By David Sterritt | Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor | May 07, 2004
For a more thoughtful dose of horror, look for "Godzilla" in its new release.
This isn't the heavy-handed Hollywood remake of 1998, nor the cut-and-spliced Japanese version that stormed American screens in 1956. It's the true original edition, directed by Ishiro Honda in
1954 and never distributed in the United States until now.
If you've seen Mr. Honda's movie before, you probably remember its slapdash voice-dubbing
and - stranger still - the unlikely presence of Raymond Burr in a leading role.
The scenes with Burr were shot in Hollywood two years after Honda completed the picture,
though, and spliced into the story on the (sadly accurate) theory that American moviegoers won't
flock to a film unless it contains a face they're already familiar with. To squeeze the Burr scenes
in, the US distributor clipped out 20 minutes, and then added 20 more minutes to suit American attention spans.
Most inexcusable of all, the US distributor decided that the movie's serious message was more
serious than Saturday-night monster fans could handle. So that landed on the cutting-room floor
Ironically, a different kind of serious message emerges from this act of money-driven censorship. Just nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by US atomic bombs, the recently traumatized people of Japan welcomed a commercial movie suggesting that nuclear tests might
stir up physical and psychological demons - symbolized by Godzilla - awakened to mass destruction by precisely such tests, that humanity is unprepared to handle. Two years later, Americans were deemed unready for such a message by their own entertainment industry.
Not that Honda's original "Godzilla" is a message movie first and foremost. It's a horror flick, and an ingenious one at that, with visual effects so vivid that gimmicky spin-offs became an enduring staple of popular film.
Its producers gave it what was then Japan's biggest-ever budget, enabling Honda to make the
title monster the most realistic of its day. He was also able to cast Takashi Shimura, of "The Seven Samurai" fame, for the main human role.
So step aside, King Kong, even if you do have another remake of your own coming from "Lord of
the Rings" guru Peter Jackson next year. Godzilla is back, and he still has something to teach us.
"Godzilla," not rated, contains violence.
Copyright © 2004 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.