He Watched It Sober.

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a/k/a Godzilla: King of the Monsters

     "It's big. And it's terrible."

-- Steve Martin, a wild and crazy reporter     




Gonzoid Cinema




You know, for the longest time, I thought they were all just really, really shy.


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Sights &
Godzilla: King
of the Monsters
 Toho Studios /
 Embassy Pictures

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The Kaiju-eiga
Canon of
Toho Studios.

(1954 - 1975)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Varan: The Unbelievable


Ghidrah: The Three-Headed Monster

Invasion of the Astro-Monsters

War of the Gargantuas

Son of Godzilla

Godzilla's Revenge

Godzilla on Monster Island

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Terror of Mechagodzilla

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In honor of the premiere of Godzilla 2000, marking the Big Guy's return to the American movie-plexes after a fifteen-year slumber -- with no Matthew Broderick in sight (and can we all get an amen on that?) -- I finally decided it was high time to tackle his debut film, both of them, by taking a look at the original Japanese version, Gojira, and the Americanized version, Godzilla: King of the Monsters: two movies which share a lot of the same footage, yes, but are two completely different films. And for the record, this review might make a little more sense if you read the Gojira review first.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters opens with Tokyo in ruins -- "a smoldering memorial to the unknown." Amid the rubble, we find the severely injured Steve Martin (Raymond Burr -- that a wild and crazy guy), a reporter for the United World News Service (-- wow, I wonder if he knows Carl Kolchak?), who will serve as both witness and narrator for our film. And currently, he's babbling about the mysterious and deadly menace that just leveled Tokyo until he promptly passes out.

Sometime later, Martin awakens in a hospital, filled with the sick and the dying as those who survived the attack have been poisoned with radiation. Spying Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kouchi), the reporter calls his friend over and asks if her father, famed Japanese paleontologist Dr. Karl Yamane, survived the attack. To both their relief he has lived through this great calamity unscathed, and Martin can hardly believe that just a mere two days ago, how different things were ... Uh-oh, flashback:

...When his latest assignment requires him to travel to Cairo, Egypt, our hero decides to go by way of Japan so he can look up his old friend, Dr. Serizawa. But during Martin's Trans-Pacific flight to Tokyo, somewhere below, a lonely freighter roams the sea, her crew lazily lounging on the deck, until the water around them starts to glow, then boil, and violently churn, as if suddenly super-heated! Sensing the danger, the fishermen soon flee for shelter somewhere below deck, but it's already too late as the ship is overwhelmed and destroyed by a sudden burst of intense heat and flame! 

After his plane lands, Martin receives word Dr. Serizawa has been called away for a special meeting and will be unable to see him as planned. Then, when a Security Officer named Iwanaga (Frank Iwanaga) begins questioning all the passengers, wondering if they saw anything unusual during their flight -- like, say, a boat suddenly bursting into flame -- Martin's reporter instincts quickly stand up and salute. Flashing his press credentials, he quickly gets the who, what, where, and when of the maritime disaster from Iwanaga, who then takes the reporter to see the ship's owners at Nanking Shipping to get the why. (Iwanaga will serve as a liaison and translator for the rest of the film.) As they both listen in over the radio, a rescue ship arrives where the first ship went down. Unfortunately, when it too meets the same fiery fate, Iwanaga reveals that Japan has been plagued with a rash of these mysterious shipwrecks, and how each time they receive the same distress call: first a report of a blinding flash of light, followed by a burst of flame, and then -- nothing.

Sticking with the story, Martin reports that eight ships in all have met the same deadly fate, and the few survivors who were found died quickly from shock and some strange, severe burns. Also of note, the Japanese government has been forced to shut down all fishing and shipping lines until the current crisis is resolved. With such a strong public outcry for quick action and answers, the powers that be turn to Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura), who suggests they question the natives of Ohto Island -- the closest land mass to all these disastrous disappearances. In fact, most of those survivors washed up on Ohto's shore before they died. And when a fact-finding expedition is sent to Ohto, Martin manages to finagle his way along. Once there, Iwanaga translates the frightened native’s testimonies, who all tell the same tale of a giant monster lurking in the sea being responsible for all the recent destruction. Upon hearing this theory, Martin believes the native islanders have been hitting the saki a little too hard ... Later that evening, the visitors are privileged to observe an ancient ceremony; a ritual dance that represents how the villagers used to send girls out on a raft as a sacrifice to the fabled sea monster. When Martin asks what this monster was called, the natives answer by chanting one single word: Godzilla

