harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

movie reviewed: Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) - continued


Sc34: That night also, there is an air of celebration at the assumption that Godzilla had been destroyed and shipping is safe again. Steve warns in voiceover that the celebration was short-lived.

Out in Tokyo Bay, a dinner cruise-ship plys the quiet waters. The festivity is interrupted by the sounds of footsteps [somehow echoing up from the bottom of the Bay], and then by Godzilla's head popping above the surface of the sea with his signature roar announcing that he's no longer far south of the main island.

There is panick aboard, of course, but the pleasure ship is spared as Godzilla returns beneath the waves, heading apparently back out toward deeper waters.

Sc35: The fact that Godzilla isn't dead, and now hanging around Tokyo Harbor, causes the uproar that you'd expect. Steve tells us [unnecessarily, I think we can agree] that there was a sense of panic. In newsroooms, reporters work overtime.

Sc36: The entire Japanese Defense Force is mobilized, Steve continues to breathlessly voiceover for us.

[I find the dozens of men standing on the coast with rifles especially comforting. No, wait....]

Sc37: Back at Yamane's place, he's come out of his "don't kill the beast" funk long enough to join Ogata and Seiji, who apparently are becoming a permanent fixture sitting around waiting for Emiko to bite the bullet with Dr. Sarizawa. Despite Ogata not being able to stay away, the tension between he and Emiko is thick in the air.

The uncomfortable silence is broken by alert sirens, and the thudding footfalls of the giant monster heading inbound.

Dr. Yamane rushes outside to try to get another glimpse of this unique creature. The men soon follow him, but Ogata is stopped briefly so Emiko can confirm for him that she couldn't tell Akihiko about that whole cancelled engagement thing. [To be fair to her, I don't think Dr. Sarizawa is exactly rushing into this marriage, either.] Ogata tells Emiko he understands, but she doesn't share with him why her plan was interrupted.

Sc38: In the meantime, Godzilla has reach shallower water in the bay. Machine Gunners immediately open fire. Citizens retreat. Other citizens crowd soldiers, trying to rush into the city -- perhaps to retrieve items or find loved ones, but they're pushed back by civil defense.

Sc39: Dr. Yamane's group has made it to the bay, but they're not being allowed any closer to the action, including Ogata - who you would think would've had standing orders to report to the nearest naval base for duty on Godzilla's appearance, even assuming that he wasn't confined to base on stand by during this crisis. He suggests to the others that they take the hilltop view.

Sc40: Meanwhile, Godzilla was not deterred by the gunfire. He comes onto land, and begins a march through a local trainyard, while people who hadn't had the sense to leave before now try to avoid getting stamped on.

Steve and Ikomo have also joined the growing crowd on the hillside to see Godzilla's stomping toward Tokyo [& Ikomo Yunaga is shockingly unaffected by what he's seeing... sociopath]. In the meantime, a train is speeding toward the yard, not having been re-routed immediately upon Godzilla being spotted in the Bay for some reason. They're also unable to notice that they're speeding toward the monster, also for some reason [actually, I think I know... I'm pretty sure that this is a direct homage to King Kong's destroying a train as that film was one of the inspirations for Godzilla, as well as 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms'].

The train isn't able to stop in time, once they figure out they probably should, and runs directly into Godzilla's foot across the track. Dozens are hurt or killed, while survivors break out of windows to flee.

Godzilla continues to make twisted wreckage of the trainyard, trestles and train cars before him.

With his destruction of the trainyard, the monster - thankfully - turns around and heads back out to sea, the reason for the attack or its sessation unexplained.

Commentary: Except for the idiocy of the train operators, I love this sequence. The force perspective and back projection are terrifically done -- presumably helped out a lot by the black and white, and less than pristine film stock. But the size and scale of Godzilla is really well depicted, and his movements and costume-actor give a sense of ponderous weight to him as he navigates land travel. I was especially taken by the humongous feet of the costume in some shots, that really emphasizes just how massive and heavy this monster is, as he continues ripping up and crushing everything in his path. I'm also loving the music, as to be expected from Akira Ifukube.

