Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gojira

(1954) ***1/2

This was the movie with which I'd intended to open my Horrorthon this year, but I got the special features dvd by accident. I was thinking that, like Halloween or Jaws, this would be that unique, original, genuinely classic movie whose greatness gets lost in a thick pile of inferior follow-ups.

Somewhere in the What Makes a Movie a Horror Movie discussion I specifically mentioned that the later "Godzilla vs. Other Kaiju" movies would not count, and I still think that's true. When I said that I knew I'd be seeing Gojira; I saw the Japanese version in the theater when it was released in 2004, and I knew it had the horror chops.

Kaiju is a great word I learned a few years ago, and it's a generic term for big, city-destroying monster. In perhaps all the other Godzilla movies besides this one, that means an action/adventure thing in which Godzilla beats down some other upstart kaiju. Lots of models get destroyed, and it's all good fun. However, In 1954 they were coming from a much deeper place.

In this movie Godzilla actually earns the "God." He emerges from the ocean at night and inflicts wanton, unstoppable destruction on a wide swath of Tokyo. He looms in the background like a dark cloud as the masses flee helplessly past us.

He's like an avatar of raw fear, invoking the same doomed sensation one feels while watching those those apocalyptic cartoons in Pink Floyd's The Wall.

It's made very clear that this is our nuclear folly biting us in the ass, but the lesson is not as potent as the image. Godzilla dominates the sky like a mushroom cloud, and your reaction is the same: run like hell and don't look back.

Now, having spun that big fat valentine to this movie, I must acknowledge that the monster is a guy in a rubber suit. And sometimes a puppet, I noticed that they had a puppet of just his head and arms. You can't help but notice, he's supposed to be hundreds of feet tall and he's clearly a dude stomping on little balsa wood houses. It's obvious, so you have to work around that. Watching it this time I found myself very much taken in by the cinematography, charmed enough that I could give them props for what they were going for and ignore the visible seams.

Speaking of cinematography, there are parts of this movie that look so fantastic, they almost make you wish color film had never existed.





Here is where I tell you about my big but. I have a big but with this movie, and it's not the rubber suit.

Aside from the two major rampages, which are tasty movie meat, there's a whole bunch of movie loaf. I know you can't have a monster movie without some characters, but this gang's concerns are presented so stiffly they hardly seem relevant.

Here's our hero Ogata, or as I like to call him, The Hair. I think he's a captain of a navy boat or something, and he's engaged to the daughter of this guy:

This is Old Guy. He's a paleontologist who's so famous that people clap when they hear he's coming to say stuff. Mostly he grumbles about how the leadership should study Godzilla instead of killing him, even after Godzilla steps on and eats a train. After the second, more devastating rampage, this line of thinking vanishes, never to be mentioned again.

The main players in the cast are, left to right (front row): The Kid (black cap), The Hair, The Chick, Old Guy, Dr. Eyepatch, and to a lesser extent, Bad Hat Reporter.

The Kid was adopted by Old Guy with no ceremony or discussion after Godzilla killed his family on Odo Island. At least in the original movie he's a teenager and not one of those Japanese monster movie boys in tiny shorts.

The Chick used to be going out with Eyepatch and hasn't told him about The Hair, and possibly hasn't even openly broken up with Eyepatch, it's not clear.

Meanwhile, Eyepatch has built the Oxygen Destroyer, which is that contraption in his lap. It does what its name implies when dropped in water, which of course liquifies the flesh of anything submerged. (Wha?)

After G-man's second rampage there's still a half hour of movie to go, and most of it is spent watching Eyepatch wring his hands over the idea of using his device. "Now it will only be used as a weapon, but if I keep it secret then someday it will benefit mankind." (Yes, someday when we desperately need to skeletonize a lot of fish, that thing will rule.) Somewhere in the discussion he understands his ex sweetie has found a two-eyed man to love, and instantly comes to grips with it. But in order to actually get him to kill the monster, it takes...schoolgirls!

Yep, his angst turns around when he watches scores of uniformed girls singing on TV. He heads underwater with The Hair but predictably goes down in the blast so that his secret will die and the other members of the cast get to scream his name a lot. "Serizawa!" "Serizawaaa!" "SERIZAWA!!" If you've seen just a little Japanese cinema, you know what I'm talking about.

Another image I liked. It's the first line of the girls' song. Also effective in this scene was footage of the wounded in their makeshift hospitals.

I do recommend Gojira, but it's not always an easy time. The music, when it's used, is stark, marchy and fairly fun. But there are scenes of the main characters doing their thing and there's no music -- sometimes with no dialogue -- for what seems like minutes. I timed one big gap and it came out to about 40 seconds, but I mean there's no sound. It put me to sleep in the theater in 2004, and it did again this year. You have been warned.

5 comments:

JPX said...

What a fantastic review, dude! Initially I was certain Jordan wrote it until I realized that he'd never slum in this stuff =)

The classic Japanese monster movies have never really appealed to me, however you've inspired me to check this out.

DCD said...

Great review! Love the character names - Dr. Eye Patch!

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I wonder if the word Kaiju was invented after Hiroshima...

Yeah, great stuff. I've stayed away from these movies because it's a can of worms I fear isn't worth opening but I will check this one out sometime.

Your review reminded me of Pee Wee 2x:

1) Guy in rubber lizard suit stomping miniature town

2) "Everybody I know has a big but. Let's talk about your big but."

(I put that quote in my high school yearbook!)

Jordan said...

I am cuckoo for Cocoa-Puffs over this movie although I haven't seen it. Octo's verbiage is sublime here. This is the perfect antidote to the horrible crap from Devlin/Emmerich (which, strictly speaking, is kind of the antecedent to Transformers and a lot of other current stuff).

JPX said...

One of my yearbook quotes is, "Where's the basement?"