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Not Rated
Copyright 1956 Toho Company
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 3 August 2007

The Characters:  

  • Steve Martin - Raymond Burr! American press correspondent who finds himself in the middle of the biggest story in history. Learns the hard way that some newsworthy events can be dangerous (insert Sean Penn joke here).
  • Dr. Yamane - Takashi Shimura! How did this crackpot ever become the most respected authority on dinosaurs?
  • Emiko - She loves fish. If she ever gets married, it will not be to a man who could harm a fish (she is a strict Roman Catholic).
  • Ogata - Naval officer who loves Emiko. He is willing to pretend that he does not eat fish (he is an inverse Roman Catholic) if she will marry him
  • Dr. Serizawa - Along with wearing an eye patch, this scientist invented a compound that will completely destroy all of the oxygen present in seawater. The reason? He hates fish (he is an unhappy Roman Catholic). Reduced to a skeleton by his own invention.
  • Officer Iwanaga - Of course I love my job. There is nothing I would rather do than escort a stupid American reporter around and translate for him. Yup, loving my job. Thanks a lot.
  • Godzilla - A prehistoric monster that was reincarnated by the Pacific Nuclear Tests. He becomes extremely angry when he realizes that the rest of the species is extinct, meaning no mating season. Finally stopped by the oxygen destroyer weapon.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

First, and quite importantly, I need to make sure that you know this review is for the Americanized version of the film, titled "Godzilla, King of the Monsters." When I refer to "Gojira" I am referencing the original Japanese movie. In case you were wondering, "Gojira" is far superior to the altered version.

When we first meet Steve Martin, he is in pain. Tokyo is a burning ruin and the seriously injured man is just another victim, trapped under rubble from whatever happened. The reporter eventually narrates us into a flashback, starting with him on the way to another assignment when his flight stops off in Tokyo. He intends to make a social call on an old acquaintance while in Japan, but a mysterious ship sinking catches his attention. The audience already knows that something strange happened to the lost ship. We watch as the ocean near it boils and is illuminated by an underwater glow, then crewmembers scream in horror before the ship is destroyed. Amusingly, there is a quick shot showing the radio operators sending a distress call. Seawater splashes in through an open porthole and a man dies the moment the water hits him. Was the radio not properly grounded?

A rescue ship sent to the last known position of the missing vessel is also destroyed, as are numerous other ships in the area. The few survivors found are of no use in resolving the mystery; they die within minutes of being pulled from the sea. Sudden death is a peculiar reaction after surviving for several days hanging onto a chunk of flotsam. Maybe the rescuers need to modify their operating procedures.

Castaway: "Please, throw me a line!"
Rescuer: "Sure thing, but could you tell me what happened to your ship?"
Castaway: "It was horrible! I haven't had anything to eat or drink in three days. Bring me aboard and I will tell you everything."
Rescuer: "You need to tell us what happened first, then we can bring you aboard."
Castaway: "Why?"
Rescuer: "Everyone we have found so far dies right after they are pulled out of the water."
Castaway: "Really?"
Rescuer: "Yeah."
Castaway: "Dude, that sucks."

While investigating the shipping losses, Dr. Yamane and some others visit Odo Island. The island is near to where the ships were lost; the villagers who live on Odo Island are afraid of a monster they call "Godzilla." Their superstition appears harmless until that evening when a sudden squall buffets the island. Steve and Iwanaga are forced to hold onto a tree to avoid being swept away, and the village suffers from more than just wind and rain. Hidden by the storm, something gigantic moves through the middle of the village, destroying houses in its wake. Terrible roars split the darkness, while a rhythmic thumping shakes the mountains themselves.

The heavy thumping signifying Godzilla's passing is exceptionally appropriate and used perfectly.

