Friday, December 21, 2012

GODZILLA (1954)

I'm work-free for a few days and my family is a few states away, so my Christmas options were:

A) go from house to house, sadly peeping in windows and watching intact families enjoy gifts, food, and each other's company while violin music plays until I die of hypothermia or

B) watch Godzilla movies and analyze them on my blog.

Called GOJIRA in Japan, GODZILLA was made in 1954, almost ten years after Hiroshima.  It inspired a parade of sequels which veered into terrible camp for MST3K to mock before an improbable renaissance of seriousness took hold in the darker nineties and beyond.  In a way, this was a return to the spirit of this original, as GODZILLA is far more small-scale and somber than most of its goofy kids.  Everybody knows the story: a monster, formed by radiation, arises to attack Japan.  What's surprising about this first outing is the deliberate pacing of the plot.  It really takes its time to get going.  People who, like me, are used to later Godzilla are going to be shifting uncomfortably through the many scenes of dialogue and wondering why the movie is so focused on  the scientist love triangle and also why Godzilla looks like this:


To be fair, that is probably the worst look in the film.  During the later scenes, Godzilla actually looks incredible—like a wet black mountain with teeth, laying waste to the cityscape.  


Even if you've never seen this, you've probably heard that it's an anti-nuke allegory or whatever.  Honestly, portions of it are kind of ambiguous or could at least be interpreted that way.  SPOILER: scientist Serizawa invents an "oxygen destroyer" (yeah, I know), but refuses to use it to annihilate Godzilla until his ex-gf and her new flame convince him that it's necessary to save lives.  Horrible weapon that must be used to prevent even worse destruction—sounds like the kind of arguments that (hopefully) occurred prior to the nuclear attacks on Japan, ne?  It's pretty interesting that the film goes in this direction, although I dunno how much even-handed contemplation credit you can grant it.  I'm not totally convinced that GODZILLA is the secretly-brilliant masterwork that modern critics have declared.  It's obviously got something to say about nuclear business and it's loose enough that you could convincingly argue that it would work as a terrorism allegory, but there are a lot of of flaws here, peeps.

This is what happens when you tolerate homosexuals!

Primitive design and effects aside, my objections to this are also things that I kind of enjoy.  Like having very little character development.  This decentralized approach works when we've got little vignettes in the city during Godzilla's rampage, like when a mom tells her kids that they'll be with Daddy soon.  The downside is that we have to go back to dutifully boring daughter Emiko and her dad, who is STILL angsted about Godzilla being destroyed instead of studied.  There's like seriously no movement or alteration in these characters and it's not like they're fun monster-controlling aliens from space or anything, so those scenes are a major drag.  "All the characters kind of suck" is kind of a big flaw.


Love/hate #2 is the sheer amount of time devoted to looking at tanks, transport vehicles, soldiers, etc.  1954 was the year in which Japan passed the Japan Self-Defense Forces Act, which transformed a portion of the police into the Japanese National Guard, basically.  So it's certainly weird to see how lovingly GODZILLA devotes minutes to showing battle regalia and war weapons, like after so many years of demilitarization, we can finally have tanks again!  But, then again, those minutes are not advancing the plot or leading directly to monster mayhem, so they're a bit of waste when divorced from the social climate, right?

Should you see this?  Yes.  For historic reasons and to appreciate how distant the series/concept got from its origins.  Occasional zzzzs aside, it's also a pretty smart film, doing things like recurring music motifs as a contrast to the destruction of a society.  And when one character says of a guy with one eye, "He came to see us off", lulz.

No comments: