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Ishirô Honda
Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai
Writing Credits:
Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama (story), Takeo Murata

Civilization crumbles as its death rays blast a city of 6 million from the face of the earth!

Godzilla (a.k.a. Gojira) is the roaring granddaddy of all monster movies. It’s also a remarkably humane and melancholy drama, made in Japan at a time when the country was reeling from nuclear attack and H-bomb testing in the Pacific. Its rampaging radioactive beast, the poignant embodiment of an entire population’s fears, became a beloved international icon of destruction, spawning almost thirty sequels. A thrilling, tactile spectacle that continues to be a cult phenomenon, the original, 1954 Japanese version is presented here, along with Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 “Americanized” version.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Japanese Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 1/24/2012

Disc One:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Kalat
• “Photographic Effects” Featurette
• Interview with Film Critic Tadao Sato
• “The Unluckiest Dragon” Audio Essay
• Trailer
Disc Two:
Godzilla, King of the Monsters Feature Film
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Kalat
• “Cast and Crew” Interviews
• US Version Trailer

• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Godzilla: Criterion Collection (1954)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 19, 2012)

Despite all the ridicule the franchise receives due to its frequently cheap production values and general tackiness, Godzilla remains one of the great movie monsters. After all the bad sequels, it’s worth a look to revisit the character’s origins with 1954’s Godzilla and see how the series began.

Off the coast of Japan, a mysterious force destroys a ship. Rescue vessels suffer the same fate, and survivors describe the scene as one in which the sea “caught fire”. The fishing trade dries up as well, which leads a village elder to proclaim the return of Godzilla, a giant monster who will eat people after he finishes with the aquatic life.

Indeed, something eventually comes ashore and wreaks havoc. Researchers investigate and discover the aforementioned Godzilla, an enormous prehistoric creature who they believe remained hidden undersea until H-bomb tests revived him. Authorities attempt to strike back and drop depth charges on him, but this does little more than annoy the beast. Eventually Godzilla decides to come ashore and lay waste to Tokyo.

As arguably cinema’s two greatest movie monsters, we often get comparisons between King Kong and Godzilla. To be blunt, the big ape wins these pretty easily. In terms of modern remakes, the 2005 Kong tops the 1998 Godzilla, and I also think the original 1933 Kong is substantially superior to this 1954 Godzilla.

But that certainly doesn’t make Godzilla a bad film, and I will give it credit in one area: I think the 1954 Godzilla provides a more ambitious attempt at social commentary than the 1933 Kong. For the most part, the latter offered little more than a popcorn flick; it’s a really good popcorn flick that holds up remarkably well after nearly 80 years, but I don’t see much more to it than that.

On the other hand, Godzilla clearly has something to say about the society from which it emerged, and it manages its message well. Sure, the imagery and symbolism can be a bit heavy-handed at times – and the ending really spells out the film’s thesis – but I still think the movie remains fairly understated most of the time. Honestly, it took guts to make a flick that so closely connected to the then-recent horrors of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki; don’t forget those events took place less than a decade before the picture’s creation and obviously would’ve been well-remembered by the citizenry.

This sense of social conscience manages to make Godzilla something more than just a mindless adventure. It adds a layer of sadness to the proceedings, as we don’t get a simple tale in which the good guys – ie, the humans – try to kill the evil monster. Indeed, we develop a moderately sympathetic view of Godzilla. He’s just a tired old dude who gets disturbed from his slumber by the misdeeds of mankind – can you blame him if he’s irritated and acts out just a little?

Okay, the utter destruction of Tokyo may be more than “just a little”, but I like the character’s portrayal. Godzilla never gets the sense of humanity and personality given to Kong, but he still receives our natural sympathy, and as a symbol, he creates an effective representation of the dangers represented by the nuclear age.

Beyond all the messages and meanings, Godzilla works reasonably well as an action movie. It certainly starts out nicely, as I love the opening title sequence; the auditory display of Godzilla’s stomps and roars gives us a great teaser for the mayhem yet to come.

