Here in American, we first became aware of Godzilla in the 1956 movie Godzilla, King of the Monsters! But the original version of this movie was Gojira, released in Japan in 1954 and directed by Ishirô Honda. Footage from this movie was used in combination with scenes directed by Terry Morse, which included Raymond Burr as Steve Martin, a reporter. With Martin’s narration and some dubbing added in, the subtitles used in Gojira were unnecessary.
Although the addition of scenes with Raymond Burr might seem a little cheesy, the Morse version is actually an improvement over Honda’s original, and not simply because it eliminates the nuisance of having to read subtitles. Notwithstanding the additional scenes with Burr, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! runs only 80 minutes, whereas Gojira runs for 96 minutes, from which it follows that a lot of footage was eliminated from the latter in producing the former. This is not something to regret. The result is that whereas Gojira drags on at a slow pace, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! moves at a nice clip. Finally, Gojira tells its story from beginning to end, whereas Godzilla, King of the Monsters! begins in medias res, with Steve Martin trying to crawl his way out of the rubble of a destroyed city, who then tells us how things came to be through a flashback. It is this narrative structure that allows for much of the boring material from the original to be summed up by Martin in a few words.
I didn’t expect to review these movies. My favorite film critic is Danny Peary, who included Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in his Cult Movies 2, and so I figured he had probably said it all. However, after seeing both movies back to back, it is clear that on a couple of points he is mistaken. Peary discusses the many ways in which Gojira is a kind of metaphor and commentary on the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945. However, he suggests that in making Godzilla, King of the Monsters! some of this was eliminated:
The American version makes two deletions that arouse suspicions regarding the covering up of references to damage done by the A-Bomb; a young woman (Emiko?) says that she doesn’t want to be a victim of Gojira, “not after what I went through in Nagasaki”; a doctor detects that a little girl has radiation poisoning, and though she is sitting up now, he indicates she is doomed.
The first scene involving a woman, who is not Emiko, by the way, does not say anything about Nagasaki. She is talking to a couple of men about the possibility of Godzilla coming to their city. Reference is made to the radioactive tuna and fallout stemming from the fact that Godzilla himself is very radioactive, and they talk about finding a shelter if Godzilla actually comes to the city, the reference presumably being to air-raid shelters. Now, air-raid shelters were commonly used during World War II to protect people from conventional weapons, so there is no clear reference to the atomic bomb in what they say. Of course, I am only going by the subtitles. But their words in Japanese do not include anything that sounds like “Nagasaki.” On the other hand, if we really want to get all conspiratorial, perhaps the woman’s remark about Nagasaki was cut out or there was dubbing in the Japanese language to make reference to shelters instead. But enough of this. In all likelihood, Peary was wrong about what this woman said.
As for the second scene, the one involving the doctor who indicates that the little girl is doomed by radiation poisoning, this was not eliminated in Morse’s American version. But it occurs much earlier in the movie, owing to the flashback narrative structure, whereas in the original, it takes place much later. This may be what led Peary to think it had been cut out.
I remember seeing a bunch of Japanese monster movies at the Triple Threat Drive-In a long time ago. Binge-watching them like this makes you suspect that if you live in Japan, you can expect Godzilla or some other monster to be heading for Tokyo every other Tuesday. My friends and I began to notice that Godzilla started protecting Japan from other monsters. Peary also noticed this, saying that Godzilla had become a Japanese folk hero during the 1960s. But maybe Godzilla was just being territorial.
Needless to say, some of these Japanese monster movies are better than others. As we used to say in those days when we went to see them at the drive-in, “You pays your money, and you Tokyo chances.”