is ever more apparent when watched nearly back to back with the original (like I just did). But it's cool to see how simply and effectively you can make it look like two people are in the same room together through the magic of editing. I also think it would have been fun to be on set for the filming of Raymond Burr's parts because so much of it would have been filming him watching things off screen silently.

Let me start by saying that most of my issues with this film come only from comparing it to the masterpiece that is the original Japanese Gojira. This film does work on its own quite well but tonally it's quite different than the Japanese version.

Sadly some of the elegance of the Japanese version is lost in this version. This film has a lot faster cuts and far less subtle storytelling (how American!) Unfortunately the faster cuts, and this version's lack of patience to get to the destruction and kaiju lead to a lot of the original's suspense to be lost. A lot of Burr's dialogue seems to over explain the situations unfolding, for example the love triangle between the Japanese heroes is rather bluntly brought up and referred to here, rather than implied as in the Japanese version. And when Emiko brings up Dr. Serizawa's oxygen destroyer in this version it's rather poorly inserted. I couldn't see any reason she would have told Burr about it (and neither could the writers either apparently!)

Additionally there are scenes where the attentive viewer may realize something fishy is going on with the cinematography. There are scenes were Raymond Burr is talking to a character but the camera never shows the face of these characters in the same shot, this is because it's just another actor wearing similar clothing to the Japanese actors and the film (somewhat) cleverly shows only the back of their heads. Or some very obviously looped footage of Dr. Serizawa on the phone during a phone call with Burr's character. These are rather obviously the result of the fact they tried to put Raymond Burr's character in too closely with the main Japanese protagonists of the original film. It would have been fine if Burr was just observing and reporting the events but they had to make him an "old friend" of nearly all the Japanese main characters, which is just problematic.

The really magnificent thing about this film is how much of the original they actually kept. I've seen a lot of dubs and edits in my life and it's unique to find one like this which very much changes the tone and reinterprets the story for another culture, but also keeps much of the original's plot and charm too. If nothing else I recommend watching the two close together some time just as a case study. I liked the way they basically added Raymond Burrs part in by basically taking one of the most minor strands in the original (the Japanese reporters who are on the scene during the first land attack of Godzilla) and expanding upon it.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) is very much the American version of the original Gojira (1954) but it's interesting to see how much of the original they kept.

4/5 Stars.

 Happy watching!

I'm tackling all or most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films in anticipation of the newest Godzilla (2014), check back next time to see my review of it!

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film (and 5 other classic kaiju films) through these links:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

     "Killing Godzilla is hopeless."

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) (ゴジラの逆襲) [literally: Counterattack of Godzilla], also known as Gigantis, The Fire Monster, is the sequel to the original Gojira (1954), released the year before. This is the first film to feature two kaiju and the introduction of Anguirus, Godzilla's rival in this film. This is film was directed by Motoyoshi Oda, and was the only Godzilla film he directed.

Godzilla returns! Well... kinda. While on a rescue mission two pilots accidentally discover ANOTHER Godzilla who is locked in a huge struggle with another giant kaiju that resembles another long-extinct prehistoric dinosaur. Can the humans do anything to stop not one, but two giant kaiju as they make their way toward Osaka?

[Note: this review is referencing the original Japanese version.]

Unlike most sequels you can actually tell that this film's makers actually looked at what worked in the original and tried to play up the things they thought worked in it. For example, not only does this film have twice the amount of action and monster destruction the original had it also has far more of a story involving the protagonist (human) characters. Unfortunately, both of these things managed to be pulled off in a far less interesting way than the original did them!

It was nice to see Takashi Shimura return in this film reprising his role from Gojira (1954) although unfortunately they basically just use him for a cameo and a method for delivering exposition and also to set up the movie for anyone who didn't see the first one, which I actually appreciated because it helps this film stand on its own... though if you did skip Gojira and started this one, do yourself a favor and go back and catch up with the original!

First off, the costumes (for the monsters) look far worse than the original. It's possible the original had the same quality, but the lighting was far better, and the camera never seemed to hold on them for too long, which helped the illusion incredibly. Here the crazy long takes of monsters battling just look awful.

Speaking of which, our kaiju are wrestling the whole movie. Without much explanation, it's just what they do. I'm not saying I need a real good reason for two monsters to fight, I'm just saying the wrestled for so long I began to wonder why they were fighting; there was so little going on in the movie that I began to wonder what the monsters were thinking about. Not to mention Godzilla hardly uses his his flame breath at all, for some reason he just wants to wrestle the entire movie? Which is just silly.

Also the third act of this movie seems really unnecessary. Godzilla finally defeats Anguirus and starts to leave Japan (he really didn't come to destroy any cities in this one) when our human characters decide to attack and stop him for good. Completely opposite of the moral debate that I loved so much in the original Gojira about weather or not to kill him because he is in fact a living creature. This time there's none of that. I actually felt sorry for Godzilla in the end of this one!

