“Gojira” – Chris Luedtke

As the moon wanes, so does film in the course of its history. However, once a film begins to pass its generation, a contemporary stamp is branded into its skin and begins to scar more as the years wear down on it. Certain films have managed to erase this scar; others carry it like a trophy or shackles. Gojira (or Godzilla to folks in the U.S.) by now should be no stranger to this philosophy, but whether it defies the weight of the ages or allows itself to sink into the pop culture abyss is debatable.

Something strange is brewing off the coast of Japan. Nuclear arms testing has been documented in the Pacific, but the Japanese never anticipated any negative effects — especially not the awakening of a 400-foot dinosaur that breathes fire. The famed beast is known as “Gojira” among the people, and he has his eyes set on the destruction of Tokyo. As politicos look for a way to cover up the monster’s existence, scientists and military men look for a way to destroy it before any serious damage is done.

Back in the 1950s, radiation was all the rage. B-flicks couldn’t get enough of it. Between The Phantom Planet, Them!, and The Atomic Submarine, everything focused on radiation because it was new and foreign, which meant it was to be feared. Gojira uses the same concept: nuclear fallout creates a monstrosity that lays waste to Tokyo. The scenario is classic and even corny nowadays, but at the time, this film was considered frightening. Today, we snicker at the hilarious lapses in logic. But Gojira has much more to it than just a simple radioactive dinosaur that spews fire.

The film wastes no time in throwing us into the fray. Something is obviously wrong here. Boats have been disappearing, the families of sailors are in panic, and the whispers of an unspeakable force run rampant. We don’t feel too taken away by the premise, though. It has a good set-up but is too quick to show us the monster. This is one of the film’s biggest issues, as there’s a greater fear in what we cannot see or understand. Had the filmmakers paid more attention to this, there would have been a larger degree of tension, and the payoff, though ridiculous, would have been well worth the wait.

However, there isn’t a complete absence of tension. The stress brought on by dealing with Gojira is something that can be felt. Politicians scream at each other as they make viable statements on whether or not to try and cover up the crisis. As this happens, scientists strive to understand the monster while the military seeks to obliterate it. The cycle is vicious because everyone thinks they have the greatest solution. These internal affairs are not to be missed, though Gojira’s amazingly cheesy bedlam and destructive tendencies are not to be missed either.

Gojira wouldn’t be mistaken for a true horror film today. In its time, it made an incredible statement on chaos breeding more chaos, and everyone is going to have a different way to deal with it. While this is not the masterpiece I once viewed as a child, I can still boldly state that Gojira is a good film. The new version is beautifully cleaned up, sounding and looking better than ever before. If you’ve ever had an interest in seeing a rubber monster lay waste to Japan while delivering a message about nuclear war, then have at it my friend. Gojira has been waiting for you.

Rating: ★★★☆

-Chris Luedtke

Read A.J. Hakari’s Gojira review here.

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