Time: 96 Minutes
Age Rating: Some scenes may scare very young children
Akira Takarada as Hideto Ogata
Momoko Kōchi as Emiko Yamane
Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Daisuke Serizawa
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane
Director: Ishirō Honda
When a seemingly indestructible fire-breathing monster is created as a result of the testing of American nuclear weapons, the government takes help from a reclusive scientist to kill the monster.
I liked the American Godzilla movies from the 2010s with Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. However, Godzilla has a very long history of films, and I did want to go back to the very beginning and see how they used to be. With 1954’s Godzilla I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t think it would have aged all that well. However, it actually surprised me how great this movie is and mostly holds up to a degree.
While other Godzilla movies has Godzilla fighting other monsters, 1954 Godzilla keeps things simple by having it making it just Godzilla occasionally pop up to terrorize and destroy the city. You don’t actually see a lot of Godzilla, and that played a big part of making his presence so effective. Once you see him fully for the first time, you feel his presence in the movie even when he’s not on screen. The movie is actually darker than I thought it would be, and that makes sense given that it comes from a place of real life horror. For those who don’t know, basically Godzilla symbolizes nuclear holocaust from Japan’s perspective, nearly a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 1940s. It touches on social issues and provides commentary on Japan’s current society in general at the time, and the moral debate about the use of deadly weapons is ever present. There’s a lot of weight to the story, everything is played seriously, and you really feel the impact of certain moments and even dread throughout. Godzilla is 96 minutes long, which is a pretty good length for the movie, and it spends its time effectively, not a minute is wasted. It doesn’t rely on the destruction or the monster to drive the film (even though Godzilla is sort of the focus of the movie), and it takes its time with the plot. Thankfully, I was invested in the story quite a bit.
The cast are quite good. The most surprising things was that the use and focus on the characters are at the right level for the movie. Most monster movies have stock human characters that either distract or feel obligatory and just to be there, and are usually the weakest part of each of these movies. Although I wouldn’t call them among the best parts of this film, these characters actually feel human and they fit the story fine enough. The highlights were Takashi Shimura as one of the scientists investigating Godzilla, and Akihiko Hirata as another scientist who has potentially created something that could be used against Godzilla.
Godzilla is directed well by Ishirō Honda, and I was surprised at how well it mostly holds up. No doubt you’ve at some point seen glimpses of the old Godzilla in the earlier movies using miniatures and a stunt actor in a Godzilla suit, and it looked goofy. While it of course doesn’t look as good as the more recent Godzilla movies, considering it’s the 1950s, in this movie it actually looks quite impressive. The black and white definitely helps, while no doubt there were multiple reasons for filming it in this way, it fits the tone quite well.
Godzilla is a dark, impactful and thematic monster movie, that’s greatly directed, written and acted. It was innovative for its time but even now there’s a lot to appreciate about it. If you liked the more recent Godzilla films, I highly recommend going back to the 1954 original at the very least, it is well worth the watch.