A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 559 – Gojira

Gojira – September 10th, 2011

When we decided to undertake this whole big project Andy and I had to first create a list of everything we owned. That on its own was a huge task. We had to ferret out all our DVDs, and since we have a small apartment with limited shelf space we’d stashed them wherever there was space. That took a while. Then we went through and made a spreadsheet for it all. Title, running time, whether each of us had seen it or not, where it lived in the apartment, date of review, etc. For the most part we took the running times off the DVD cases. A couple of them didn’t specify a running time so for those we looked online. And most of the time? It worked out a-ok. The trouble is that there seems to be no real regulation for how these things are listed. And so this movie was noted in our spreadsheet as having a 176 minute running time. That’s actually the combined running time for both this and the edited for the US Godzilla, King of the Monsters! included in the same set. Oops.

For that reason, we’d been putting this off a bit. Andy wanted to do the original Japanese version back to back with the US edit and that running time was a bit of an obstacle. Finally we buckled down and put it in. And it was good! Really dark and really interesting and really well done. But as the movie went on I started to wonder about the pacing. I mean, I’ve watched a lot of movies. I’d watched a lot well before we started this project but I think now I can definitely state I’ve seen a lot of movies. And the pacing just didn’t feel right. Here were the two male leads putting on diving suits, preparing to unleash a deadly weapon on the monster after several failed attempts to kill it. There’d been mass destruction and death and a fight between the male leads and a tearful revelation by the female lead and it all pointed to the movie ending relatively soon. And yet we were at just under an hour and a half. So I looked it up. 98 minutes. It’s more than a little disorienting to realize a movie is over an hour shorter than you expected. But it does mean that there’s nothing wrong with the pacing!

My background with Godzilla isn’t remotely the same as Andy’s. He grew up watching monster movies. I grew up watching stuff like Solarbabies. I think he got the better end of the deal, much as I love Solarbabies and will love it forever. But I think it’s important for me to note that my family wasn’t a movie-going family and we also weren’t too much of a movie-watching family outside of a few particular favorites. I really started getting into movies in high school and I admit, monster movies weren’t something I sought out. I saw quite a few through MST3K and I didn’t try to go any further. I was quite aware that Godzilla had been edited for western audiences and that while the newer movies in the franchise were, sometimes, on the silly side, the original was far more serious. I just hadn’t ever made the time to watch it.

Silly, really, because this is a classic and well deserving of its status as one. This is a far cry from the cheese of something like Godzilla vs. Megalon. The story is the introduction of the titular monster, but also more a parable of destructive force causing tragedy and the morality of using greater destructive force against it. As an allegory for nuclear war it’s pretty obvious. At least to me at this point in history. But that doesn’t mean it’s poorly done. Just the opposite, in fact. Because it’s a good story and a good monster movie, regardless of the allegorical implications.

The story begins with a series of mysterious attacks on boats. There are no survivors found until one washes ashore on the beach of a nearby island and only lives long enough to give a few vague details. As the monster continues its periodic destruction the people of Japan begin to realize just how bad it can get. The locals on the island that’s first affected have some inkling of what’s going on, having had legends of a monster from the sea. Everyone else has to learn the hard way: By seeing the monster destroy their homes and families. Once it’s clear that there’s a real threat here the folks in charge start to talk about just how they’re going to deal with it. Many want the monster killed, but a few, such as paleontologist Professor Yamane, believe the monster should be studied as well. The professor’s daughter’s suitor, however, believes the monster must be killed. So that right there puts them at odds. And then there’s Dr. Serizawa, who has created a weapon that could destroy the monster, but could then be co-opted by others for less necessary purposes. This all creates a good deal of character tension in the midst of the horrific disasters and that makes for a more solid story.

If there wasn’t much in the way of character interaction then the whole allegory would just fall apart. The allegory is rooted in the interactions. Because it’s clear in the movie that there is no good answer. That either the monster will continue wreaking havoc or a terrible weapon will have to be unleashed to stop it. There’s no right answer there. There’s no good answer there. Of course the destruction has to stop, but the cost of stopping it is so great. This movie doesn’t pull its punches. It lets you know just how bad it got, from scenes of devastated cities to children crying over their dead parents. And the effects and cinematography are still fantastic, even now. The music too, adds to the whole mood of the movie. It’s somber and grave. This isn’t a monster movie you watch for fun. It’s a thoughtful commentary on arms escalation and morality, but told with explosions and a huge monster and all the trappings of monster action flicks.

