Shōwa era Godzilla Challenge Preface
The Japanese Godzilla films are often classified by four different “eras”: the Shōwa era (1954–1975), the Heisei era (1984–1995), the Millennium era (1999–2004), and the Reiwa era (2016–present). The first two eras were named after Japan’s Emperor at the time of the films’ release. After learning that HBO Max has the entire Shōwa era catalog (with the exception of King Kong VS Godzilla ), I have challenged myself to watch all 15 films, and review them weekly. Most of these are rewatches for me – but, as part of this challenge, I will approach these films from a new perspective, and see how they have evolved as the series goes on.
Feel free to watch along weekly and start a conversation in the comments. Cheers, and happy watching!
Godzilla (1954) Review
As the birth of a new genre, Godzilla is often credited for being the first Kaiju film ever. It has a 93% Rotten Tomatoes score and 78% Metacritic rating, and is regarded as a beautiful commentary of the then fairly recent events of WWII and the dangers of atomic weapons. Godzilla tells the cautionary tale of an ancient 165-foot tall creature from the cretaceous period that lived in an underwater cave that was destroyed as a result of hydrogen bomb testing. The titular Kaiju is presented as just another victim of nuclear weaponry, forced out of his natural habitat. He starts eating all of the surrounding sea life, and eventually all of the livestock as well, causing a food shortage.
Much like 1975’s Jaws, Godzilla feels like a real threat here, even though he is given a surprisingly small amount of screen time. The monster is feared – yet the elders of the island seem to have a certain level of respect for Godzilla, who has shown up to the islands decades ago.
The film’s practical effects are very convincing, with the exception of an occasional jump cut. A rather hilarious example of this is when we see Godzilla melt a car with atomic breath, and a normal car jump cuts to a destroyed one.
The film does an excellent job of highlighting important political issues in a way that feels real. I absolutely buy into the scene where the local government doesn’t tell the public about the Godzilla sightings out of fear of creating a poor diplomatic relationship with the U.S.
A strength this film has that many other kaiju films lack is interesting human characters (I’m looking at you, Monsterverse). This is especially present in Dr. Serizawa’s hesitation to use his own creation, The Oxygen Destroyer, to defeat Godzilla. Akihiko Hiratai has a very convincing performance when explaining that he can’t use the Oxygen Destroyer out of fear of it becoming the next nuclear bomb. He talks about how the world’s political figures are unable to leave such weapons alone. Dr. Serizawa was so concerned with this, in fact, that he even takes his own life in order to ensure the world’s leaders are unable to recreate the weapon.
The film ends after the Oxygen Destroyer is used to kill Godzilla, and we are left with an ominous warning that if nuclear weapon testing continues, we can expect to see other Godzilla-like creatures appearing – which takes us to next week’s screening of Godzilla Raids Again. Feel free to watch along on HBO Max!
To me, this film earns the “Must See” film rating, because of its near-perfect blend of social commentary and fun monster movie madness – not to mention its historical significance.