The next day, Dr. Yamane discovers a living trilobite among the wreckage. Unfortunately it, like anything else affected by the unseen terror from the night before, is highly radioactive. Needless to say, I bet that the villagers had been eating trilobites for years and never thought anything of it. Can you just imagine Yamane's frustration upon hearing that he, the greatest paleontologist in Japan, was fretting over imperfect fossil specimens while this group of yahoos boiled dozens of the arthropods for dinner every night? I imagine that is the stuff of nightmares for many researchers.

This is for every prospective paleontologist currently in school: I know that a doctorate takes years to achieve, but the world is filled with hungry, uneducated fishermen, who are, right now, eating their way through living history. Study hard.

Oops, there goes another one. Probably with lemon and butter.

Further exploration of Odo Island yields a daytime sighting of Godzilla. The monster peeks over a hill and roars before returning once more to the ocean. Dr. Yamane takes a photograph of the beast; he uses it as part of a presentation about the monster. The government immediately decides to depth charge Godzilla into oblivion, though Dr. Yamane argues that it should be studied. As part of the film, this section should have been more effective. Unfortunately, in the interest of making "Godzilla" suitable for American audiences, the main Japanese characters were dubbed over. All of the dubbing was bad, but Dr. Yamane's was particularly awful. Thankfully, the soundtrack remained the same, which is to say it was great.

While the Navy attempts to sink Godzilla, Emiko visits Serizawa. The pair is to be man and wife via an arranged marriage, but Emiko has fallen in love with Ogata. Her feelings for the gifted scientist are entirely platonic. It does appear that Serizawa cares for the young woman, though he does not intuitively understand how to express those feelings. Pure scientist through and through, he shares his discovery with her: the oxygen destroyer. A tiny amount of the stuff will completely destroy all of the oxygen in water. To demonstrate the horrible effect it has on living things, Serizawa drops some into a fish tank. The result is an aquarium full of fish skeletons trying to scream in agony even though they do not have gills, nerve endings, or a brain anymore. Heck, from what I know, fish do not have a larynx in the first place. Why would they try to scream? Do fish have nightmares in which they try to scream, but no sound comes out? They would wake up and be freaked out until they realized, "Oh, yeah. Of course I couldn't scream. I don't have a voicebox."

Since I am already off on a tangent, the oxygen destroyer is a fantastic discovery - unless you start thinking too much. Obviously, it does not destroy all of the oxygen present in the water. Bubbles do occur when the reaction takes place, but there is still water left, unless the liquid remaining is something exotic, like NH3 (which should boil away). The fish skeletons are another goofy point. The oxygen destroyer causes muscle and flesh to evaporate as the oxygen atoms are wiped out, but why would bone or cartilage remain? It is almost as if Serizawa designed the oxygen destroyer to be a horrific weapon.

Okay, moving on...

Godzilla was not killed by the Navy's depth charge attacks. Late one evening, the ancient monster emerges from Tokyo Bay and wades ashore. Trains are derailed and buildings crumple under the radioactive reptile's feet, but the damage is relatively minor. Eventually, the monster disappears once more into the dark waters of the bay. The government, faced with the very real possibility that Godzilla will return and cause further destruction, orders a general evacuation and draws up plans to defend Tokyo. Tanks, jet fighters, and high voltage pumped through the electrical system that rings the city will be used to drive off the monster, should it return.

Mankind is destined to suffer whenever its hubris rises to the top. Nothing in humanity's arsenal is capable of stopping Godzilla! The monster returns to Tokyo and leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. Godzilla's radioactive breath causes raging fires, and the creature is unfazed by rockets and cannons. Tokyo is reduced to burning ruins. Finally, we know how Steve came to be buried under broken wood and stone, in a city become charnel house.

One weapon stands between Godzilla and the rest of mankind, and two people know of its existence. Emiko had given Serizawa her word that she would tell no one about the oxygen destroyer, but she breaks her promise. The scientist is suddenly faced with an impossible task. He must use the oxygen destroyer to kill Godzilla and also prevent it from becoming the next appalling weapon in mankind's arsenal. Serizawa agrees to create a device. However, he will make the dive and deploy the oxygen destroyer himself. The principled scientist does not intend to return to the surface. His secret will die with him, obliterated by the very weapon the rest of humanity has forced him to use.

