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Brian Fowler

[DVDVRMC] GOJIRA

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I'm still not home, and will have much to say, but for now, have at thee.

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So, Godzilla/Gojira.  The film that basically launched the daikaiju eiga in Japan.  A film with more sequels than Bond and more reboots than DC comics.

 

A film that, for 50 years, was viewed as "fun, with some interesting subtext" in the western world, due to the significantly different American film Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

 

A film that, when it was finally released uncut in America we suddenly realized was a Goddamned masterpiece about the national psyche of Japan less than a decade after the bombs, and less than a year after the Lucky Dragon incident.

 

One of the starkest films I've ever seen, I honestly wonder if pre-9/11 America could have even understood it. 

 

That "interesting subtext" was suddenly, quite obviously, just text once we saw it without Raymond Burr.  It's directly remarked upon in the film. 

 

And it boils down to such a potent moral dilemma as the film's tension builds.  One that is simply not comprehensible without having some basic understanding of the culture it came from.  To use the Oxygen Destroyer is to show the world of a weapon on par with the atomic bomb.  To not use it is to allow a monster that is just a destructive to continue to destroy Japan again.  The decision is maybe the only one that could be made.

 

Brilliantly directed, incredibly scored...  It's not without it's flaws (the handpuppet that stands in for the Big G in head shots is A.) Significantly different looking than the rubber suit and B.) Horrific looking and blatantly a hand puppet) but as a total experience, it's not just a good movie.  It's not even merely a great movie.  It's a Goddamned Masterpiece.

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Motherfuckin' grinch time:

 

I like the Americanized version with Raymond Burr better.  

 

Yeah, I said it.  

 

Yes, I know about all the changes that were made.  Softening the anti-USA stance, toning down the radioactivity subplot, cutting out various dialogue scenes (the poor Japanese reporter, Burr's character analogue, is barely in the movie at all), and making such a jumbled hash of the remaining Japanese footage that the dialogue is frequently reduced to incoherent nonsense.  It turned an epic war tragedy into a monster-smashy flick, emphasizing the action and the effects over the horror of the experience.  Yes, I know all that.  

 

But they didn't do THAT bad a hackjob on it.  I like the quickened pace of the American cut.  Maybe it's cultural differences; consider the Dario Argento re-cut of Dawn of the Dead which transformed it into the much sleeker and faster-paced Zombi and became a huge hit on the European continent.  Raymond Burr is acting his big ass off, and doing a pretty tremendous job considering that he shot all his footage in approximately three days.  Raymond Burr's character is usefully employed as a frustrated impotent passive observer, a guy who can't do shit to help anyone and he knows it and it's making him miserable.  This isn't Don Frye fucking up evil's day in Final Wars, it's just a poor alcoholic overweight working schmuck who is in WAY over his head and is depressingly aware of that fact at all times.  

 

And the Americanized cut left in plenty of things that it might not have; the clear implication that Godzilla is all America's fault, the subtextual scream of rage over being used for nuclear target practice is right there and still fairly blatant.  We still get that montage of hospitals full of patients in various stages of dying.  It ain't exactly Grave of the Fireflies, but it still reminds us of the real stakes here.  (Unlike the fucking worthless 1998 American abortion, in which Zilla's entire rampage seems to have a death toll grand total of like a dozen corpses, and they were mostly all soldiers who knew the risks and volunteered for this mission.)  Yeah, it sucks that Takeshi Shimura would ever have any of his screentime trimmed down, but it's not like he's playing the lead in Ikiru here, he mostly just sits around looking nobly worried.  I'm not much of a fan of the "young lovers whine shrilly at each other" subplots which dominate way too much Japanese fiction, so I sure as hell didn't mind seeing their scenes get cut.  

 

The special effects are bizarrely inconsistent.  The first time we see Godzilla, he is quite clearly a shitty fucking hand puppet.  It always takes me a little while to get over the fact that his debut is made by a shitty fucking hand puppet.  Whose bright idea was that?  Why not do a composite shot with the full-sized monster suit?  We know they can do that, because they DO it later, several times during the Tokyo rampage.  There's quite a few very good, damn near seamless shots of massive full-sized Godzilla interacting with tiny live actors.  I can appreciate that shit, because of how damn hard it is to do.  There's a few brief moments where Gojira actually trumps King Kong and all of Harryhausen's work, because the guy-in-a-suit style of practical effects just looks more real than even the smoothest stop-motion animation.  The process isn't perfected yet, this movie doesn't have anything close to the level of carnage that goes on in the bigger sequels like Destroy All Monsters, but the Tokyo rampage is incredibly effective and all too often looks much realer than you'd expect.  

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I like the American cut fine. Fell in love with that version of the movie. But in direct comparison? Not even fucking close.

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My first exposure to Godzilla was actually Godzilla vs. King Kong. I was a little kid.. I saw the box cover in a store and I begged my parents to buy it for me. They didn't on that day but my Dad did surprise me with it later on. I was thrilled and I enjoyed every minute of it. I've probably watched it a couple dozen times. Anyway, this led to other people buying me all sorts of Godzilla movies down the road and I became quite a fan. Then the 'remake' or whatever it was happened and it killed the series for me. I love the look of the new one though so I hope I'm not leaving the theater pissed off.

 

I have to admit.. I didn't realize many of the differences between the two versions so it's cool they are being discussed here.

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I don't support cutting any scenes featuring Japanese people in order to fit in a white guy that American audiences can "relate to", so I've never seen the American cut in my entire life. I probably won't ever. It could totally be an okay movie, and Burr might be good in it, but the idea of it is abhorrent to me. 

 

Gojira is a personal movie to me, that I probably can't discuss rationally. Like others, I was exposed to it at a young age and it made me fall in love with big things that blow stuff. As I grew up, and I watched the movie again, the message got stronger and stronger, especially after I was told that my grandmother grew up in an orphanage near Hiroshima. The animosity I have towards the whole event is difficult to explain, but I know the message of Gojira, that what's done is done and we have to cut this shit out going forward, is an important one that I try to remember. 

 

This past Christmas, I got the Criterion edition on DVD, and two weeks ago I decided to watch it with my son. He wasn't interested, saying he didn't want to watch anything Japanese. He's 6, but the statement upset me, because he's blonde hair and blue eyed and it's difficult for me to stress his heritage when he won't ever get reminded of it by punk ass kids at school. He relented and we watched it together with my wife, who hadn't seen it either, and the whole time we're explaining to him the context of every scene, since he couldn't read all the subtitles fast enough. He got it, and was fascinated by the big monster probably the same way I was when I was his age. Part of me wants to stress the deeper message, but I know there's plenty of time for that later and that he should just enjoy it as he does now before he grows up. Besides, now we have to watch all the sequels and spinoffs.

 

Alright, so that's all the weird personal stuff. New subject!

 

The score to this film, by Akira Ikufube, has some of the most riveting and beautiful music ever. The main theme is fucking intense and inspiring, like you're climbing a mountain of curiosity and it's possible that on the otherside is the scariest goddamn thing you ever did see. But you'll triumph:

 

 

 

And the music from the climax is absolutely haunting. It conveys the awe of staring into the abyss, unsure of what the future holds, but that this moment is the closing of a chapter - not the whole book. 

 

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Ikufube is the unsung hero of the first batch of Godzilla films for sure.

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Besides the Gojira main theme, this is by far my favorite piece of kaiju composition.

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Super-hardcore fans: which of the sequels do you think benefit the most from specifically watching the Japanese cut?  Most of my watching with this franchise was done back in the VHS days, so I've largely only seen the USA versions of this series with a few exceptions.  I'm ambivalent on the subject, I'd argue that Mothra vs. Godzilla is better Americanized because they stick in that cool extra scene where G totally no-sells like a hundred missiles slamming right into him.  But I'm told that some, like Terror of Mechagodzilla, were rather horrifyingly re-edited and censored in the clumsiest and stupidest of manners (and may explain why I seem to be the only guy who hates that one, considering I saw the American cut). 

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Terror is almost incomprehensible is the American cut.

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FWIW, the US version of this is running on TCM right now. (8pm EST)

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