But all of this is really only working as well as it does because it's being treated with complete seriousness by the director, Ishirō Honda. And I am going to also give a kudo here to Terry O. Morse. Despite some issues with trying to insert characters into the action after the fact, Terry and additional material screenwriter, Al C. Ward along with Americanized Producers (there are six of them, I'm not listing them - go to IMDB) did their best - it seems - to stay out of the original's way. It feels like this wasn't a cheap effort, like with Gamera and later films, but that the source material was treated with respect.

Sc41: Obviously, the Diet meets again in special session to map a strategy for dealing with the crisis. A planner outlines a defensive line around the bay, but the particulars aren't shared with us at this time - unless you speak Japanese.

Sc42: Back at the central newsroom set up, Steve is typing up an article to wire to his home office. Dr. Yunaga joins Steve to tell him that after he left the meeting prematurely to write up his article, they outlined a last push to deal with Godzilla. Ikomo outlines the plan for Steve.

This involves energizing the electrical towers that surround Tokyo, creating an electric fence. The military is hoping to have things ready by nightfall to pour 300,000 volts through the system to detour - or hopefully - electrocute the beast to death.

All non-essential personnel are evacuated from the area -- a truly massive task in the heavily settled region. A curfew is enforced.

Sc43: At the centralized newsroom, reporters gather at the windows to try to spot Godzilla, should he appear. Steve sets up a tape recorder so he can report 'live' on what he witnesses, if anything.

Godzilla does rise again from Tokyo Bay, as feared. In the meantime, the military are in Day-For-Night countrysides double-checking their artillery guns. (From here on, just assume that Steve Martin is curating the entire entry of Godzilla from Tokyo Bay toward the city [it'll be easier on me to not have to keep including: "Steve says... Steve reports... Steve intones..."].)

Godzilla first hits the high tension electrical towers. These, alas, fail to stop him... but they also reveal something even more devastating, which we got clues about in the ship attacks much earlier... Godzilla comes with a destructive high-radiation breath weapon! He uses this to quickly melt the towers around him.

Machine Gun and Artillery Shells also fail to convince the Big G that he doesn't really want to wander toward the city.

Sc44: Now not just wandering, but actively pissed, Godzilla begans a true rampage. His atomic breath lays waste to whole neighborhoods and starts raging fires that can't be contained and quickly spread through the tightly packed wooden housing.

Commentary: And now, in addition to presuming Steve's constant voiceovers, also assume that I'm fighting a battle with myself to control my screencapping. I just want to turn this review into a picture book from here to the end of this attack sequence!

Sc45: Despite that entire 'empty the city' order, dozens upon dozens of people remained - now trying at the last minute to run just ahead of Godzilla's giant feet and the wildfires ravaging the city.

Foot soldiers mindlessly continue running toward the Big G, firing their guns or trying to help the stragglers get away.

Despite the attack ongoing, fire fighters try to stop the blazes from razing everything.

An entire batallion of tanks are moved to point blank range and fire round after round into the monster. But it is all for naught. [And unlike their future, useless air force, the tanks actually directly hit him.]

Commentary: The only thing about this sequence that can be rightly criticized in my estimation, is the puppetry used for the Big G. In some shots, his eyes are googly and in others, his teeth are pointing outward from his mouth, so you know it can't close properly. The neck is also really scrawny when compared to the suitmation costume.

Sc46: Godzilla has now made it into the center of the city.

On an observation tower, reporters and photographers work, instead of fleeing. Their flashbulbs catch Godzilla's eye. And knowing it is too late to make it to safety, they continue to report into tape recorders and take photos to be hopefully retrieved later, as Godzilla closes in on them. As the tower is crumpled, they continue their job until it topples over, sending them all to their deaths below.

A little too late, the reporters and defense personnel at the central newsroom realize that Godzilla isn't turning away from his approach to their building. They try to gather materials to flee, while Steve stands transfixed at the window and watches his probable death approach. He makes a final report to his recorder for posterity. And then Godzilla hits the building.

Steve is hit by the ceiling debris caving in on him, as we'll see him when he comes to and this extended flashback catches up with real time.

As Godzilla passes, he strikes a block nearby with more igniting breath. A woman, crying, huddles with her children. She tries to comfort them, as the fires close in.

Commentary: This struck me as really unusual. The reporters in the film aren't presented as being suicidally stupid, or as an impediment or thorn to authority. Instead, reporting is presented as an honorable profession, and the men who die are presented as heroic, in a way, for not abandoning and running from the story. The men on the watchtower, especially, kinda gets me in the feels.

