Godzilla Screen 7 articles



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  • The first surprise is that the original version, directed by Ishiro Honda, is not a kids’ movie, not a hectic teen goof, not a grindhouse shocker but a serious drama of politics, romance, and conscience... The two versions are offered together in Criterion’s DVD double set, and it’s a commonplace that, in the Hollywood version, from 1956, the movie’s cautionary doings... are drastically toned down, and its bitterness toward the United States for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is elided.

  • In one key moment—excised from the American cut—we see two Tokyo commuters, discussing the impending catastrophe, who place the Godzilla in the context of contaminated tuna and black rain. A young woman isn’t risking anything, she says, “Not after I survived the bomb at Nagasaki; I treasure my life.” It’s a digression that places cataclysm into the scale of the quotidian, and if there’s a greater accomplishment in the art of rubber monsters, I can’t imagine what it might be.

  • Clever storytelling manages to confront tragedy from any number of angles, and sometimes swinging at it from the side can be the most affecting. This is a pathos, needless to say, that too few of this film's influences fail to capture.

  • Godzilla transformed the trauma of the war into fun—or art. Ultimately, Honda’s movie belongs with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959), Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove(1964), and Bruce Conner’s Crossroads (1976) as a daring attempt to fashion a terrible poetry from the mind-melting horror of atomic warfare.

  • The artistry of Eiji Tsuburaya's special-effects work encompasses far more than the sheer spectacle of a man in a rubber suit laying waste to those scale-model cityscapes. Tsuburaya and his team seamlessly integrate composites and matte paintings into the mise-en-scène; for every obvious—and potentially risible—miniature, there are a handful of effects-laden shots that still pack an affective wallop.

  • More so than in the jokey sequels, this film’s Godzilla comes off as a potent and provocative metaphor... Honda’s satire is cutting, with several characters resigned to living with the threat of constant cataclysm. And the way the filmmaker shoots his central Tokyo-destroying set piece—with fleeing extras, sky-high flames and wanton destruction—calls up plenty of uncomfortable associations, even as it feels like a nation exorcising its demons. Godzilla is Pop Art as purge.

  • If you know the original “Godzilla” only by reputation, and Godzilla himself only as a camped-up cultural signifier in a rubber suit, then seeing this version may be a real eye-opener. While the acting is hit-and-miss and the story jumps around somewhat confusingly, Honda’s film is a one-of-a-kind experience all the way through, one that stands the test of time better than I had expected.

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