Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

80-81 mins | Horror | April 1956

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HISTORY

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was originally released in Japan in 1954 under the title Gojira and had a working American title of Godzilla (The Sea Beast ). According to contemporary and modern sources, the name "Godzilla" was used for the American version as, in English, it closely resembles the phonetical sound of "Gojira" in Japanese. The print viewed carried only an opening title card, with no personal or company names credited. At the conclusion of the story, a title card reads "The End," but no additional credits are shown. The above credits were taken from reviews and other contemporary sources.
       According to modern sources, the inspiration of Gojira , which is a name combining the Japanese words for gorilla and whale, was an incident that occurred in Mar 1954 near the Bikini Atoll in which a Japanese vessel carrying a crew gravely ill from radiation poisoning drifted into the area, which was used at the time by the United States as a nuclear testing site. Japanese producer Tomoyuki Tanaka used the incident's relevance to Cold War nuclear fears and the actual 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a springboard for the story. Modern sources also note that the original Gojira was the highest budgeted film made in Japan to that time.
       As noted in various contemporary sources, Jewell Enterprises, Inc. partners Richard Kay and Harold Ross purchased a print of Gojira and brought it to the United States. Boston-based distributor Joseph A. Levine bought the rights to Gojira and distributed it under his Embassy Pictures Corp. banner in the ... More Less

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was originally released in Japan in 1954 under the title Gojira and had a working American title of Godzilla (The Sea Beast ). According to contemporary and modern sources, the name "Godzilla" was used for the American version as, in English, it closely resembles the phonetical sound of "Gojira" in Japanese. The print viewed carried only an opening title card, with no personal or company names credited. At the conclusion of the story, a title card reads "The End," but no additional credits are shown. The above credits were taken from reviews and other contemporary sources.
       According to modern sources, the inspiration of Gojira , which is a name combining the Japanese words for gorilla and whale, was an incident that occurred in Mar 1954 near the Bikini Atoll in which a Japanese vessel carrying a crew gravely ill from radiation poisoning drifted into the area, which was used at the time by the United States as a nuclear testing site. Japanese producer Tomoyuki Tanaka used the incident's relevance to Cold War nuclear fears and the actual 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a springboard for the story. Modern sources also note that the original Gojira was the highest budgeted film made in Japan to that time.
       As noted in various contemporary sources, Jewell Enterprises, Inc. partners Richard Kay and Harold Ross purchased a print of Gojira and brought it to the United States. Boston-based distributor Joseph A. Levine bought the rights to Gojira and distributed it under his Embassy Pictures Corp. banner in the U.S., although a 27 Feb 1956 HR news item stated that Edward Barison, president of Cinema Distributors of America, and Levine were finalizing an agreement to form "a new international production and distribution corporation, TransWorld Releasing Corporation," and that the first venture of the new company was to be Godzilla (The Sea Beast) . The DV review noted that Terry Turner and Harry Rybnick were also affiliated with Barison and Levine in the distribution deal. Many modern sources credit Levine's expansive marketing strategy to the box-office success of the picture in the U.S. and point to this as a springboard to his long and successful career as a producer and distributor.
       Additional footage for Gojira was shot in the United States, with American Terry Morse directing the new footage and editing it into the original Japanese film. According to modern sources, the American scenes were shot on a small, rented sound stage on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles and cost approximately $100,000 to produce. While the American release ran 80-81 minutes, the Japanese original ran approximately 96 minutes. All of the footage featuring Raymond Burr as "Steve Martin" was added to the Japanese footage. However, contrary to statements in most reviews and modern sources, Burr was not the only American actor in the cast; Japanese-American actor Frank Iwanaga, who portrayed "Tomo Iwanaga," was also in the added scenes, as were several Asian-American bit players and extras. The film's opening sequence, as well as a number of scenes within the long flashback, combine original Japanese footage with interpolated shots or scenes of Burr, Iwanaga and other American-based actors either observing what is happening or reacting to it.
       For example, in one sequence set on Odo Island, when the Japanese cast is seen running up and down the hillside, shots are interpolated of Burr and Iwanaga on a similar terrain, as if in the same sequence. Other scenes were made to appear as if Burr was in the same shot with some of the Japanese actors by use of stand-ins, photographed from behind, who physically resembled and wore the same clothing as the Japanese actors. There are no subtitles in the American version, and very little of the dialogue was dubbed into English. Most of the Japanese dialogue is either unnecessary to the understanding of the unfolding action, is related in Steve's running narration or is translated into English by Iwanaga to Burr. As noted in many contemporary and modern sources, the figure of Godzilla was sometimes a model and sometimes a man in a rubber suit.
       The film received mixed reviews when it opened in the U.S., with some reviewers praising it and others comparing its story and special effects unfavorably with the 1933 King Kong (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). In his original NYT review, critic Bosley Crowther called the film "incredibly awful...with a miniature of a dinosaur made of gum-shoes and about $20 worth of toy buildings and electric trains." John L. Scott, in his LAT review, wrote "American monsters will have to look to their laurels now that the Japanese has dredged up Godzilla...If you're a horror devotee, "Godzilla" should go on your shopping list." Crowther later rebutted critics who had praised the film by chastising them for causing the film to "be exalted by such a mighty claim." Crowther further stated "One might remotely regard him [Godzilla] as a symbol of Japanese hate for the destruction [of] Hiroshima one pleasant August morn. But we must assure you that the quality of the picture and the childishness of the whole idea do not indicate such calculation. Godzilla was simply meant to scare people."
       Modern sources add Takeo Oikawa, Kokuten Kodo, Toranosuke Ogawa, Ren Imaizumi and Kenji Sahara to the cast, credit American actor James Hong with the dubbing the voices for the characters "Ogata" and "Dr. Serizawa," and credit Haruo Nakajimi, Katsumi Tezuka and Ryosaku Takasugi as "Gojira." According to modern sources, the American version of Gojira was released in Japan on 29 May 1957 under the title Kaiju O Godzilla (Monster King Godzilla) .
       Numerous additional Godzilla films were produced by Japan's Toho Co., with many of the initial sequels either directed or produced by Tanaka and written by Honda, including the 1963 release Godzilla vs. King Kong and the 1964 release Godzilla vs. the Thing (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). Burr revived his character in the Toho-produced Godzilla, 1985 , released in Japan in 1984 as Gojira . An American-produced version of the saga was released by Columbia/Tri-Star in 1998, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Matthew Broderick. For that film, the setting was changed to modern-day New York City.
       In May 2004, New York City-based Rialto Pictures, which had acquired the rights to Godzilla, King of the Monsters , released the original, uncut Japanese Gojira , in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its release. In Mar 2004, Toho announced that Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) would be the final entry in the fifty-year-long series for at least a decade. Slumping box-office sales for the series were cited as the reason for terminating the franchise, which included more than two dozen films. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 May 1956.
---
Cue
28 Apr 1956.
---
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1956
p. 3.
Daily Variety
16 Jun 1986.
---
Daily Variety
9 Dec 2003.
---
Film Daily
27 Apr 1956
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
28 Apr 1956
p. 66.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1956.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Jul 1956.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 May 1996.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
5 May 1956
p. 883.
New York Times
28 Apr 1956
p. 11.
New York Times
6 May 1956.
---
New York Times
2 May 2004.
---
Variety
25 Apr 1956
p. 6.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Gojira
Godzilla (The Sea Beast)
Release Date:
April 1956
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 27 April 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Jewell Enterprises, Inc.
Copyright Date:
27 April 1956
Copyright Number:
LP6465
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
80-81
Countries:
Japan, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17837
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