And that actress playing the doomed mother huddling with her children was pretty devastating
[but more so in the original, where the subtitles will tell us what she was saying].

Sc47: At his lab, Serizawa watches numbly on television as camera crews far enough away to not in the line of fire transmits Tokyo's destruction.

Sc48: With most of the city now in flames, or flattened, the Air Defense finally gets involved. Being cheered on by more spectators than there should be for a city supposedly evacuated, they fire on Godzilla. And mostly miss, as is their habit.

But either because he was headed that way already, or because they're annoying him, Godzilla does finally retreat to the bay.

Commentary: Yeah, okay -- I'll also give the detractors this one, too. Not only can the fighter pilots not seem to hit a 400' tall beast, moving slowly, but the cables holding up the planes and guiding the 'missiles' launched are plainly visible. It doesn't help that Ishiro made his only directorial error, by filming closeups of the missiles being launched, so you really can't ignore the wires even if you wanted to [and I desperately did]. The sequence is ill-timed, considering it just invites questions as to where the hell they've been. I'll have to demerit the editors in this regard, as well. They could've moved some of these plane attacks to earlier in the sequence to show they were there, even if we weren't always seeing them, and then avoided using any of the closeup shots that can't work.

Another thing that I did like about this sequence though, was Toyoaki Suzuki as Seiji. In the reaction shots from our principals, he is looking especially distraught, as is fitting since he has already been traumatized by Godzilla killing his parents on Odo/Oto island.

Sc49: In the aftermath, we return to our beginning as the hospital is overwhelmed by the injured, dying and already dead.

The back of Emiko and Ogata's heads comfort a bandaged up Steve (despite his not having any bloody injuries). He has just come around from another bout of unconsciousness, and asks for any updates. Emiko tells him there won't be any updates, unless....

She goes on to tell her boyfriend and Steve about the terrible secret she learned at Dr. Serizawa's but at first is reluctant to reveal it due to her promise. But Steve points out that Tokyo has been destroyed. If there is anything that can stop the monster, she must break Akihiko's confidence for everyone.

Emiko flashes back to Dr. Serizawa's lab and that silver ball that was dropped into the fishtank. As it bubbled throughout the water column, Emiko watched all of the flesh from the fish slough off until only bones remained. She tells her companions about Serizawa accidentally coming across an Oxygen Destroyer during his researches. It's capable of destroying all life in a body of water.

Akihiko impressed on her that no one can know what horrible thing he's discovered, until he is able to produce a counter agent to render it null. Ogata offers the obvious, that they need Akihiko's research. Steve laments that he's in no condition to speak to his old friend. But Emiko suggests that perhaps she can convince the doctor to reveal his secret weapon. Ogata goes with her. Steve insists to Emiko that she mustn't fail.

Commentary: I continue to fail to see why Ogata is not on a ship. Even if he was somehow retired from the navy between his introduction and when he's not on duty during this crisis, you'd think Japan would have a draft to recall recently cashiered servicemen for this desperate situation. I can't remember if this problem is from the original, or if it's due to the rejiggering here. I want to say that maybe he left the navy after adopting Seiji (but why he adopted the teen, I also can't remember) in the original, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it's really awkward to have him spending zero time in uniform after his initial appearance and for the script to have completely disregarded he was in the military during a military emergency.

Sc50: At Serizawa's, Emiko and Ogata are waiting in his home, when the doctor returns from his lab. He looks accusingly at Emiko, before offering them to take a seat. Ogata confirms his fears, by bluntly telling him he knows about the Oxygen Destroyer and insisting that they need it. Akihiko tries to play that he has no idea what Akira is talking about, but Emiko admits tearfully that she told him and Steve Martin all about it and they've agreed that he needs to share the weapon for use against Godzilla.

He says no, and retreats to his lab.

When Ogata breaks the flimsy lock, he and Emiko find the doctor destroying his own work to keep it from being recreated.

There is a brief struggle, until Ogata is bashed in the head. Seeing he's caused a head wound, Serizawa stops fighting and help Emiko tend to Akira. But he also insists that the Oxygen Destroyer is too awful to be exposed. Ogata argues that Japan could become a wasteland if Godzilla isn't stopped and conventional weaponry hasn't done anything.

