Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura
Director: Ishiro Honda
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: January 24, 2012
WILL THE WORLD BE DESTROYED BY A TWO MILLION YEAR OLD MONSTER?
Japan has a long and storied tradition of cinematic achievements, but for me, when I think of our great island neighbor to the east, two things come to mind: Akira Kurosawa and Godzilla. One gave us samurai tales and human dramas elevated to Shakespearean power and elegance. The other gave us a guy in a big foam costume trampling miniature sets.
But when Godzilla, or Gojira was released in 1954, it was more than just another run-of-the-mill low budget monster movie offering that so placarded the drive-in movies of its day. Money was spent, and great trickery was accomplished. But perhaps more than anything, it served as a tactile reminder of the fear many Japanese still felt after the atomic age was unleashed upon them in the second World War.
Godzilla, therefore, may have been crafted with the fears of one nation in mind, but it became a phenomenon the world over. In two years the “Americanized” version of the film (also included on this disc) brought America a monstrous triumph not seen since King Kong. East or west, fans couldn’t get enough of the big guy.
The franchise would go on and on…sometimes Godzilla was the good guy, sometimes he was the bad guy…he must have been as confused as a pro wrestler. Some films were good, some were not so good, but for the most part, they delivered exactly what audiences expected.
Hollywood has gotten in on the action, with the loud and terribly forgettable remake that turned out quite miraculous. The miracle was how the movie could show us all just how much was possible in the age of CGI and effects, and yet somehow make us yearn for the rubber suit lizard smashing Matchbox cars.
No, Godzilla is not a perfect movie, but it is fun, and quite a time capsule movie because it so captured the mood of an entire nation and expressed it in ways only possible in cinema. It might be easy to chuckle at the style, but it is also sobering to remember that seeing entire cities destroyed and smoldering was a collective memory of many people of the time. Godzilla was a work of fiction, but represented some very real horrors.
By the time of Mechagodzilla? Maybe not quite as much.
Criterion delivers a fine job with this Blu-ray…I prefer the original Japanese version myself, but both it and the American takes are given quality high definition treatments. There is some unavoidable murkiness on the print in darker scenes, and some noticeable spots and scars here and there, but considering that film preservation was not great in Asia for many years, I have to say this is a heckuva job.
Godzilla’s roar…how could you not love it? Actually, this uncompressed mono soundtrack is quite clean, and offers some surprising subtleties in the mix between the music, dialogue and effects. Dynamic range is fairly strong…this is one case were a 5.1 remix would have been almost superfluous.
Let the fun begin! In addition to both the original Japanese and American versions of the movie, each has a commentary from film historian David Kalat that really helps put the monster phenomenon in perspective. There are new interviews with cast members, special effects technicians…even the composer of the terrific score.
You can see a reel of visual effects, including miniatures, matting and more…the before and after comparisons are quite cool; some of these shots were more intricate than you might imagine! There is also an audio essay on the Japanese fishing vessel that ended up in the wake of an H-bomb test, which partly inspired the story. Finally, there is a modern film critic interview, and trailers for both versions of the movie.
The packaging is also quite cool, featuring a pop-up Godzilla and a great booklet!
Godzilla is a terrific event from a terrific company on a terrific Blu-ray. Criterion has put all the goods together for this disc, and fans old and new alike will definitely be roaring their approval.