Before this year, few American viewers had ever seen the original, undiluted version of “Godzilla”. Thankfully, Rialto Pictures has taken it upon themselves to change that with their release of the Japanese cut of the classic monster film that essentially started its own genre. Viewers can now see the film as it was originally intended, before the drastic changes done to commercialize it by American producers.
The film opens with a series of sea disasters, as boats off the coast of Japan are mysteriously incinerated. The cause is discovered to be a prehistoric reptile, disturbed by nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean. Rising from Tokyo Bay, it destroys the city with brute force and radioactive fire breath. Conventional weapons have no effect, but an invention by a reclusive scientist may be humanity’s only salvation — that is, if the scientist can be persuaded to overcome his fears and use it.
What’s different about the Japanese version of “Godzilla”? In a word: Everything.
The most obvious is the absence of Raymond Burr, whose character was brought in to film new scenes for the American version. Another change is the style of the film; the story no longer unfolds in flashback format with Burr solemnly narrating events. The tale unfolds chronologically this time, which allows for a mounting feeling of dread and suspense. The fact that a well-known film like “Godzilla” can invoke those feeling after almost 50 years is a testament to how well the film was made, since by now we all know what to expect.
Godzilla is also given a more detailed backstory via previously deleted scenes featuring the Odo Island villagers. There are numerous scenes that either references the Atomic Bomb or associates Godzilla to it, both of which were dropped from the US version. The attack by Godzilla on Tokyo is far more apocalyptic than previously seen, with more focus on the widespread destruction and casualties. Godzilla himself seems much more vicious, finding little problem with trampling and frying civilians in his path. The movie is much more bleak than its American cousin, and overall much more grim and at times even frightening. The ending is also more pessimistic in tone, and leaves an opening for future films.
The character of Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) is noticeably expanded here. In the US version, he’s basically a strange scientist who spends his time holed up in his lab. But the Japanese version reveals him to be a man with a broken heart because his fianc’e has fallen in love with a naval officer. He secludes himself in his lab, weighing the consequences of a terrible weapon he’s developed and wondering about the implications if he uses it against Godzilla. His fianc’e Emiko (Momoko Kochi) and her lover are also given more screentime, emphasizing the love triangle subplot.
Another character finally seen is a reporter (Sachio Sakai) investigating the events. He was practically erased from the American version but plays a more important role in the original cut. The uncut version of “Godzilla” clocks in at 98 minutes, nearly 20 minutes longer than the US version. An additional 20 minutes of footage was originally cut to allow for new scenes with Raymond Burr, so Western moviegoers have only been able to see roughly 60 minutes of the original film.
In tailoring the film for American audiences, the original distributors discarded some needed character development and weakened the dramatic impact of “Godzilla”. What was once a dark and brilliant film was reduced to Saturday matinee caliber entertainment. With the re-release of the 1954 original, audiences can now see “Godzilla” as its filmmakers intended, and as the masterpiece it always was.
Ishiro Honda (director) / Ishiro Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata (screenplay)
CAST: Akira Takarada …. Hideto Ogata
Momoko Kochi …. Emiko Yamane
Akihiko Hirata …. Daisuke Serizawa