This week I watched Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Godzilla. It was the first time I’d actually seen the film in its entirety, and I must admit I was a little disappointed with myself for not having watched it sooner. Anyway, here’s my reflection on Godzilla and the characteristics that make up the movie in the context of my cultural background.
I was first introduced to Japanese movies when I was probably about 10, when my Dad showed me My neighbour Totoro, and my love for Japanese film and television really took off from there. I’ve watched a lot of Japanese movies, I will admit that most of them where animated, but even then the amount of live action movies I’ve seen is still probably more than the average person. Battle Royal will continue to be one of my guilty pleasure movies for years to come. So when I was watching Godzilla I felt familiar with what I was seeing, from a cultural/social perspective.
Black and white/from the 50s:
As you’ll probably figure out reading this, I watch a lot of movies, so watching a movie in black and white wasn’t anything new to me. Some of my favourite movies (Seven Samurai, It’s a wonderful life, The Elephant man) are in black and white. My love of black and white movies probably stems from my Dad showing me a bunch of old horror movies, like The thing from another world, Invasion of the body snatchers, Nosferatu, etc. That’s part of the reason I was disappointed I hadn’t already seen it.
It is important to remember when Godzilla was made, 1954 is only nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for the people watching the film at that time the destruction that this monster created by nuclear test bombing it must have been horrific to see. It’s easy for me to see the link between the nuclear bomb and Godzilla, but I’m sure it had nowhere near the impact it would have had on the Japanese audience at the time.
You can probably guess already that I was fine with the subtitles, along with the Japanese movies that I’ve seen, I also really like kung-fu movies from China and Korea, and many European movies, and with the amount of anime I watch (#subsoverdubs) I’m pretty sure I watch something with subtitles every week.
We’ve finally gotten there, my favourite thing about Godzilla is it’s a Kaiju movie, and not only a Kaiju movie but one of the first. I’ve seen quite a few of the 90s Godzilla remakes as well as a bunch of other original franchises, my favourite being The Host (2003). Something I noticed though is that a lot of the Godzilla remakes tend to get into the destruction faster than the 1954 Godzilla, and have maybe a little less suspense. Also the relationship to Godzilla the monster has changed since 1954, in a lot of the movies now Godzilla is seen as the protector of Japan/Earth rather than just a monster.