Forget CGI! Suitmation is back! Haruo Nakajima, the poor Toho Studios stuntman who lumbered around in latex as the nuclear-fire-breathing, cow-elephant shrieking, 40-metre-high rubber agent of apocalypse in this marvellous and highly moving 1954 Japanese original had a sweaty, dirty job. But it was no more dirty than the hack job the US distributors committed on Honda’s masterpiece when they released the 1956 Americanised, cut and dubbed version starring Raymond Burr that we’ve all grown to love and laugh at. Their clumsy re-edit and additions of ‘Look! He’s coming here!’-style dialogue would seem like an act of travesty were it not for the similar vengeance the Japanese (Honda included) have wreaked in their ever-cheesier sequels.We’ve waited 50 years to see Honda’s mega-budget original here. It’s an entirely different film. First of all – as restored early scenes of destroyed ships in seas facing the Bikini Atoll H-bomb tests, the Geiger-counters scanning children on the Odo islands or the ‘not-again’ conversations on Tokyo buses testify – Honda’s intention was to provide more than just a thrilling monster entertainment in the Ray Harryhausen mould (which it is). Deeply affected by witnessing the wartime Tokyo firestorms and the nuclear ruins of Hiroshima, he also wanted the film to be an allegory of nuclear warfare. However much this knowledge may deepen the impact of the fine performances (notably veteran Takashi Shimura as the idealistic palaeontologist and Akihiko Hirata as the brooding inventor of the potentially escalating Oxygen Destroyer), the meticulous model-work and superb production design of Eiji Tsubaraya and the minatory soundscapes of Akira Ikafube, we mustn’t forget that ‘Godzilla’ is after all a monster flick. But seen afresh in this cut, with Honda’s pulp poetry restored, this ballad of destruction reveals itself as one of the most exciting, enjoyable and moving of them all.
Cast and crew
Takeo Murata, Ishiro Honda