Hmm well one thing I can say is I do think this film has some creative action sequences, and it does have some really good effects shots which utilized and made good use of the models they were using, which when two monsters are endlessly brawling for no apparent reason, really did help the movie on a whole.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) probably isn't a horrible film on it's own, it's just far less good (in pretty much every way) than the original Gojira.

2.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

I'm tackling all or most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films in anticipation of the newest Godzilla (2014) movie. Check back next time for my review of the original Gojira's American cut: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956).

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film (and 5 other classic kaiju films) through these links:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Gojira (1954)

     "As a scientist, no, as a human being, I can't allow that to happen!"

Gojira (1954) (ゴジラ), also known as Godzilla,  is the very first in a long line of Toho kaiju (monster) films. Director Ishirō Honda set out to make a very Japanese version of the very American giant monster movies like King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), however unlike those films which used the major time consuming stop-motion method to achieve its special effects, Honda hired special effects guru Eiji Tsuburaya to design a much quicker "actor in a suit" method to achieve a similar effect on film in far less time.

Gojira tells the story of a group of people affected by a giant half-mythical, half-scientific monster seemingly awakened by the recent increase of nuclear weapon use.

[Note: this review will refer to the 96 minute, original Japanese cut of the film.]

The score of this film by Akira Ifukube (who would go on to have a long career as a composer in Japan mostly on other Kaiju films) is a bit too repetitive for my taste but you can't say the main theme isn't memorable. It's strong powerful and really fits the film in a unique and wonderful way.

There's also a kind of interpersonal love triangle between a few of our main characters that, while I appreciate it being there a midst the larger events going on in the world, it didn't really do much for me and is almost too delicately handled for my tastes. But I like the way the relationships with Emiko actually helped tie into the defeat of Godzilla in the end. A lot of other films and stories can't combine the macro and micro stories in the end as well as this film did.

Honestly I don't even have much to complain about this film. Some of the models are very clearly less detailed models which can kill the illusion sometimes. This is mostly only evident with miniature planes and cars as the models of buildings are really spot on and for most of this film it's composed in a way that I really couldn't even tell Godzilla was a man in a suit!

One of my favorite things about this film is it's use of a giant monster as a war analogy. The way Godzilla strikes very suddenly, causes massive amounts of damage and then disappears without warning throughout most of this film really works as a stand it for war, weapons of mass destruction, or whatever other human-created hatred you can imagine. Also like all good war films, this film does a great job at showcasing the people and the families affected by the disaster. It's very hard to watch Ishiro Honda's beautifully laid out shots with the great amount of time he takes to show the destruction both (physically and emotionally) caused by this crisis and not think about turmoil and sorrow the people of Japan had recently faced not long before this film was made.

And in case you missed any of that there's a far less poetic approach bring your awareness to this by the characters discovering and clearly stating that this giant monster in front of them is the direct result of nuclear weapon use. The beautiful thing about all of this is it all plays out very much just like a moral tale, or a "what if" story with a warning without placing any blame on events of the past. Quite respectable and honorable in my opinion.

The major difference between King Kong (1933) and Gojira is the acting here is really quite superb. You may recognize a lot of the actors from Seven Samurai (1954) and other Akira Kurosawa films, and as I said before even though I didn't really care for some of the human element of the story but even so the film's actors are so great and believable that it really helps you get wrapped up in the story, which is SUPER important in a movie about a giant nuclear dinosaur coming from the sea to destroy Tokyo.

I also this is a small thing but I really enjoyed the "very Japanese" touch of our main characters debating the morals of "should we kill it?" Here's a giant monster from the sea and only the Japanese would have the sympathy to realize this is part of nature and argue that maybe we shouldn't kill this living creature. And (although achieved in a different way) it has a similarly bittersweet emotional coda at the end as King Kong has, where although we defeated the monster there's a potent feeling of sadness at the same time. Really beautiful actually.

And I can't end this review without talking about some of the more nuts and bolts filmmaking of this movie because it really is quite a masterpiece. So much of this film is well thought out and masterfully constructed that I really don't know where to start! Story-wise I love the way the film doesn't show Godzilla for the entire first stretch of the film, there's at least two attacks before we even seen the creature and even then it's only brief glimpses until at least the halfway point and after that the camera never even holds on him for long at all. Behind the scenes, lot of this was probably decided due to not being able to show the models and costumes for too long at a time but it really helps the viewer picture much of the horror and fear in their mind and build the anticipation far before Godzilla actually appears on screen.

The masterful cinematography of this film helps to sell a lot of it too. Well thought out upshots at the monster and really low lit, overall dark scenes of Godzilla against a dark sky just really sell the illusion. Also like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and King Kong the film has great special effects shots combining costumed monster shots with real stock footage and shots of people running away edited together really masterfully.

Gojira (1955) is really, really great film, it truely combines art and action masterfully. It's easy to see how it started such a long dynasty of Godzilla films, kaiju movies, and even Ultraman and Supa Sentai shows can trace their origins back to this single highly influential film.

5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

I'm tackling all or most of the early Toho Studios' Godzilla and Kaiju films in anticipation of the newest Godzilla (2014) movie. Check back next time for this film's sequel, Godzilla Raids Again (1955).

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