July 11, 2013

Giant Monster Live-Tweet Part 1: GOJIRA (1954) Is A Nuclear Nightmare


"There is no difference between Godzilla and the H-bomb."
You guys, I am really excited about Pacific Rim.  Like, REEEEAAAALLLYY excited.

When I'm this stoked for a movie's release, I'm all about watching other films to get myself in the right frame of mind, whether that means spending all day watching a Marvel movie marathon before the midnight showing of The Avengers or revisiting Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in anticipation of a Before Midnight screening.  Thusly, I've decided to spend the remainder of the week* live-tweeting a series of giant monster movies, a genre which I'm sorry to say I've largely neglected over the years.  I want to get a bit of variety in these screenings (I could spend the better part of a month watching nothing but Godzilla movies) but I'll be heavily favoring older fare, as I've already seen a lot of the more recent monster flicks like The Host (this, not this) or Monsters.

It seemed only fitting that I should kick things off with the Elvis of giant monster movies, the original Japanese Gojira from 1954.  (The film was released in America two years later with a bunch of Raymond Burr scenes edited in, but that version really only interests me as a curiosity.)  It immediately reminded me of the first time I watched First Blood.  Growing up in the late 80's/early 90's, Rambo had essentially become punchline.  My only knowledge of the character was the image of an oiled up, muscly super-soldier.  Basically, this:


Man, I love UHF.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the movie that started it all is actually a darkly violent tale of post-traumatic stress-fueled rampage induced by abuse at the hands of small-minded yokels.  I was absolutely thunderstruck.  Not only did this not fit in with my understanding of the character, but I was astonished to see just how far the franchise eventually strayed from its roots while simultaneously gaining a choke hold on popular culture.  (Hell, at one point there was a Rambo Saturday morning cartoon.)

Godzilla is much the same.  We all think of it as kind of a campy series featuring guys in rubber suits fighting each other while stomping around tiny model towns, but the first entry is actually a horrifying meditation on the dangers of nuclear proliferation.  Godzilla is a monster baptized by radioactive fallout, the product of both millions of years of evolution and mankind's most devastating invention.  This is a film made less than ten years after America wiped two Japanese cities off the map in the blink of an eye and the cultural reverberations are unmistakable.  In 1954, the Japanese people are still rightfully haunted by the world's first nuclear holocaust, so it's of little surprise that the most expensive Japanese film to date would depict the destruction of Tokyo and the terrorizing of the Japanese people by a gigantic nuclear beast.  It's also little surprise that it would become such a success at the box office.

But it's not all monsters and destruction.  There's also some great human drama that really drives the majority of the film.  (Godzilla himself doesn't even appear on screen until 22 minutes in.)  There's the professor who wants to study Godzilla rather than destroy him.  Not only does he find the creature a fascinating historical specimen, but he believes that Godzilla's resistance to radiation could prove vitally important to humanity's survival.  There's also the scientist who's inadvertently creates a weapon so terrifying that he's willing to die just to keep it from ever being used again.  (More shadows of the mushroom cloud here.)  And on top of all that we get an old fashioned love triangle for good measure.  So there's something for everyone.

Gojira is a truly remarkable film and the fact that Toho Productions shot this at the same time as Seven Samurai is mind-blowing.  (They were both contenders for Japan's Best Picture award that year, with Samurai emerging victorious.)  This was the perfect way to start off my Pacific Rim prep, setting a serious tone before getting into some of the later, sillier monster brawls.

On to the live-tweets!





































































































Next up: Trollhunter...

*I'm taking a break on Saturday to see A Band Called Death at the Brattle, but I'm also planning to revisit something I've already seen just to keep the momentum going, probably The Host since I haven't actually watched it since I first bought it on DVD.  Also hoping to squeeze in Godzilla: Final Wars on Sunday morning.

---------------------------------------
Title: Gojira
Director: Ishiro Honda
Starring: Akira Hakarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Fuyuki Murakami, Haruo Nakajima
Year Of Release: 1954
Viewing Method: Criterion DVD