American reporter Steve Martin comes to amid the rubble of Tokyo, a city almost completely destroyed the previous night. After Steve is rescued and taken to a makeshift hospital, he thinks back to a few days before: On the way to a new post in Cairo, Steve flies to Tokyo to visit old college friend Dr. Serizawa, a prominent theoretical thinker. In the waters below Steve’s plane, a ship bursts into flames and sinks, moments after sending out a distress signal. At the Tokyo airport, Steve is asked by security officer Tomo Iwanaga if he noticed anything unusual during the flight. Tomo sadly reveals that he does not know what they are dealing with, then takes Steve to the communications room of the company that owned the sunken vessel. As Steve and Tomo observe, it is revealed that a rescue ship dispatched to the area of the disaster sank in a similar manner. After eight ships are obliterated, the Japanese begin to panic as news of the disasters are broadcast throughout the world. A meeting of Japan’s top officials is held and Dr. Yamane, one of Japan's greatest scientists, testifies as Steve looks on. Yamane suggests that the investigation must begin on Odo, a sparsely inhabited island near where the ships sank. Meanwhile, on Odo, fearful natives rescue the sole survivor of one of the ships, but he dies after uttering a few hysterical words. Next morning, a helicopter carrying Japanese officials arrives on the island. Steve and Tomo, who are part of the group, learn from one terrified islander that he saw a monster. That night, Steve and ... +


