To American drive-in audiences, 1956’s Godzilla, King Of The Monsters! was simply a silly sci-fi movie about a giant, lizard-like creature rampaging through Tokyo. It was a great success as escapist entertainment, but critics were unimpressed. On this side of the Pacific Ocean, few were aware that the film was a bastardized, sanitized version of a serious 1954 Japanese film called Gojira, directed by Ishiro Honda. In a video essay entitled “Godzilla - The Soul Of Japan,” filmmaker Kristian Williams compares the original Gojira to its American counterpoint and shows how the story lost most of its true meaning on its way to becoming an international pop-culture phenomenon.
Gojira was the product of Japan’s postwar anxiety, following the devastating bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Williams goes as far as to call it “one of the boldest political statements ever put to film, masquerading as a creature feature.” Even after the American occupation of Japan ended, Japanese filmmakers like Honda were still operating under strict censorship guidelines and had to be subversive to get their message across. Godzilla, then, is an elegant metaphor for the fear of nuclear annihilation. His bumpy hide is reminiscent of burned, scarred skin, and his head is the shape of a mushroom cloud.
The American version of the movie did away with the subtext, however, with 20 minutes deleted. The U.S. version also added a half hour of scenes featuring Raymond Burr so that the events could be shown from an American’s point of view. Any references to nuclear testing were excised, and the original Japanese dialogue was either untranslated or dubbed over. It was Godzilla, King Of The Monsters!, not Gojira, that cast the die for the franchise in decades to come. The original version of the film was not widely seen in America for 50 years. By then, Godzilla’s campy reputation was firmly in place.
[via Laughing Squid]