When the ceremony ends and everyone turns in for the night, a massive storm blows though -- and the weather turns so severe Martin and Iwanaga must hold on to a tree or be blown away by the gale force winds. But they're the lucky ones, only contending with the wind. For just down the hill, something else was blown in from the sea and destroys the village where the ceremony had taken place. And if you listen real close, you can hear something else over the roaring winds and torrential rain. Something big, and terribly monstrous...

At the time of Gojira's release, somber message and poignant symbolism aside, Toho Studios was taking a huge financial risk by putting that much money into what was essentially just a giant monster movie. And even though the end-result proved a big hit in Japan, to help defray some of the production costs, the studio opened an office in Los Angeles to help find and secure American distributors for all of their films. Serendipitously, at the time in Hollywood, with the major studios imploding, several smaller, independent companies were crawling out of the woodwork looking for a piece of the box-office pie, willing to snatch up almost anything. Enter Edmund Goldman, who caught the feature in a theater in Little Tokyo and secured the rights for $25,000. Goldman then quickly turned that around by selling it off to Harold Rybnick and Richard Kay, a couple of one-lung producers whose Jewell Enterprises Inc. had churned out the exploitation classics Untamed Women and Marijuana, The Devil's Weed, who would shepherd the film through its domestic release. Honestly, looking overseas for more product made far better sense financially for these smaller companies; distributing already made films meant less expense and more profits, right? And with the resurgent sci-fi and monster boom of the 1950's already well-cemented, taking on a film like Gojira then was an absolute no-brainer.

Still, feeling the film as originally presented was a little too grim and heavy-handed, the shrewd businessmen realized the major selling point was the rampaging monster. And so, the decision was made to re-cut the film, leaving a majority of the doomed love-triangle to come on the cutting room floor. Also, with the end of World War II still visible in everyone's rearview mirror at the time in 1955, fearing a lack of sympathy for the Japanese characters, in addition to the drastic cuts, a new character in the form of an American reporter was added as a framing device to help explain away the new huge holes in the plot. And according to legend, since they could only afford him for one day, Raymond Burr spent 24-straight hours locked up in a studio on North Vermont Avenue with several body-doubles to get all of his inserts. (Actually, it was more like shot over six days.) To splice all of this together, the producers turned to veteran film editor Terry Morse, whose reputation as a film-doctor was pushed to the limits as he tried to make the jumble of new and old material make some kind of sense. How did he do? Well, read on...

Once the massive storm has subsided, the surviving Ohto islanders are hauled to the mainland to testify before a government committee, where they still insist a giant sea monster was responsible for all the death and destruction. After listening to this testimony, Dr. Yamane quiets the skeptics by comparing the situation to the Yeti of the Himalayas, meaning that some mysteries have yet to be solved. He then volunteers to go back to the island to make a full scientific study and, hopefully, get to the bottom of things. Again, Martin manages to tag along, and once they cast off, he comments on their collective bravery because, remember, all of the other boats on this course have met a violent end. He also observes Emiko spending a lot of time with Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), a young naval officer. Now, Martin knows Emiko was supposed to marry his old friend Serizawa -- by an arrangement made when they were both very young -- and he also knows a love triangle when he sees one. Reaching the island safely, Yamane’s group finds a lot of devastation coupled with high levels of lingering radiation. The doctor also believes the deep impressions they find amongst the wreckage are really the footprints of some large animal -- and to help corroborate this theory, the group also finds a trilobite, an ancient parasite about the size of your fist, that was thought to be extinct.

Suddenly, the alarm bell is gonged. Turns out some real proof for Yamane's theory has been spotted and is coming right for them! With the sound of large footfalls echoing ever closer, everybody heads for the hills and apparent safety -- and on the jog up, Martin pauses for an apparent heart attack! -- but they chose the wrong hill as Godzilla rears his head over the horizon, munching on a cow, and blocking the path they were using. But while beating a hasty retreat, Martin and few other reporters manage to get a few pictures of the creature as proof of what they've seen. And then it’s back to Tokyo and the committee, where Yamane testifies that with the strong presence of Strontium-90 (-- a deadly byproduct of radioactivity --), Godzilla must be a dinosaur, driven from the depths of the ocean by the recent H-bomb tests. Finally getting a handle on what's been causing all the mayhem, then, the government panel decides the best course of action is to kill the beast as soon as possible. Thus, they send the navy out to depth-charge the heck out of the ocean to hopefully take care of the problem once and for all.

