In 1954 Ishiro Honda had directed a movie about a monster that was mean to symbolize the atomic bombs that had been dropped on Japan during World War II. Unbeknownst to Toho, this movie was about to become a worldwide phenomenon that was going to pave the way for a brand new type of genre in Japanese cinema known as the Kaiju genre. In addition to this genre in movies, it is thanks to “Godzilla” that we even have various super hero shows such as “Ultraman” and “Super Sentai.”
“Godzilla” is about a giant radioactive monster that resembles a dinosaur and brings destruction to everything in its wake. The movie starts off with several ships being destroyed all in the same area off the Coast of Odo Island. In time, Dr. Yamane, his daughter Emiko, and Emiko’s lover Odata venture to Odo Island after statements are made of a giant monster attacking the island have risen to public awareness. Some of the islanders believe it to be the work of a sea monster of legend named Godzilla, while others believe it is Mother Nature causing destruction. Nevertheless, Godzilla is revealed to be true during Dr. Yamane’s investigations on Odo Island and the Japanese government is left up to decide what to do with this proven monster’s existence.
One of the best thing about “Godzilla” is its ability to create a monstrous force of nature that represents the horrors of Japan’s past without turning it into a cheesy looking B movie that were known to be coming out in the United States at the time. “Godzilla” brings a sense of suspense as even the characters in the movie talk about surviving the nuclear attacks in Japan while knowing there is a giant monster lurking around at any moment to destroy the country. Not just that, but Ishiro Honda also showcased the horror the bombs brought to Japan even through the actions of its inhabitants during Godzilla’s attack, such as the woman telling her children that they are going to be meeting their dad soon, which is something rarely ever seen or felt in a monster movie of this caliber. In fact, that is one of the things that makes this masterpiece stand out amongst its brethren, as even though it is about a giant monster, it shows the horror of what the monster represents at every interval.
The characters themselves are well rounded and likable, even if some of them are under developed. Dr. Yamane’s disdain for the government wanting to destroy Godzilla instead of study him is an admirable one, as he is a scientist first and foremost. He wants to know how the monster survived a nuclear attack in order to find a way to help those effected by the nuclear holocaust. Emiko seems to be more of the generic female character, but Momoko Koichi plays off her role quite well for what she is. Odata is the exact opposite to Dr. Yamane, as he believes Godzilla needs to be destroyed for the better of Japan. He is pretty straight forward as they go. Finally, there is Dr. Serizawa, who seems to be the most interesting of the cast even though he is in the movie the least. Serizawa is a scientist with an implied past of helping the Germans during WWII and it is his experiments that lead to the defeat of Godzilla. He seems to be an extremely tragic and complicated character as he has created a weapon more power than an atomic bomb. He hates himself for it because he knows it will be used for evil regardless of his intentions even so to the point that he is willing to sacrifice his own life to ensure this never comes to fruition.
Unfortunately, the one character that feels like he was wasted is Shinkichi. He is a teenager whose family was killed when Godzilla first appeared on the island and then he is suddenly living with Dr. Yamane. While it was stated in later movies that Yamane had adopted him, the viewer is just left to wonder what he is even doing there as the movie states nothing of this at all. This is one moment were a simple line could have fixed this little issue. It also does not help that he really does nothing but stand in the background and let Odata know when someone has arrived. There is no bearing on his personality or how he feels about Godzilla nor the death of his family. I personally do not even know what the point of him being adopted by Yamane was, as nothing ever comes out of it.
Being that this is the first Godzilla movie ever, there is really nothing negative to say about the monster’s design. He looks like a giant walking weapon. The only negative would be that sometimes he face looks awkward during the close up shots due to the way his neck moves. It looks like it could be a sock puppet at times rather than a giant monster. It does not detract from the movie, but it seems laughable at times. Nevertheless, Godzilla is big and has a sense of destruction surrounding him. It is also amazing to see how useless Japan is against this creature as their plan to surround the coast with an electrical fence does little to halt Godzilla’s onslaught. He is a walking nuclear bomb and nothing can hold him back.
Lastly, the effects of the movie are still some of the best found in the entire series. The burning of Tokyo is tragic and looks like they actually set the city on fire even though they clearly have not. The breath of Godzilla comes off looking like a person’s breath would in the cold, but it brought an unexpected touch to the monster the first time you see him breath it on screen. All of this is brought together with an incredible score from composer Akira Ifukube, who provides a truly terrific theme for the title monster. His theme will come to be enjoyed by many for years to come and is still to this day one of the best movie character themes of all time.
Overall, I can give the movie nothing short of praises. It does have a few moments of oddity (such as some really weird scene edits) and Shinkichi is a wasted character, but the movie does what it is meant to do. Show the horrors of war and most of all, the terror of what a nuclear weapon can have on a populace that succumbs to its devastation. Unfortunately, out of the countless sequels, no movie in the franchise has been able to fully capture the essence Ishiro Honda brought forth in this movie. There are a few that have come close, but it seems like the majority pushed that aside as they tried to just turn Godzilla into a kid friendly super hero over the years. Even some of the later movies that made Godzilla a villain again seemed to forget what the monster was originally created for as time went on. Hopefully, someone in the future will be able to capture the spirit of this movie be it in another Godzilla sequel or maybe even in an entirely new series yet to be created. Despite its flaws, “Godzilla” deserves a grand 9/10 stars as it is not only the best in its genre, but one of the best movies ever made.