Hollywood is filled with wonderful, trashy tales and legends of films being altered from their creator’s original intentions. Welles’ Touch of Evil, Gilliam’s Brazil, von Stroheim’s Greed, and the list goes on, but now another title needs to be added to that list: Gojira, the original Japanese film that became known as Godzilla, King of the Monsters in America and the rest of the world.
Most people know Godzilla as a B-movie monster who went onto to become an international sensation with a series of films, but those in Japan and those lucky enough to see the film’s 50th anniversary art-house run in 2004 know that Gojira is a masterful film that brilliantly relates a cautionary tale about the horrors of the atomic bomb. As a Japanese soldier, director Ishiro Honda witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima and recreated those haunting images in the film. The monster and its wanton destruction paralleled the atomic bomb to powerful effect.
When Gojira was bought and brought to America, the producers wanted to play up the monster angle, which had been a very successful business model at the 1950’s box office. To make the film more accessible, the character of Steve Martin, played by Raymond Burr, was created. He was a reporter who witnessed the monster’s destruction and was inserted into some scenes through editing and tricks of staging. Scenes were cut, altered and moved around. Director Terry Morse was given this difficult task and pulled it off surprisingly well. The film was given the attention-grabbing title Godzilla, King of the Monsters
While Godzilla succeeds as a monster movie, it is unfortunate that only 60 minutes of Gojira remains in it, resulting in most of the poignancy and power of atomic bomb metaphor being lost. Godzilla ends with a sense of relief after the monster is destroyed, but Gojira ends on a note of trepidation and warning as Dr. Yamane says, “If we continue testing H-bombs, another Godzilla will one day appear.”