Godzilla (Ishiro Honda / Japan, 1954):

Kurosawa analyzed it a year later in I Live in Fear, yet Ishiro Honda had already pushed the thesis into its fullest expression, using a stout Jurassic dragon to embody atom-age trauma. Nature's been contaminated in post-war Japan, a fevered flurry of images illustrates coastal vessels incinerated by an aquatic glow ("The ocean just blew up," one survivor cries). The great name is first uttered by a village elder and derided as a "relic," but this is a work about the past and the future, in which the prehistoric creature, roused by nuclear blasts, materializes like Poe's Sphinx on "the naked face of the hill." Military forces are mobilized, though an old paleontologist (Takashi Shimura) wants it studied; his daughter (Momoko Kochi) is vaguely torn between a seaman (Akira Takarada) and a scientist (Akihiko Hirata), the latter equipped with eye-patch and an aquarium full of unspeakable experiments. Godzilla's arrival in Tokyo is greeted with evacuations, searchlights, and a giant electrified fence, the extended smash-a-thon that follows alternates between the majestic evocation of modernist shock and the primitivist illusionism of someone in a baggy lizard suit tearing through a diorama. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still fresh wounds, Honda remembers them acridly before the beast's rampage ("The shelters again? That stinks!") and somberly after it, focusing on trenchant human wreckage (wailing children, crushed families, tentative peace hymns). The visions used for childlike pop in the sequels are here invested with free-floating dread, contemporary anxiety given a scaly, lethal tail (King Kong is its forerunner, Larry Cohen's Q its heir). Godzilla is a radioactive steamroller but, to quote Raymond Burr in Godzilla 1985, "a strangely innocent and tragic monster," both marauding predator and product (victim?) of the epoch -- when Hirata's doomsday Alka-Seltzer is climactically launched into the depths of the sea, the behemoth receives it with the wounded gravity of a Ray Harryhausen creature. In modern times, a kraken pales next to the horrors forged by mankind. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home