GOJIRA! - Deluxe Collector's Edition (2 DVD set)
Godzilla was born one night in 1954 when producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was flying home from Indonesia. He had just been forced to cancel a big film project because the government refused to grant work visas to the Japanese stars. Flying high above the dark Pacific Ocean he was thinking that he had a cast, cameras and other equipment and a schedule but now no movie. Looking out at the waves it hit him why not make a movie about a gigantic monster. He was thinking that just in 1952 they re-released King Kong in Japan to big box office and in 1953 they released The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms with equally spectacular results.
In March of 1954 a Japanese fishing vessel, The Lucky dragon No. 5 wandered into the U.S. A-Bomb testing area near Bikini Atoll. The crew was exposed to tremendous amounts of radiation and one crewman died
and some of the contaminated Tuna reached market. Tanaka was thinking of this incident and Japan's history with the A-Bomb and decided to explore this issue using a nuclear mutation element in the monster.
As the head of special effects at Toho productions it was Eiji Tsuburaya who decided that there was not enough time or money to go with the stop-motion animation that had been used up until then. Instead he created a latex suit for a man to wear. Together he and the director Ishiro Honda fashioned the final script.
The name of the movie "Gojira" comes from combining the Japanese words for gorilla (gorira) and whale (kujira) which was what they called a overweight, lumbering press agent working in the publicity department.
As filming started Tanaka still lacked two key elements a musical score and a roar for the monster. He got both when acclaimed classical composer Akira Ifukube joined the production
On November 3, 1954 Gojira opened in theaters. Even though it cost 60 million yen to make (twice as much as the famous Seven Samurai) it was an instant hit with nearly 10 million Japanese seeing it in its initial release.
The movie tells the story of a gigantic monster who exposed to radiation from nuclear testing rises from the depths to make his way to Tokyo to lay waste to that city. It describes a man who has invented the ultimate weapon and his agonizing decision to use it knowing that when he does his secret will be out for all to see. It shows a love-triangle between the scientist, a girl he has been promised to and the man she really loves. And it sends a message that we should be careful with all the nuclear testing because we do not really know what may be unleashed by it.
Two years later in the U.S. an edited version of Gojira (now named Godzilla) was shown. About 20 minutes of the original was cut out and scenes with the actor Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin (no relation to the comic) inserted. The movie was also dubbed in English to make it more appealing to American audiences and its anti-nuclear theme toned
On Sept 5th 2006 a restored version of Gojira was released on dvd by Classic Media. It is a 2-disc collectors set with both the original Japanese version with English subtitles (seen for the first time in this country) and the American version with the actor Raymond Burr in it. Both versions have the original trailers that were seen in their respective countries and the Japanese version has two extras. The first is a 15 minute film (in English) "Godzilla: Story Development" and another 15 minute film (also in English) about how they developed the Godzilla suit and used it. Both features are very interesting and show some never before seen items.
There is also an interesting 16 page booklet with some nice information about the making of both movies.
The two movies have been nicely restored to their full length with the American version showing for the first time the complete ending credits (most VHS or DVDs have them chopped off). The Japanese version runs
about 98 minutes, while the American version comes in at 79 minutes. There are also comparison shots on each DVD showing how the movie looked before and after restoration.
The movies are in black and white and the sound is in mono like the originals. The scenes where Gojira comes ashore in Tokyo are shot at night which lends an eerie feeling to them when seen in the black and white prints.
On November 7th Classic Media will be releasing the next 2 Godzilla movies: Godzilla Raids Again and Mothra vs. Godzilla. These will both have 2-discs the original Japanese and American versions.
I highly recommend them.
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