Waves launch over the shore. Rain falls in torrents. The wind hurls. People scream. The music speeds. And there he is, king of the monsters, Godzilla, just kinda standing there.
This is a deeply silly movie made in 1954, which most 21st-century viewers likely will go in expecting. What may surprise some viewers, however, is just how pervasive the sense of dread is throughout “Godzilla.”
Like many, my first exposure to Godzilla wasn’t this film, and it wasn’t even the massively overhyped Matthew Broderick-starring remake of 1998. It was something that seeped into the culture, ironically like some sort of radiation. About the zillionth time it got name-checked, parodied, saluted, or sent-up, all its major components could be inferred.
Chief among the collective critiques of the film was that the monster looks fake. This isn’t just a longing for modern-day effects, either: Both “The Day the Earth Stood Still” of 1951 and “King Kong” of 1933 feel more convincing and poetic in appearance.
Attempting to explain Godzilla’s Jurassic period origin, a scientist mentions the brontosaurus, a dinosaur believed at the time to exist but actually discovered later to be the parts of two different dinosaurs mashed together.
Those same sentiments came to me while watching screaming Tokyo residents scream in terror with apocalyptic radio broadcasts blaring, as the lizard guy posed sillily over a model train.
Regardless of the lizard itself, or rather despite it, “Godzilla” is effective in portraying a sense of dread about Japanese society. Released less than 10 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and while nuclear tests off the coast of the Pacific Islands were still the norm, the fall out is palpable.
Much could be said, perhaps negatively, about the old-man who connects Godzilla’s appearance with the loss of Japanese traditional culture. Remember, it was this culture spun out of control that had just recently lead to horrific war crimes committed in China. When “Godzilla” was being released, those guilty parties were just being released from prison.
That said, “Godzilla” is also seen as the byproduct of the mad pursuit of progress. Some might see it as insensitive, but I can’t help but point to the fact the film ends with a call for the end to nuclear testing.
It’s so poignant considering the March 2011 disaster at Fukushima, where a nuclear plant meltdown occurred after an earthquake and tsunami.
If a film is willing to make such a direct call for action, whether correct or not, and then a cataclysmic effect happens when the call is not heeded, one cannot blame the art.
Even if the art is mostly about a giant rubber dinosaur.
‘Godzilla’ (1954) • When to see it: November 19, 9pm
• Where to see it: Dada, 115 Xingfu Rd, near Fahuazhen Rd
• Price: Free
• What to see: The rubber suit that started it all: The Godzilla monster franchise begins here, in 1954. A nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean has awoken a 2-million-year-old monster, and he has a nasty temper and equally vile morning breath.
• Brian’s score: 7/10