September 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gojira

September 10, 2011

Gojira

I have a long history with the Godzilla films. I’ve been a fan since I first saw the big rubber galoot during the Channel 56 Creature Double Feature. The movies had everything a thirteen year old boy could want in a movie. Aliens. Robots. Giant rubber monsters. Hilarious dubbing. I always wanted, however, to see the movies in a more pure form, un-dubbed and un-cut. I figured when DVD came around that Toho would eventually come out with special editions of the movies with sub-titles for American audiences so we could see the films the way they were meant to be seen. Since the movies are generally considered light-weight pop sci-fi this hasn’t really come to pass unfortunately, but this, the first Godzilla movie is an exception.

This film is not a popcorn sci-fi film for kids – it’s a serious disaster movie and obvious allegory about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. In addition, as the progenitor of the entire Godzilla line, and indeed the beginning of the Japanese giant rubber monster genre, this film has special historical significance. So it was that for the fiftieth anniversary Toho released this deluxe edition DVD set that includes the original Japanese Gojira movie. At last I got to see at least one of the Godzilla movies in its original form.

It’s a good thing, too, because if ever there was a movie that needed to be seen in Japanese with English subtitles to be properly appreciated it is this one. This movie is so quintessentially Japanese. Before the infamous monster ever appears on the screen we spend an awful lot of time being introduced to the little fishing village where he starts his reign of terror. As with many a monstery disaster movie the film starts out as more of a mystery. What has caused a small fleet of fishing boats and the boats sent to rescue them to disappear? There are only a couple survivors and they say that it was a monster that destroyed their boats. A supremely grizzled old man declares that it must be the same monster that used to terrorise the village known as Gojira.

At the heart of this movie are four human characters. There’s the scientifically minded paleontologist Dr Yamane who is the first to piece together just what the monster is. There’s his lovely daughter Emiko. There’s her fiance Ogata, and her childhood friend the one-eyed mad scientist Serizawa. Then of course there’s the two million year old living fossil with radioactive breath from hydrogen bomb tests – Godzilla himself.

Dr. Yamane doesn’t actually want the beast destroyed. He’d rather study the monster to understand it and how its species remained alive on the ocean bottom long after such dinosaurs were thought extinct. This causes some friction with Ogata, who takes a while to gather the nerve to ask the doctor if he can have his daughter’s hand in marriage, but insists that Godzilla is a threat that must be eliminated at all costs. Serizawa, meanwhile, has developed an ultimate weapon called an Oxygen Destructor that could probably destroy the monster, but he doesn’t want it to fall into the hands of politicians who could corrupt it and start a new arms race. He tells only Emiko of his discovery and swears her to secrecy.

A couple things struck me as I watched this again tonight. The first was just how bleak parts of this movie are. After Gojira’s attack on Tokyo there are several scenes in infirmaries and hospitals that drive home that this attack has not just destroyed a bunch of detailed models and set fire to sets – it has had a brutal impact on the people of Japan. There are irradiated children. There is a dead woman and her inconsolable daughter. There are hundreds of bodies on stretchers. It is a powerful scene of emotional devastation which must have been even more intense when the film first came out, less than ten years after Japan became the only nation on the planet ever to be attacked with nuclear weapons.

The other thing that struck me this time was the caliber of the talent brought on board for this movie. Of course the monster itself and the destruction it wreaks are fantastic to watch. The special effects work as well today as they ever did. I also love the actors they have on board. In particular I was amused when I thought I recognised the actor playing Dr. Yamane and checked IMDB to find that he is the ubiquitous Takashi Shimura (who we will also be seeing in The Seven Samurai when we review that for our collection.) Glancing at his resume leads me to believe that he probably starred in every Japanese movie made in the twentieth century. Or close to it.

I still heartily wish that there were a comprehensive Godzilla special edition collection that gave the same kind of attention to even the cheesiest and stupidest of Godzilla movies as is lovingly provided to the original on this DVD, but at least for now I can take comfort in the fact that we have this one movie in our collection. I’ve proposed the idea to Amanda that we should watch the dubbed American version tomorrow as a separate film, since so much was altered to make it more palatable for American audiences. We’ll see how we feel about that tomorrow.

September 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment