Today, we’ll discuss a film that is quite unlike all the previous ones on this journey, not only because it’s Japanese. This film brought to life the beloved ‘Creature Feature’ genre but none after it punches as close to home as this one does…it’s Ishiro Honda’s 1954 masterpiece, Gojira (Godzilla)!!
Godzilla is so well known for a reason, both the character and the film. The character is one of the most menacing prescences in film history that, in 1954 Japan, was considered far more real than it is now. I know it sounds silly to say that Godzilla sounds like something that could happen but in a culture where the major fear was that of nuclear power, radiation and the unknown (a fear which is always relevant), Godzilla, the monster, was an extreme example of what people thought could happen if nuclear power and radiation ‘went wrong’. Not to mention the total annihilation and destruction that Godzilla puts on the city of Tokyo in this film came just 9 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which obliterated everything those places had, people, buildings, plants, animals. To bring that scale of destruction to Tokyo would frighten any Japanese person, and to bring that destruction in the form of nuclear radiation ‘gone wrong’ added to the very real life terror that Godzilla brought, despite being a giant lizard.
The cultural contextual aspect of Godzilla is probably it’s most important and the reason that it is so well renowned even today, it perfectly played on cultural fears and created a truly terrifying and menacing prescence…huge plaudits go to Ishiro Honda.
Godzilla himself, is another aspect which is to be truly admired in the film, played by a man in a suit around miniature sets of Tokyo, the design and effects are produced perfectly well. Stop-motion was originally the first choice effect to use for Godzilla but sadly, that had to be scrapped. Godzilla, the monster, is no laughing matter when it comes to effects in this film…he’s very well done…effects work by Eiji Tsuburaya.
The narrative of Gojira, is perfectly simple. After many nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, a prehistoric beast is resurrected from the depths and comes, hell bent on destroying Tokyo. Meanwhile, scientists and palaeontologists attempt to figure out what this creature is, why it is here and how to stop it. It’s a fantastic giant monster movie, widely considered the best of its kind. And that’s no mean feat.
This post, is going to mention many more ‘giant monster’ or the Japanese ‘Kaiju’ films of the time as they were a very important sub genre in the history of horror cinema. Like all sub genres of horror however, it faded into parody and comedy, like the Universal monsters of the 1930’s before it, and gave us such films as ‘Godzilla vs King Kong’ and ‘Godzilla vs Megalon’. Most parodies of these Kaiju films involved Godzilla fighting some other well known giant monster, with Godzilla being the ‘favourite’ as he was considered ‘King of the Monsters’ but that all came from this original. Some of the parodies, like the ones before them, are watchable but many are considered horrendously bad.
The 1950’s gave us many giant monster and radiation based horror films, as well as space horror or sci-fi horror. My preference in the genre does not stand with Sci-Fi horror but it is important to mention it and mention some other important and well received films of the sub-genre. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), War of the Worlds (1953), Forbidden Planet (1956), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), It Came From Beneath The Sea (1951), Tarantula (1955), Them (1954), The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Gorgo (1961), The Giant Claw (1957) plus many, many, many more. The idea of strange beings coming from space or nuclear testing creating giant destructive creatures was huge in the horror genre in the 1950’s and early 1960’s but it wasn’t the only thing happening with horror and the idea of nuclear and radiation would play its part in many films throughout the 1960’s due to the Cold War, eventually, come 1968, radiation would birth a hugely popular creature that will appear in a few days on this journey.
Tomorrow though, we come out of the sci-fi and the giant monster side of horror and go back into Gothic, with Britain’s hugely successful resurgence of classic gothic horror, mainly with Hammer Films and tomorrow we’ll talk about Hammer Films, focussing on, probably, the most famous one. The next few days will see us talking about 3 true masters of the genre in terms of acting, and one of directing…moving on from the stars being the fake monsters and back to being actors…I’m sure you can figure out who I’m talking about.
Anyway, let me know your thoughts on this film and this sub-genre in the comments, speak up if you have any more films of the sub-genre that you would like to mention and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any inquiries or suggestions for improvements to posts!
The Journey Continues Tomorrow