The original version of this movie, released in 1954, is a manifestly better film. Along with avoiding the awkward flashback, "Gojira" benefits by not having the love triangle story diluted by editing. Serizawa's motives and eventual suicide make a lot more sense when the whole picture is understood. Plus, like him as an actor as you may, the shifting of focus to Raymond Burr screws up a lot of things. The awkwardly inserted scenes with him and Officer Iwanaga checking out the action from somewhere close by are terribly amateurish. Steve's part feels spliced in, perhaps even more so than the actors who were added to a Filipino caveman flick to create Vampire Men of the Lost Planet.

In a few scenes, the American version injects Steve Martin into the film by him "interacting" with the original Japanese characters. "Emiko" kneels by Steve in the hospital, though you may notice that the woman kneeling, while shaped like Emiko, never turns so we can see her face. Ditto with the scene where Steve calls Dr. Serizawa. Yes, the person on the phone in the lab is wearing an eyepatch, but a beaker or test tube obscures his face, ala the neighbor in "Home Improvement."

The laughable plot point that survivors from the early shipping attacks die immediately after rescue is also an invention for the American version. In "Gojira," Dr. Yamane and the others travel to Odo Island for the express purpose of interviewing some survivors who washed ashore.

Obviously, Godzilla is the horrible face of atomic weapons realized as a monster. It is not a gleaming bomb, but several hundred feet of primitive reptile, causing fear by its very existence and resulting in the indiscriminate death of thousands when unleashed upon mankind. As such, he is a fitting symbol of death and ruin.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Japan's Self Defense Force needs a Minister of Paleontology.
  • American reporters outrank most Japanese military officers.
  • People who live in wicker houses should not annoy giant, fire-breathing monsters.
  • Alka-Seltzer is lethal to fish.
  • Never put all of your faith in an electric fence, no matter the voltage.
  • Base jumping was invented in Japan.
  • Burn ward nurses were the first adopters of Scotchguard.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 2 mins - This reminds me of the morning after my bachelor party, but only if that is chocolate syrup.
  • 11 mins - Thank goodness that email finally came along.
  • 27 mins - Let me guess, every time you ring the "Godzilla Warning Bell," the monster attacks. It is naturally drawn to bell sounds, you idiot! Stop ringing the bell!
  • 30 mins - Looking for a Brontosaurus...nope, still don't see it.
  • 39 mins - Booze cruise of death!
  • 48 mins - If the menace was from two million years ago, Tokyo would be under attack by a herd of radioactive mammoths (hey, I would pay to see that movie).
  • 72 mins - Godzilla seems to be a light sleeper.


  • Steve: "The few survivors who had been found died in a matter of minutes from shock and strange burns."
  • Steve: "Within minutes, the city was aware that Godzilla was inside Tokyo Harbor. Among the people, there was a state of panic."

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note godzilla1.wav Godzilla's roar.
Green Music Note godzilla2.wav Steve: "This is Tokyo, once a city of six million people. What has happened here was caused by a force which, up until a few days ago, was entirely beyond the scope of Man's imagination. Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown. An unknown which, at this very moment, still prevails and could, at any time, lash out with its terrible destruction anywhere else in the world."
Green Music Note godzilla3.wav Serizawa: "The world must not know of this. Promise to keep my secret."
Emiko: "I won't even tell my father."
Green Music Note godzilla4.wav Steve: "George, here in Tokyo, time has been turned back two million years. This is my report as it happens. A prehistoric monster the Japanese call Godzilla has just walked out of Tokyo Bay."
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipgodzilla1.mpg - 3.9m
This is the beginning of the end for Tokyo.

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