Ishiro Honda’s cult classic ‘Gojira’ spawned the Japanese monster-movie movement and bore huge success in both Japan and the U.S.
The film begins with several fishing boats being mysteriously destroyed out at sea and as concern grows around the nation a village elder ominously mentions the mythical sea monster known as ‘Gojira’. As scientists are hired to understand why the boats have been disappearing their research leads them face to face with the sea lizard.
It is said that Gojira has been living in the dark depths of the ocean since the Jurassic Period and that a nuclear explosion has forced it away from it’s usual habitat. The military are pormptly called in to kill the monster but this only worsens the situation.
The film hits it’s peak as the marauding monster heads into the heart of Tokyo, destroying everything in it’s path with immense strength and fire. Even with precautionary electric pylons built across the ocean line to prevent such a disaster, Gojira walks through them with ease, and the Professor (Takashi Shimura) states that if nuclear radiation didn’t kill it, what would?
The country’s salvation lies with Doctor Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) and his Oxygen Destroyer, quite a self-explanatory contraption that eliminates all oxygen atoms from water and forces organisms to die of asphyxiation. After deliberation over the repercussions of making such a weapon known to the public they decide it best to utilise it and then destroy it for good lest it falls into the wrong hands. A troupe hunt down Gojira’s location out at sea and dive in to activate the Oxygen Destroyer, however, knowing that the equations and science will forever be stored in his mind, Serizawa cuts the oxygen chord from his diving suit and chooses to die alongside the beast.
For a modern audience the special effects do seem quite tame but it’s important to remember this was made 60 years ago and when Gojira stomps on the Toho theatre in the film, viewers watching the film in the same theatre rushed out thinking it was actually happening. The miniatures have influenced special effects enthusiasts like George Lucas and Peter Jackson in their works, not to mention the unique style of sound mixing used to create Gojira’s primordial roar. In other words, this is an important film in sci-fi genre history but also mainstream cinema as well.
As well as being a landmark for practical filmmaking, the film bears further importance. Gojira is a creature that was irked by nuclear testing and wrecked havoc on Japan due to nuclear weapons, it can be said the film is pacifist and anti-war. Having been released only nine years after the devastating events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gojira is a manifestation of the products of nuclear warfare: destruction and despair. Much like Vietnam or 9/11 and American cinema, Hiroshima/Nagaski were a huge influence on Japanese cinema and art.
It will be interesting how Gareth Edwards, having already directed ‘Monsters’ in 2010, copes with a much larger franchise of monster-movie. Judging from the trailers one thing’s for sure, it can’t be worse than the ’98 version starring Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno.