Thursday, March 8, 2012

Movie Review: Gojira

Netflix has a great, full-length version of the original movie for streaming. It was the first time that I've seen a clear one.

Forget the Raymond Burr version, the original is a great movie, a very serious movie. It is also one of the few giant monster movies that is actually frightening. It has great human characters and a dramatic love-interest sub-plot. And it has the G-man, presented here as a mindlessly violent allegory of nuclear destruction.

The music over the opening credits is wonderful, consisting mostly of Godzilla effects generated entirely by the orchestra. The footfalls are drums that almost sound like drums, and the trademark Godzilla roar was done on a double bass (with a bow and some Bo Diddley style string scratching). Everything is thoughtfully done, and the whole movie hangs together beautifully.

Part of the interest here is that Japan in the movie was still very much the rubble strewn Japan of the post-war years. Prosperity was still far off, and hunger and bombing were still recent memories. So Tokyo looks like a shabby section of Jackson Heights, not like a modern city at all.

There are a lot of war references. One of the characters is a scientist who's war experience left him scarred and wearing an eye patch. It also left him so alienated and bitter that he is losing out to an emotionally healthy upstart in the movie's love plot. While Godzilla is stomping around the city, a woman and her two young children shelter in the lee of a big stoop. She says to the kids, "don't worry, we'll be joining your father in just a moment." Dead in the war is the message.

Lots of people are killed in detail. Killed in the scene by Godzilla's atomic breath, or by buildings crashing down on them. There's even a subjective camera scene of what a newsman sees as he is falling to the earth from a high place. Not unique for the genre, but unusual. Also some exasperated, non-Japanese behavior, like a woman who freaks out at a bureaucratic science meeting and starts screaming at the officials. That must have been a shocking scene to the original audience, and even the people in the scene seem to be shying away from her display.

The handsome love interest (Akira Takarada, at the beginning of a long and distinguished career) opines that Godzilla's presence is due to "the atomic bomb that still haunts us." After the big attack, there are lots of radiation checks on children at the hospital.

Oh, there are lots of beautiful vehicles and devices too. Police cars, emergency vehicles, old Isuzu fire trucks, American issue tanks, transport trucks and fighter jets, and a great Kawasaki that looks like a two-stroke version of a 1950 English motorcycle. Closeups of great radios too. If you like that kind of thing.

Very satisfying ending too. Godzilla is manifestly dead, having succumbed to the eye-patched scientist's device. The scientist himself has succumbed, heroically , partly to clear the decks for his girlfriend to move on with her new beau. Love is never easy in Asian movies.

So sure I recommend it. What's not to love?

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