Cast: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami
Extras: US-Cut of the Film, Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Trailers
A lot has been said about the heavy-handed re-working of Ishiro Honda's classic masterpiece "Gojira" for American audiences. Cut down from its 97-minute original Japanese version to a meager 79-minutes and ineptly inserting footage of Raymond Burr as an onlooker and commentator on the events, "Godzilla, King Of The Monster" was never a film anyone could really take seriously. The Japanese original "Gojira" is a different story entirely and finally, after years and years of waiting the uncut classic is finally making it to DVD from Classic Media.
"Gojira" started a legacy of 30-years of monster mayhem and allowed Godzilla to run rampant in countless movies, facing and obliterating countless foes, many of which became just as famous and notorious as the Big G himself. King Gidhora, Gigan and Mothra come to mind instantly, of course, but there is no end to the wealth of kaiju that "Gojira" spawned. My personal hope is that even in years to come we will see new "Godzilla" movies, as this is truly one undying creature that, for some reason, never becomes boring.
The plot of "Gojira" is fairly simple and without much twaddle. It is an eloquent allegory for Hiroshima, the H-bomb tests in the Pacific Rim during the 50s and, of course, the aftermath of World War II.
Ships are attacked by a vicious creature at night, destroying the vessels, hardly leaving anyone alive. The few who do survive tell stories about a huge prehistoric creature that rose from the sea and call it "Godzilla" – "Gojira" in the Japanese original. Godzilla is a creature mutated by the effects of radioactivity from atomic bombs and grown to enormous proportions. With its radioactive breath, it destroys and melts everything in its way. Shortly after the first sightings, the monster heads towards Tokyo. Nothing can stop this hostile creature and in no time it stomps through the city, leaving behind nothing but devastated ruins and shattered lives. No weapons seem to harm the creature, and the only hope is pinned on Dr. Serizawa, a moody scientist, who invented the "Oxygen Destroyer", a weapon that destroys any kind of life – but what if this powerful weapon falls into the wrong hands?
Despite a certain ridiculousness the movie may have on viewers when judged by today's standards, "Godzilla" had a very serious note when it was released in 1954, part of what made it such a classic. It is clearly a creation of the Japanese society of the 50s, painting a metaphor for the wounds inflicted on Japan by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the World War II holocaust this country had just suffered. Godzilla represented all their fears and all their hopes. By defeating the monster, they defeated their fear; it became representative for a nation that overcame complete destruction by focusing and rebuilding it. It is therefore hardly surprising to find that the movie takes itself quite seriously, a fact that drastically changed with some of the upcoming sequels.
The film also established a tradition that has barely been broken until this day by making heavy use of miniature photography and actors in rubber suits. Undoubtedly this accounts for a large part of the charm of these movies. It's just plain fun to watch an actor – Haruo Nakajima in these early movies – wear a 300-pound monster suit, having the time of his life, stomping on models of Tokyo, destroying everything in sight. The way Nakajima portrayed the creature gave it a lot of fierce personality and charm, creating an unforgettable monster, one that at the same time was quite sympathetic. Nakajima, by the way, played Godzilla in more than 12 movies and also gave life to countless other giant monsters until his retirement in 1972.
Classic Media has decided to make this release special by including the Japanese "Gojira" as well as a butchered American version "Godzilla, King Of The Monsters" in the release. While "King of The Monsters" has been released on DVD years ago through now-defunct Simitar, the Japanese original is available on DVD for the very first time in the US with this DVD. Time to celebrate, no doubt!
The transfer is okay, though not a spectacular as Godzilla fans will have hoped for. There are significant blemishes in the transfer, including scratches, dust and registration problems, causing the image to waver slightly. Also, the transfer is incredibly dark. Too dark for my taste to be honest. Many of the nighttime scenes and especially the 13-minute Tokyo stomp are shrouded in blackness making it impossible to make out details. It is hard to tell what the film originally looked like but I am sure fans would have loved to see a restoration-pass on the transfer that balances the film's contrast. The transfer is also incredibly soft, so that even in regularly lit scenes details are mediocre.
That aside, it is very cool to see the original version of the film on DVD in all its glory and fans will undoubtedly rejoice at the occasion.
The DVD contains the original Japanese mono audio track of the movie that is solid and without major defects.
As extras, a commentary track featuring Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, both writers of Godzilla related materials. The two bask in the film, you can clearly tell. Full of valuable information, insight, production details and actor bios, there is not a single second in the track that is not covering an aspect of the movie, its history, legacy or production.
Also included is a 12-minute featurette by Ed Godziszewski about the story development of the film. While it is very interesting and offers some wonderful production art, the scholarly tone of Godziszewski as he reads from his notes doesn't work so well for me. The same is true for Godziszewski's featurette on the creation of the Godzilla rubber suit. It is exceedingly interesting but the monotonous voice-over is not a lot of fun. The disc is rounded out by the movie's trailer.
On a second disc we find the American version "Godzilla, "King Of The Monsters." For the most part the transfer suffers from the same problems as "Gojira" but seems to have a bit more balanced contrast overall.
The film is also accompanied by a commentary track featuring Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle, as they go over the film with the same level of enthusiasm and expertise as with "Gojira." The movie's trailer is also included.
To round out the release you will find a very cool and informative 16-page booklet in the DVD case, offering great info and pictures.
Even though the image quality of the release leaves something to be desired, fans of this film probably couldn't care less. The ability to own the original "Gojira" on DVD finally will easily compensate for the technical shortcoming. The commentary tracks are also excellent and add immense information and value to the release. The DVDs have cool menus using vintage artwork further leaving a good impression, as does the low $30 price point of this wonderful 2-disc DVD release that comes in a cool custom packaging. The verdict is simple and clear. "Gojira" has to be in every kaiju fan's DVD collection.