On 3 November 1954, the first and greatest of all Godzilla movies, “Gojira!”, was released in Japan and launched the “Kaiju” or great monster genre in movies. (Stop! I know! But that’s a good enough translation for a silly FB post.) “Gojira” is the combination of two Japanese words: “gorira”, which means gorilla and “kujira”, whale.
Unlike its 29 sequels, Gojira! didn’t focus on the monster fighting another monster, or Gojira stomping on Tokyo. Gojira! was a much darker and more serious movie than its successors. It is actually one of the few Kaiju movies where Gojira was the bad guy, and for good reason.
In the movie, Gojira was released from the depths of the ocean due to American atomic weapons testing and the monster is an obvious metaphor for atomic weapons. In 1954, the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the non-atomic destruction of nearly every other Japanese city during World War Two, were fresh in Japanese minds. Also, in early 1954, the Japanese fishing trawler “Lucky Dragon #5” had then recently strayed too close to an American atomic test in the Pacific and most of the crew died horribly from radiation poisoning. This event is a direct parallel to Gojira destroying the fishing trawler in the opening minutes of the movie. So unlike most of its sequels, the film had a story that took precedence over the monster stomping on the city, and it is much better for it. The Japanese flocked to see Gojira!, and it was an instant critical and financial success.
Two years later, Gojira! was released in the United States as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters”, but it was heavily edited. It starred Raymond Burr as a reporter in Tokyo and his bits were spliced into Gojira!. This forced some of the Japanese story to be edited out in favor of the monster stomping on Tokyo. Finally, because Gojira! was such a success in Japan, every effort was made to get it right in America. For example, the English voice overs in GKoM were done with care, something that wasn’t carried forward in the next decades.
If you can find a copy of the Criterion Collection Gojira! with English subtitles (far superior than any other version, and there are many) it’s worth a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of sake.