It's taken far too long for an American audience to have the opportunity to view the unforgettable 1956 Japanese Godzilla film. Brought to the United States with newly inserted scenes (it's a controversial subject amongst fans), the message, powerful horror, and depressing tones were lost.
In its proper form, as it’s included on this must-have Classic Media release, it's not hard to see why this is truly one of the greatest Japanese films of all time and, arguably, anywhere else in the world.
Director Ishiro Honda had one goal with the film, and he succeeded unquestionably. Shaken by what he witnessed after the Hiroshima bomb devastated his country, film became his outlet. Brilliantly avoiding the topic directly, as not to terrify or scar an audience, he chose to carry over the concept from an American film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, a classic in its own right.
However, Honda's film was far more than a simple monster-on-the-loose exploitation piece. It had a message. In what would be a rare decision for the genre, he made sure it would show the human death toll. The bomb took the shape of a 200-foot tall creature.
Born from the blast and unstoppable, this black giant tramples Honda's own country under its feet. Flames fire from its mouth, incinerating anything even remotely close, including a mother holding her daughter as she explains they'll soon join daddy in heaven. The military loses their struggle, wiped out in a matter of seconds whenever they meet the mutated beast. It's a hard film to watch in its proper form — bleak and hopeless.
As the monster walks on shore though, there's a compelling, deep, human drama at work as well. Not only are the characters of Emiko, Ogata, and Dr. Serizawa finely acted by some of Toho's soon-to-be stars, their love triangle adds an extra layer of drama. A defiant yet torn Emiko pushes aside her arranged marriage to Serizawa to be with Ogata.
At the film’s climax, a broken Serizawa unleashes his own monstrosity of a weapon to defeat the beast. Sacrificing his life for the world, so his Oxygen Destroyer plans die with him (to prevent another atom bomb scenario) and letting Emiko go with the man she loves, he creates an immeasurable response from the viewer.
While the idea of a small family in turmoil seems minute in the face of assured destruction at the hands of something completely unstoppable, the extra emotional pull is enough to send any film viewer into tears. Godzilla's death at the hands of man is violent and, of course, tragic. It has meaning on both a surface level and buried inside the dialogue. Metaphors are powerful and unforgettable.