Actually, the audio acts as one of the movie’s strong points from start to finish. Again, I like the sounds attached to Godzilla, as they’re awesome and scary, but other aspects of the mix embellish the story as well. The soundtrack remains surprisingly restrained and doesn’t overwhelm us with effects or music. Those choices make the elements we do hear all the more impressive.

Godzilla tends to falter in terms of characters, story and pacing, though. On the positive side, I like the choice to postpone our initial encounters with Godzilla. We hear him a little and see quick glimpses of him, but we must wait quite a while to experience the creature in all his glory. That’s a good decision, as it creates suspense and a greater impact when we do view him.

While I like the slow reveal of the creature, other aspects of the pacing work less well. Primarily, the scenes that focus on the humans – ie, the love triangle – fizzle. The film leaves the Godzilla-related plot for extended periods to explore the relationships among those characters, and when it does so, it invariably comes to a screeching halt. Granted, those sequences do include some monster-related information, so they’re not utterly gratuitous, but they’re close, and the manner in which they interrupt the narrative creates problems.

I also find it hard to defend the visual effects, which I think were lackluster even for the film’s era. In his audio commentary, historian David Kalat tries to defend the effects, but I don’t really buy it. Although I don’t expect killer visuals from this era, I’d anticipate better work than we see.

Despite the problems with pacing, effects and some characters, Godzille does manage to work pretty well, and it set up the “monster movie” template in a positive manner. With its mix of social commentary and action, it delivers a satisfying adventure.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus A

Godzilla appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While I’m sure the folks at Criterion did their best with the material, the movie still came with a mix of concerns.

Sharpness seemed erratic. Though much of the film demonstrated good definition, more than a few examples of softness occurred. Some of these came from poor source photography, but others were less logical. In any case, overall clarity was fine, and I noticed no issues with jaggies, shimmering or edge haloes.

Print flaws created the most substantial distractions here. Throughout the movie, I saw quite a few examples of scratches; at times, these made it look like rain appeared on screen. Unsurprisingly, these dominated effects shots and were much less prominent during other scenes, though they still appeared, and the image could be somewhat jittery and flickery.

Blacks varied. Some of the movie showed deep tones and good contrast, but others displayed mushy blacks and a sense of excessive brightness. Shadows also tended to be too dark, usually due to poor “day for night” photography; those filters made some shots awfully opaque. Again, I think Criterion did their best with what I’d guess were flawed 58-year-old source elements, but this still resulted in an inconsistent, sometimes unattractive presentation.

I also felt the monaural audio of Godzilla seemed lackluster but acceptable given the movie’s age and origins. Speech varied; some lines appeared fairly natural and concise, but others could be rough and edgy. I couldn’t easily judge intelligibility since I don’t speak Japanese; I’d estimate that the work remained intelligible but lacked strengths.

Music was generally decent. The score could sound somewhat shrill at times, but it usually appeared acceptably full. The same went for effects; while these occasionally came across as distorted, they still provided acceptable clarity and even threw if a little heft from Godzilla’s footsteps. Nothing here was memorable, but the mix was decent for its period.

Expect a nice collection of extras in this two-disc set. On DVD One, we find the flick’s trailer as well as an audio commentary from film historian David Kalat. He provides a running, screen-specific look at socio-political/scientific background and influences, the film's origins and development, story/characters, themes/interpretation, cast and crew notes, various effects, music and audio, the movie's reception and legacy.

On another website, I read a review of Kalat’s commentary in which he was described as “too emotional”, a factor that the critic felt made the track difficult to take. I find myself befuddled by those sentiments. Where someone else heard “too emotional”, I heard passion and intense interest in the subject; Kalat clearly loves most things Godzilla, and that affection comes through during his enthusiastic chat.

Kalat backs up his ardor with a high level of expertise. He digs into a wide variety of useful subjects and does so with detail and insight. Kalat leaves few stones left unturned in this delightful, informative piece.

