Saturday, November 25, 2006

Gojira’s greatest mutation was yet to be revealed, however. This film uses the slow reveal that characterized some monster movies of this era (like the U.S. atomic “giant ants” classic, Them!, also released in 1954.) At first we see only Gojira’s foot as he comes ashore accompanied by the storm. Then above the rim of a hill outside the village, his head. While the tension builds, preliminary to Gojira’s major appearance, we’re already seeing the destruction and effects on individuals, families and communities is depicted in some detail.

We’re also seeing postwar Japanese life, and the crosscurrents of western and Japanese culture, of the modern world and tradition, in the story of Tanabe, his daughter Emiko, her boyfriend Ogata, and the young scientist to whom she has been betrothed since childhood, Dr. Serizawa. All of this is very important to the power of this film, and most of it is missing from the U.S. version.

The central scenes of this movie, preserved for the most part in the U.S. versions, are Gojira/Godzilla attacking Tokyo twice. The U.S. version cuts an implausible sequence of the attempt to secure the city by erecting high tension towers and wires overnight; it explains that the city is ringed with these towers to begin with. The U.S. version also cuts some of the scenes that deal with the victims, including one that was especially meaningful to the Japanese: a trapped mother and child huddle in a doorway, awaiting their destruction, as the mother tells the child they’ll soon be joining her father—a reference to a soldier or someone else killed in the war.

What U.S. audiences don’t know about these scenes is that the filmmakers paid a great deal of attention to meticulously creating models of the real Tokyo, so that buildings Gojira destroys were as recognizable to Japanese audiences as the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty would be to Americans. (The filmmakers actually got in trouble with authorities, the commentary says, when they were overheard in downtown Tokyo discussing how they were going to “destroy” various buildings.)

The most dramatic moment of these sequences is when Gojira/Godzilla demonstrates a power for the first time—he has a “heat ray” breath that sets buildings aflame. In the U.S. version, this is just another special effect. But after all the references to nuclear weapons and radiation in the Japanese version, it’s clear that this monster has not only been created by atomic power, he has become a walking atom bomb.

The shots of the city aflame had to be a specific reminder of the destruction of Tokyo by U.S. bombs just 9 years before, and the smoldering ruins were very similar to widely published photos of Hiroshima. So, too, the concentration on victims, on the rows of wounded, emphasized the human cost.

No comments: