Godzilla is a Japanese kaiju film directed by Ishirō Honda and stars Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, and Takashi Shimura, with Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka as Godzilla. The narrative is centered on the sudden appearance of a giant monster known as Godzilla (As if it would be anything else), whose attacks trigger fear of the nuclear holocaust during post-war Japan. The film is also noteworthy for pioneering a form of special effects called the situation, in which a stunt performer wearing a suit interacts with miniature sets.
It’s hard to imagine anyone whose slightly ingrained with pop culture to not at least be aware of the existence of this big destructive granddaddy of all monsters. For 65 years, Godzilla remains one of Japan’s most recognizable symbols for the nation’s pop culture, with 35 films and expansions to other avenues of entertainment such as television, music, literature, and video games. It is the kaiju series to end all other kaiju series.
What’s so interesting to me about the films is how tonally different they can be while all sharing the central face of the series. Some of them have been pretty simple actions, others are made to be more accessible to children, and others, such as the one I’m going over today, explore the social and political implications of the mere existence of this monster in our reality. Pretty fitting that it’s also the film that started it all.
I just have to say that if you saw this film before, don’t go in expecting this to be a big crazy blockbuster spectacle. There is spectacle (Though not in the traditionally fun sense one would expect) when Godzilla goes around causing mayhem, but that’s not what the film is about. No, what this film really is about is the destructive nature of nuclear warfare. With the memories of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fresh in the people’s minds, this film shows the clear repercussions of having to live through such a traumatic event. For all intents and purposes, the main character in Japan, with each and every person living in the nation trying to make sense of the possibility that even more devastation is on the way towards them.
That being said, any scene showing Godzilla making a playground of the nation is a pure joy to watch. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious that the special effects more than show their age, but the efforts to make the film as real as possible as the director and crew could do in the time period is respectable. But the big G himself is just as impactful when he’s not on camera. When the film wisely emphasizes the people only a few feet away from imminent destruction, it feels harrowing. It truly serves Godzilla as this unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
Major credit to this film’s success comes with the grounded performances from the cast of talented actors. As previously stated, this film is more centered on the nation rather than a particular person. Still, everyone involved plays a crucial role in making the human drama feel real and tangible. The two big highlights, in particular, are Akihiko Hirata and Takashi Shimura, respectively. Many dramatic moments come down to their work in this film and lends to some of the film’s most moving scenes.
What also helps set Godzilla’s borderline apocalyptic tone comes from Akira Ifukube’s powerful soundtrack. Ifukube’s first outing on this film shows just why that is a common staple of the franchise. Haunting, intense, and every now and then peaceful, the soundtrack is used perfectly to elevate whatever scene it’s used for. He’s also the same man who created the original Godzilla roar and his footsteps (Love how every step sounds like a bomb being set off, it’s a nice touch for this movie), which honestly speaks for itself.
I really love watching movies like Godzilla mainly for two reasons. One, it’s pretty interesting in retrospect thinking in how one film could end spawning a rather massive franchise with such a wide array of installments and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. With how possible for everything to have gone wrong, it’s a real testament to everyone on board that the series became such a huge success.
Secondly is the fact that after all of these years and its outdated technology (Though this was no small feat in regards to the time period), the actual storytelling is still wonderfully top-notch. An engaging narrative matched with compelling human drama and fitting political commentary, Godzilla is still a monster classic for the ages.
Long live the King.