Directors: Terry Morse and Ishiro Honda
Writers: Takeo Murata and Ishiro Honda
Cast: Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata, Sachio Sakai, Fuyuki Murakami, Ren Yamamoto, Toyoaki Suzuki, Tadashi Okabe, Toranosuke Ogawa, and Frank Jwanaga
Composer: Akira Ifukube
Release Date: 4/27/1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While visiting Japan, reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) investigates a series of ship explosions occurring along the main coast. Before long, Martin is confronted with a 400-foot-tall, Jurassic-age monster known to island natives as Godzilla. Only Dr. Serizawa, a scientist with a powerful but deadly invention, can stop Godzilla from destroying the entire world.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! should be commended for introducing the Western world to Godzilla. For American viewers in particular, this production adds a familiar element (i.e. Perry Mason actor Raymond Burr) to an otherwise foreign tale.
Though regarded as superfluous by many critics, the framing narrative in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! may allow English-speaking audiences to personally connect with the Japanese characters. Especially worth praising are the newly filmed interactions with Professor Yamane, Emiko, and Dr. Serizawa, which provide Steve Martin with a direct involvement in the original story. (There are instances, however, when Burr’s presence in the film serves only as a distraction. For example, the sequences featuring Godzilla’s rampage are quite heavy on exposition, causing Martin to overstate the obvious on more than one occasion.)
In the Japanese version, a line of dialogue explains that Dr. Serizawa had discovered the oxygen destroyer by accident—a detail that, though seemingly minor, establishes the context for Serizawa’s hesitancy to ever use the device. Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, on the other hand, downplays the accidental nature of the discovery, possibly giving the impression that Serizawa had set out to create a weapon while performing his initial research. When considering this ambiguity, first-time viewers may struggle to understand why Serizawa (in the American version) would construct the oxygen destroyer only to withhold it from the world for ethical reasons.
A common criticism of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is that virtually all references to nuclear testing were omitted from this version, thereby sanitizing the film for American audiences. Nevertheless, this watered-down version of Gojira manages to maintain, if unintentionally, the parallel between Godzilla’s demolition of Tokyo and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—a key aspect of Ishiro Honda’s social commentary.
The Americanized version of Honda’s original classic, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! should be viewed as an introduction to Toho’s daikaiju series of films. Gojira purists, however, may wish to avoid this offering for reasons indicated earlier.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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