American reporter Steve Martin comes to amid the rubble of Tokyo, a city almost completely destroyed the previous night. After Steve is rescued and taken to a makeshift hospital, he thinks back to a few days before: On the way to a new post in Cairo, Steve flies to Tokyo to visit old college friend Dr. Serizawa, a prominent theoretical thinker. In the waters below Steve’s plane, a ship bursts into flames and sinks, moments after sending out a distress signal. At the Tokyo airport, Steve is asked by security officer Tomo Iwanaga if he noticed anything unusual during the flight. Tomo sadly reveals that he does not know what they are dealing with, then takes Steve to the communications room of the company that owned the sunken vessel. As Steve and Tomo observe, it is revealed that a rescue ship dispatched to the area of the disaster sank in a similar manner. After eight ships are obliterated, the Japanese begin to panic as news of the disasters are broadcast throughout the world. A meeting of Japan’s top officials is held and Dr. Yamane, one of Japan's greatest scientists, testifies as Steve looks on. Yamane suggests that the investigation must begin on Odo, a sparsely inhabited island near where the ships sank. Meanwhile, on Odo, fearful natives rescue the sole survivor of one of the ships, but he dies after uttering a few hysterical words. Next morning, a helicopter carrying Japanese officials arrives on the island. Steve and Tomo, who are part of the group, learn from one terrified islander that he saw a monster. That night, Steve and Tomo watch a native ceremony that dramatizes the legend of a monster called "Godzilla," which islanders fear is responsible for the ship disasters. During the night, as a violent storm pounds the island, horrendous roaring sounds are heard as many of the villagers and their homes are destroyed. The next morning, officials bring some villagers back to Tokyo to testify before Japanese leaders about what they saw. Yamane then testifies, stating that they should not dismiss the native’s comments and suggesting an expedition be formed. After his testimony, Steve, who had met Yamane on previous occasions, asks if he may come along on the expedition. Onboard the ship bound for Odo is Yamane’s daughter Emiko and Ogata, a young officer with whom she is in love, even though she has been engaged to Serizawa since childhood. When the ship arrives at Odo, Yamane observes the destruction and discovers that a local well has been contaminated and is surrounded by radioactive footprints of a living creature. When an alarm sounds in the hills, everyone runs toward it then flee in terror as a huge, dinosaur-like creature appears on the horizon. Back in Tokyo, Yamane describes the Jurassic Age to officials, explaining that there was once an intermediary creature, called Godzilla by native peoples, that could live on both land and in the sea. Yamane then reveals his conclusion that, based on the presence on the island of Spendium 90, a bi-product of the H-bomb, the 400-foot tall Godzilla was resurrected due to “repeated experiments of H-Bombs.” Later, Steve speaks on the telephone with his boss, George Lawrence, and relates that officials have decided to use sonar to locate Godzilla, then destroy it with depth charges. That afternoon, as Emiko is about to tell Serizawa that she wants to marry Ogata, Serizawa takes her into his laboratory filled with tanks of exotic fish. After Serizawa causes all of the fish in one tank to be completely destroyed, Emiko is terrified but agrees to his request that she not reveal to anyone what she has seen. Soon a large portion of the Japanese fleet is launching depth charges to try to kill Godzilla, even though Yamane feels that Godzilla should be studied rather than destroyed. After the day’s bombardment, the Japanese celebrate Godzilla’s destruction until revelers see the monster in Tokyo harbor. The army is mobilized, but when Godzilla rises from the harbor, machine gun fire has no effect. Thousands of frightened citizens try to flee Tokyo as Godzilla walks onto the land, crushing all buildings, trains and bridges in his path. Godzilla returns to the water after destroying the dock area, and the next morning officials work on a plan to stop the beast by entrapping it in the network of electrical power lines encircling the city. In anticipation of Godzilla’s reappearance, and fearful of what might happen, Steve sets up his tape recorder to dictate a record of what he sees. Even though the city’s electrical wires carry 300,000 volts of electricity, Godzilla is unaffected by their power. Heavy artillery fire is also useless, leaving Tokyo completely vulnerable. As Godzilla advances through the streets, impervious even to tank attacks, its incendiary breath causes huge fires to erupt, setting most of the city ablaze. Observing from the distance, Steve and other reporters are incredulous, but soon they, too, are trapped, forcing Steve to dictate “Steve Martin signing off from Tokyo, Japan.” After destroying most of Tokyo, Godzilla returns to the harbor. As Yamane, Emiko and Ogata watch, the Japanese air force attacks Godzilla from the air, sending it back down into the water. In the morning, after Steve awakens in the hospital, Emiko and Ogata are at his bedside. When Steve wonders aloud what can stop Godzilla, Emiko tells him about what she saw in Serizawa’s lab and reveals that Serizawa told her he accidentally came upon a means to destroy all oxygen in water, thereby killing all life. On Serizawa’s insistence, she promised him not to tell anyone about the oxygen destroyer until he found a counter measure. Urged by Steve to try and change Serizawa’s mind, Emiko and Ogata go to see the scientist. Emiko confesses that she broke her promise and begs him to use the oxygen destroyer against Godzilla. Angered, Serizawa rushes into his lab to destroy his experiments, but after knocking Ogata out in a scuffle, realizes that he and Emiko are right. Some time later, Steve becomes one of the witnesses who will observe Serizawa help Ogata destroy the beast. The two men dive off the ship and soon find Godzilla’s resting place. Ogata rises to the surface, but Serizawa remains on the ocean floor holding the oxygen destroyer to ensure its success. After wishing Ogata happiness with Emiko, Serizawa unleashes the oxygen destroyer. Godzilla rises to the surface then flails back under the water as his flesh disintegrates. With Godzilla destroyed, those on the ship salute Serizawa for his sacrifice. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.