Plot: After a fishing vessel is destroyed in open waters, a chain reaction of vanishing and demolished ships soon follow. All of these incidents have taken place within the same general area, which raises immense concern and Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) intends to uncover the truth. As Yamane and the other researchers observe the troubled area, they are able to witness the cause for all the destroyed ships, but it is nothing like what any of them had expected. The group sees a massive, reptilian monster emerge from the water and it becomes clear this behemoth is responsible for the wrecks, as a single swipe could sink any sea craft in an instant. Known as Godzilla, this fierce creature is thought by some to be an ancient legend come to life, though Yamane is confident that atomic energy from bomb tests is the reason. Soon Godzilla begins to travel through the waters to the mainland and unless Yamane and the others can find a solution, Tokyo seems doomed to be demolished. And what will become of the rest of Japan and the world, if Godzilla isn’t stopped?
Entertainment Value: One of the most iconic and timeless characters in all of cinema, Godzilla transcends the big screen and has become a pop culture force of nature, all starting with this original 1954 picture. While Godzilla is likely best known for stomping around miniature cities and battling other giant monsters, this first movie has a rather thoughtful approach. The narrative is a little on the deliberate side, especially if you’re most interested in the monster movie elements, but I think it works well and never feels dull in the least. The human side of the narrative is interesting, as it explores how the monster should be dealt with, the value of scientific research, and the impact the atomic bombs had on Japan. A little heavy for a monster movie perhaps, but the story is well written and the characters are developed, so it isn’t a paper thin tale just there to support the chaos. Some might find a touch slow or long for more destruction, but I think the original version of Godzilla is great and has earned its status as a genuine classic. Of course, when Godzilla was brought to American cinemas, it was tinkered with and became Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
In the U.S. version, the focus shifts more toward to the monster movie sequences, while some scenes were deleted and new ones were produced, with Raymond Burr as an American journalist added into the mix. This is likely the version most in the United States saw at least for a while and I have to admit, this cut ups the ante on the action and quickens the pace. So it makes sense why King of the Monsters resonated with audiences outside of Japan, who were perhaps more interested in the mayhem than the deliberate, dramatic elements of the original. Some of the story remains intact of course, but it does feel like a new experience, despite all the shared footage. This take also runs over fifteen minutes shorter, so that certainly makes a considerable impact on the narrative and how the story unfolds. I prefer the original Japanese version, but I can see why both have found audiences and whichever you opt to partake in, Godzilla doesn’t disappoint in his debut appearance. All of the miniature work and rubber suit hijinks are immense fun to watch, especially seeing Godzilla stomp and smash all the buildings and power lines, I could never tire of that. There is something so magical about the special effects in this movie, which would of course prove to be hugely influential and spawn countless sequels, knock offs, and tributes. Godzilla is a classic by any definition and as such, it earns a high recommendation.