Viking Night: Gojira/Godzilla: King of the Monsters
By Bruce Hall
May 13, 2014
For a few months in 1977, my favorite thing in the world was my Mattel Shogun Warriors Godzilla. This hideous, impractical, molded plastic monstrosity accompanied me everywhere I went; the ultimate security blanket; the ultimate Parent’s Bane. The damn thing was 20 inches tall and had a spring loaded fist, ideally weighted for knocking fragile things off the kitchen counter, or getting inconveniently lodged under the couch. It didn't even really DO anything (unless you consider constantly being in the way a thing), and it was as flimsy as a stale croissant. But looking back, I really had no room to judge. The poor kid who made it probably wasn't much older than me.
Godzilla still holds a special place in my heart and with Gareth Edwards' reboot upon us; I felt the urge to look back. To cover all my bases, I took in both the aforementioned American version (which I haven’t seen in forever) and the original Japanese cut (which I haven’t seen in about half-forever), simply titled “Gojira”. Ishiro Honda’s original film is superior, but the American cut is very well made - each is an historic achievement in its own right and I genuinely enjoy them both. But for the sake of not tying your mind in knots, I'm going to focus on the better one and highlight the differences - like the way one has a giant, confused looking white man standing around chain smoking in almost every scene.
It's hard for us to imagine, but a lot of soul searching happened in Japan after World War II, and some of that is reflected in Gojira. Forget the later films, when Godzilla turns into Jim Belushi, and has a fat little son that's worse than a hundred Wesley Crushers. Gojira is a dead serious film about why you shouldn’t tempt nature, and it begins with a mysterious force wiping fishing boats from the sea like toys. Fishing is kind of a big deal in Japan, so the potential disruption of the national food supply starts a national panic. Villagers on the islands in the area speak ominously of a vengeful sea spirit called “Gojira”, whose job is to punish mankind when he gets too uppity. Meanwhile, Japan’s greatest minds have gathered in Tokyo to talk turkey. They appoint Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) head of a fact finding mission, and they charter a boat to investigate.
The team discovers footprints the size of swimming pools, lined with primordial ooze and buzzing with radiation. Just as they begin to suspect they might have a giant radioactive lizard on their hands Gojira appears, scares the hell out of everyone, drops the mic and leaves. Yamane determines that the use of nuclear weapons has awakened the monster and mutated him into an unstoppable, fire breathing murder machine that eats boats for breakfast. The military responds by dropping hundreds of depth charges right on top of the Gojira’s crib. The creature responds in the most awesome way possible, which is to rise out of Tokyo bay and stomp the absolute shit out of the city. Guns, tanks, planes, bombs, electricity, harsh language – all of these things just piss the beast off even more. It seems the natives were right; a wrathful force of nature has arrived to make humanity pay for its sins.
And this is where things get weird. You remember that boat Dr Yamane’s team took out to the islands? It was captained by Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), a hunky sailor who is having an affair with Yamane’s daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi), who is engaged to be married to Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), a colleague of Yamane’s who just might be working on a super-secret science machine that can save Japan. The only catch is, Serizawa is so terrified of the device he’s created that he refuses to acknowledge its existence, lest it be perverted into a doomsday weapon. So to save the country, Emiko has to join forces with the guy she’s banging to convince her fiancé to unleash one unspeakable horror in order to destroy another. And of course, there’s the whole awkward matter of introducing your boyfriend to the man you no longer wish to marry while a giant atomic lizard reduces the city around you to rubble. Emily Post has nothing for this.