During the deafening lull, Martin finally calls on his friend Serizawa to see if they can meet that evening. But Serizawa (Akihiko Airata) declines; seems he already has plans with Emiko, who has something very important to tell him. Uh-oh. Her intentions were to tell him about Ogata, but before she can, Serizawa has something more important to show her instead. Taking her to his basement laboratory, he drops a small object into an aquarium, teeming with fish, and then puts an electrical charge into it. And as the water begins to churn and boil like an Alka-Seltzer tablet gone horribly wrong, Emiko's eyes grow wide with terror before she turns away ... What did she see? We don’t know, yet, as Serizawa swears her to secrecy.

When things calm down for awhile, everyone assumes the depth charges must have killed off Godzilla -- until he surfaces in Tokyo Bay! Caught with their pants down, the Japanese defense force is rapidly mobilized (-- to the familiar "March of the Monsters" tune --) as Godzilla stomps ashore, wrecks a train, and then returns to the sea. Fearing the inevitable return, and since the tanks and rockets did little to stop him, Martin asks Iwanaga what's being done to prevent Godzilla from doing it again. Shown a large electrified fence that's being hastily constructed, eventually, the reporter's told, it will surround Tokyo, and hopefully, the electricity will keep the monster from coming inland. Barely completed before Godzilla resurfaces, the fence was all for naught as the monster, like the dragons of legend, easily melts it with an atomic blast of fire from his gaping maw. Now completely unimpeded, Godzilla stomps into the defenseless city, and what he doesn’t crush he sets ablaze with more of his patented fiery blasts.

Watching all of this, Martin does a nice Wreck-of-the-Hindenburgh riff as he calls the play by play on the destruction of Tokyo -- oh, the humanity! And he continues to record his testimony until Godzilla reaches the building he’s in and knocks it over, burying him in the rubble. And this rampage continues until the Japanese Air Force attacks and drives the monster back into the sea. (Yes, you read that right: the military actual drove Godzilla away.) But even before the water settles over him, Yamane warns the creature will most assuredly be back.

And we now rejoin our film already in progress. In other words: thus endeth the flashback.

When Ogata joins Emiko at Martin's bedside in the hospital, overwhelmed by the magnitude of Godzilla's rampage and the pain and suffering the beast has caused, a distraught Emiko reveals Serizawa’s terrible secret to both of them as we flashback to the flashback and Serizawa’s lab, where Emiko reacts in horror as the fish in the aquarium are vaporized and reduced to skeletons. Turns out Serizawa is just as terrified of his horrible discovery -- especially of what could happen if it were weaponized and fell into the wrong hands. And that is why he swore Emiko to secrecy.

Thus endeth the flashback inside the flashback.

Seeing this invention as mankind's only hope, Martin and Ogata beg Emiko to go to Serizawa and convince him to use this potent discovery against Godzilla. She agrees, and Ogata offers to go along to help. But when they ask, Serizawa obstinately refuses. He will not unleash another destructive device of this caliber upon the world; and now that the secret of the Oxygen Destroyer is out, he begins to destroy all of his notes on the contraption. When Ogata tries to stop him, they fight until Emiko breaks it up and then rushes to the battered Ogata's aid. Watching this, Serizawa realizes the two are in love and he's the odd man out. Then, when a national prayer for deliverance by the children of Japan is broadcast over all airwaves, this solemn plea for Divine delivery finally sways Serizawa to use his infernal device. But before he unleashes it, the consciences scientist finishes destroying all of his notes and records; the Oxygen Destroyer will never be used again.