It happens that the television in the lab is still on, and an announcement comes over that a nationwide prayer is being observed for Tokyo. Serizawa, Ogata and Emiko listen to a choir singing a lament for the nation over scenes of the destruction and the hospitalized wounded. The choir is made up entirely of schoolchildren survivors.

Seeing all of the children impacted is enough to sway Serizawa to use his discovery this one time. But he also insists that they help him destroy all of his research materials so that his work can never be duplicated by anyone who'd use it as a weapon against other nations. Emiko weeps for him, understanding the gravity of a scientist choosing to destroy his work.

Commentary: This scene was also surprisingly emotional. The children's choir really hit home for me, and I liked that it was seeing the row upon row of child survivors that sways Serizawa. I also liked the point of Akihiko destroying all of his hard work in service to not having his accidental discovery weaponized beyond dealing with Godzilla. Emiko breaking out into sobs as he burns his notes was a little over the top, but otherwise, this sequence worked for me.

Sc51: Sometime later, ships are out in Tokyo Harbor using sonar to locate where Godzilla rests during the day.

When this is done, Serizawa and Ogata drop to the bottom in weighted diving suits with the only samples of the Oxygen Destroyer existing. Godzilla wakes when he hears their air bubbles, and stalks in their direction, possibly just out of curiousity as he doesn't appear to be building up to an attack on the two men. They set up the destructive Oxygen Destroyer bomb.

Ogata is hauled back to the surface. But Serizawa doesn't signal for a return. In fact, he's severed his line so that he can't be hauled back to the ship.

Dr. Akihiko Serizawa, instead, is so serious about the Oxygen Destroyer never being turned against the world, that he chooses to be destroyed by it along with the beast. He waits until Godzilla is close enough, and then opens and drops the canister.

Sc52: Aboard the ship, Ogata calls for Serizawa through the hydrophone, as the sea around their ship bubbles with the destructive power of the weapon having been released.

Ogata orders that they pull up Serizawa against his wishes, but they find the hauling line and his air hose severed.

In the meantime, Godzilla thrashes about in the bubbles of the Oxygen Destroyer. He surfaces just long enough to give a pained wail.

Godzilla sinks back to the bottom, and as he lies dying, we see his flesh turn to skeletal remains. And then even these are disintegrated.

Commentary: This scene is remarkable for two reasons. On the bad side, we have the model ship that is way too close to the bubbling, roiling water which should have everyone on board the ship clinging for dear life. And anyone at the railing, including Emiko and Ogata being backwashed by Oxygen Destroyer infected water and having their flesh stripped from them.

But on the good side, and very surprisingly, this entire conclusion isn't treated with fanfare. There isn't heroic music. There isn't cheering from the onlookers. There is this sense of grimness and somberness that is reflected in the sad music over the heroes win. And this is on the soundtrack BEFORE it's clear that Serizawa is dying with his secrets. There is a sense of seriousness - again - in the fact that what the good guys are doing is going to leave Tokyo Bay a lifeless desert and a sense of respect for this necessary task, but not a celebration of it.

I can't believe that this somber mood was allowed to stand in the Americanized version. It's just... remarkable.

Sc53: Aboard the vessel, reporters are relaying the success of the Destroyer, and also reporting Serizawa's death. Ogata and Emiko are left in tears at Akihiko's choosing death, as they both respected him immensely.

Ogata offers that he and Emiko can be happy together now, but neither one of them seem to believe it, leaving us to wonder if this may have broken the relationship.

At the side of the ship, everyone gathers to pray for Serizawa. Steve offers that though the loss of a great man was heart-breaking, the entire world could live again.

Except we hear booming footsteps under 'The End'.

The Good: The sound design from Godzilla's roar, to the booming footfalls, to the fires crackling, to the soundtrack ... all of it gets a kudo.

In fact, I'm giving a special kudo just for the music! The themes and the ambiant soundtrack is amazing, and I loved that the final denouement is handled with a somber tune, instead of a raucous fanfare.

A strength of the film, is that it isn't treated like a 'monster movie', or a natural disaster spectacle. The mood remains serious and somber, and the music reinforces this as appropriate -- including when the good guys win.