DVD One also includes three featurettes. Photographic Effects lasts nine minutes, five seconds as it offers comments from effects director Koichi Kawakita and effects photographer Motoyoshi Tomioka. We see original effects photos from the shoot and learn a few details related to them. This ends up as a mediocre piece, at least during the first half; we don’t view enough of the pictures, as “talking head” shots dominate, and the remarks are only occasionally informative. The featurette’s second half focuses on photos and is more interesting, though it’s still not great stuff.

Next comes a 14-minute, four-second Interview with Film Critic Tadao Sato. In this chat, Sato discusses the era in which the film existed, social and political elements and aspects of the movie’s release and impact. While Sato touches on some of the same topics as Kalat, he does so from a different perspective, and that makes this a useful piece.

An audio essay called The Unluckiest Dragon goes for nine minutes, 38 seconds and provides notes from Columbia University’s Greg Pflugfelder. He discusses the fate of the Japanese fishing boat “Daigo Fukuryu” and how it influenced the narrative of Godzilla. Pflugfelder delivers a concise overview of the subject in this quality program.

Over on Disc Two, the main attraction comes from 1956’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the “Americanized” reworking of the flick. It runs one hour, 20 minutes, 49 seconds and offers some radical changes from the Japanese original. The biggest change comes from the addition of footage shot specifically for this edition. We meet Steve Martin (Raymond Burr), an American reporter who lays over in Japan to meet up with an old friend before he goes to an assignment in Cairo. When the disasters at sea occur, Steve sticks around to get the scoop, and he ends up in the middle of subsequent action.

Essentially, Martin exists as a way to avoid subtitles. We get a fair amount of dubbed dialogue, but we also hear plenty of original Japanese; Steve either explains it via narration or has someone interpret for him.

This does allow the movie to avoid those dreaded subtitles, but it creates problems of its own. The dubbed dialogue sounds silly, and the scenes in which body doubles fill in for the original Japanese actors look positively goofy.

The American cut moves the action along more quickly and dispenses with a lot of the character subplots, for better and for worse. While those hurt the original version’s pacing, the American edition seems more soulless and one-dimensional.

Ultimately, though it may be cheesy, the American cut isn’t truly bad; it’s just Another Monster Movie without any of the Japanese edition’s drama and meaning. I’m glad it’s included here, though, as it’s the one millions grew up watching and will be appreciated by them.

Along with the American version’s trailer, we get another David Kalat audio commentary for King of the Monsters. In this running, screen-specific chat, Kalat discusses a lot of elements related to the Americanization of the film, as well as other aspects of its production and legacy. Here’s where he offers the defense of the visual effects that I mention in the body of my review. Once again, Kalat remains involved and active as he goes over the flick and the franchise; it’s another terrific listen.

Under Cast and Crew, we get some video interviews. These include sessions with actor Akira Takarada (12:57), Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima (9:47), effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai (30:06) and composer Akira Ifukube (50:40). Takarada gets into his casting, experiences during the shoot, and his reactions to the film’s release/legacy, while Nakajima hits on similar topics, though with an emphasis on the challenges related to working in the Godzilla suit. Both men deliver interesting glimpses of the film’s particular acting challenges.

Irie and Kaimai touch on the design and creation of the Godzilla suit as well as dealing with problems and other effects work. Kaimai dominates but both men offer good details and insights about the nuts and bolts of the creature’s on-screen execution. Recorded in 2000, Ifukube delivers an in-depth discussion of his career as a whole, with many specifics about Godzilla. It’s a likable, engaging piece that finishes this fine collection of interviews.

Just like all other Criterion releases, Godzilla comes with a booklet. This 16-page affair includes an essay called “Poetry After the A-Bomb” from critic J. Hoberman as well as some credits and photos. It’s not one of Criterion’s best booklets, but it’s a worthwhile addition.

Note that Criterion did something a little different with the DVD’s packaging as well. When you open the case, you get a little pop-up Godzilla. This offers a fun touch.

Nearly six decades after its release, Godzilla remains a quality monster flick. It boasts more depth than its brethren and succeeds despite a mix of flaws. The DVD provides erratic but acceptable picture and audio as well as a terrific set of supplements. I recommend this fine set, as it brings home Godzilla well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main