Using Geiger-counters, the Japanese Navy finds Godzilla at the bottom of Tokyo Bay. As Martin watches, Serizawa and Ogata don their diving suits and go over the side. Once they hit bottom a quick search locates the sleeping giant, and the Oxygen Destroyer is primed to detonate. Signaling the ship to haul them in, Ogata is halfway up before realizing Serizawa is still at the bottom, where he triggers the Oxygen Destroyer. Once Ogata is back on board the ship, he gets on the radio and begs Serizawa to surface. But down below, as the water boils and churns around him, Serizawa radios back and tells Ogata and Emiko to be happy together, and then cuts his towline and air hose; the secret of the Oxygen Destroyer will die with him.

Consumed by the reaction, Godzilla surfaces briefly, gives off one last, mournful wail, and then slowly sinks beneath the waves and is completely skeletonized before he even hits the bottom.

As it's announced to the world that the threat has passed and Godzilla is dead, Martin waxes over how they’ve lost a great man, but the world will live to see another tomorrow because of him and his last, noble sacrifice.

The End

While watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters with an adult's eye, the splicing of the new material into the old isn't completely seamless, but I think Morse did a pretty good job considering the task at hand. The dubbing is pretty good, too -- except for the pour soul voicing over Dr. Yamane; the guy had a little trouble with multiple syllables, flubbing words like "animals" and "phenomenon" -- a word he was forced to say at least three times and never could get it right. And I will also admit that after finally having seen the original Gojira, I also finally noticed that in most of Burr’s shoe-horned scenes, whenever he's talking to people, we only get to see the back of their heads. Not very observant of me, but it’s the truth.

Once their rehashed film was all spliced together and finished, Rybnick and Kay then shopped it around to the likes of American International and Robert Lippert for a distribution deal before settling on splitting the duties; with the western United States getting a print courtesy of their own "Godzilla Releasing Corp." a subsidiary of their own Transworld Pictures, while Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures got the eastern half through the old State's rights system. Embassy Pictures was based out of Boston, and the boss was a master showman and promoter. After buying a fifty-percent share of the film, Levine gave it a new name, dumping Godzilla, the Sea Monster for the more regal moniker, and employed a new concept he was tinkering with: saturation booking. Instead of sending out only a few prints to the theaters and rolling it out regionally, Levine sent out hundreds of copies; and when complemented by the eye-catching and all encompassing advertising blitzkrieg, despite an almost universal critical drubbing, the film pulled in over $2-million during its initial release. And Levine would pull the same trick a few years later with another import, turning the Italian made Hercules into more box-office gold.

But does all that tinkering done to create this version compromise the original film's message? Yeah. It does. A lot. Do I care? No. Not really. Why? Because they are two completely different films that happen to share a lot of the same footage. At the end of Gojira, Yamane warns of other monsters waiting in the depths, while Godzilla has Burr declaring the world is once again safe for democracy. There's still an anti-nuclear sentiment left in the Americanized film, but it's not as pronounced. Maybe if the film had come over in the 1960's, the message would have been left more intact. But all kids wanted in the '50s were monsters -- and the bigger the better. And they don't get much bigger and better than Godzilla. The American producers realized this, and they weren't stupid. And despite the re-edit, the miniature-effects of Eiji Tsuburaya in Godzilla’s scenes still shine. Seriously, I’ll take a guy in a rubber suit any day over a digital iguana. And that is the only barb I will shoot at the American remake of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms -- whoops, I mean Tristarzilla. Aw, rats. I mean Deanzilla was a remake of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and not Godzilla and -- oh, never mind. I'm truly tired of bitching about that movie.

What I do love are both of these films: Gojira for it’s message, and Godzilla for the rubber-suited mayhem; and I love them both for teaching us all how to do the old Tokyo stomp and for ushering in a franchise that has been very dear to me. Now. With all that said, if you haven't read it yet, let’s go see what this love triangle thing was all about and take a look at the original Gojira, and see what else they changed.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956) Toho Company :: Jewell Enterprises Inc. :: Embassy Pictures Corporation :: TransWorld Releasing Corp. / EP: Joseph E. Levine, Terry Turner / P: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Edward B. Barison, Richard Kay, Harry Rybnick / D: Ishirô Honda, Terry O. Morse / W: Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Al C. Ward / C: Masao Tamai / E: Kazuji Taira, Terry O. Morse / M: Akira Ifukube / S: Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada, Frank Iwanaga

Originally Posted: 08/18/00 :: Rehashed: 04/20/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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