I like when we're looking on Japanese characters speaking to one another, and there isn't subtitles for us. We'll only understand the jist of the conversation, unless another character reveals the details by either being Steve Martin's voiceover, or being the translator.

I loved Godzilla's first foray into the outskirts of Tokyo, and then the main destruction, including some actually emotionally affecting scenes as Godzilla lays waste to the city.

I really, really liked Serizawa being so worried that his Oxygen Destroyer could be recreated, that he chooses suicide with its only use over risking his being convinced to share its secrets later. And it also reinforced the surprisingly serious and moody feel of the ending.

The Bad: The decision to have Steve Martin's contact in Japan as Dr. Serizawa - an old friend - and then have ZERO scenes of them interacting was stupid. A tiny re-write of Steve being a family freind of the Yamanes was all that was needed.

There is the model work that is a bit too obvious. Model Boats playing massive ships in a water tank doesn't work. They simply can't be given the appearance of mass they need on water to be convincing. The planes are also very problematic due to the close ups that reveal all of the wires far too clearly for suspension of disbelief to remain intact. And, oh dear, that destroyed expedition helicoptor....

The monster puppetry is really problematic in far too many shots.

The use of radiation here is pretty lacklustre. It keeps being shown that Godzilla leaves traces of radiation wherever he goes, but NOBODY seems to take any risk seriously. This is especially egregious by Dr. Yamane handling radioactive objects without gloves, including sifting through contaminated water - even after he's been warned of the danger.

Why the day-for-night just for artillery inserts? Why?

Other Thoughts: So, ordinarily and to some extent here, Americanizing foreign films bugs me because it implies that I am too simple minded to enjoy a good story if there isn't a white person involved. It's insulting. But, considering that foreign films had so much trouble being distributed here for so long, I can appreciate that some reworking had to be done. I could accept the dubbing. My issue is still that a white guy had to be shoehorned in so that we stupid Americans would have somebody to identify with. Again, this is insulting. I'm also ambivalent about how much of the underlying commentary on the nuclear destruction wrought during WWII had to be trimmed/obscured -- I don't know if it was really necessary, or if audiences really would've rebelled on seeing anything remotely questioning the necessity of leveling two cities with nuclear weaponry. There are still arguments about how needed it was in order to conclude the war - but at least we can discuss it freely. Perhaps in the 50's, it was too soon. With all of that rambling, I found that this Americanization was done with care and that it is a good example of the practice.

I'm going to give a mixed bag to the acting, but I think this may be largely due to the dubbing. There a few places where Momoko as Emiko overdramatizes (especially when she first sees the Oxygen Destroyer at work in a fish tank), but otherwise, I don't see any bad acting going on. And, I liked the reaction shot of Seiji watching Tokyo burn, especially.

I'm not going to put it in the bad, but Dr. Yunaga's place in the story is also a bit clumsy. Making him another friend of Steve's from previous visits would've made him constantly tagging along with Steve when a translator is needed make much more sense. In fact, now that I'm considering it, Steve mentioned that his Japanese was rusty, so Yunaga should've been working for Steve's news agency, and been there to assist him/work together with him to report this story. Or... simply have Steve know Japanese well enough to not need a tagalong. Or have Emiko play translator. This inserted character is weirdly used.

I have a minor objection to all of the Japanese characters using 'Godzilla', but especially the Odo/Oto islanders. They should've been able to use Gojira, and have Steve (or his editor would be even better) dub the creature Godzilla after it's seen to give it 'more grandeur'.

I'm not going to put it in the bad, but Ogata's place in the story is also... 'off'... I guess. He is supposed to be in the navy, but except for the trip to Odo/Ota, we NEVER see him doing anything official during the crisis. He's all about hanging around Emiko and waiting for her to tell everybody else that her engagement is off.

The Score: I absolutely enjoy this version of Godzilla. More than the original? Of course not, Steve gets a bit repetitious and unnecessary in some spots and the original has details that didn't make it in here. Clearly, the original is superior. But this film isn't at all badly done for what it is. And it retains enough of the feel from the original that it comes across as being approached with care and respect, instead of being butchered for the American market.

3.75 out of 5 stars    (but I did consider giving it a 4, and am not sure that I shouldn't have)

Tags: review kaiju films

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