The Showa era is an era that identifies a specific time period between1926 - 1989 under the reign of the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito. For films, however, this is regarded as the Golden Age of monster films by fans totaling of 15 movies. There were so many of them coming out of the woodwork such as Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, Gamera The Invincible, Mothra, Rodan, Ultraman, etc. The Japanese film industry was flooded with monster films just like how Marvel and DC are flooding Hollywood with comic book movies today. Even fans today hold these movies on a golden pedestal with such high regard.
The year was 1954 and Japan was still recovering after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in World War 2. There was a ban in place to censor any movies that were about World War 2 or references of the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, came up with an idea for a movie on his way back from Indonesia after watching the 1953 movie, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and an incident that happened with a fishing boat on March 1, 1954. The incident that happened was the fishing boat, F/V Lucky Dragon 5, was exposed to and contaminated by a nuclear fallout from the Castle Bravo thermonuclear test at the Bikini Atoll. Twenty-three fishermen were exposed to the radiation from the fallout. Tanaka wrote an outline with the working title, The Giant Monster From 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and was presented to executive producer, Iwao Mori, who gave the okay on the production of the film after special effects specialist, Eiji Tsuburaya, agreed to do the effects for the film and hired Ishiro Honda as the director.
The original plan for special effects was to use stop-motion for Godzilla just like in King Kong, but the problem was that nobody had any knowledge on stop-motion and the special effects crew did not have the time to make it stop-motion. So Tsuburaya and his crew had to come up with a new approach to make Godzilla come to life. Thus, the tokusatsu method (the use of suitmation and miniatures to convey scale of the monsters and its destruction) was born and this method would be used up to 2004. The first version of the Godzilla suit weighed 220 pounds. When Haruo Nakajima, the suit actor who plays Godzilla, tried on the first suit for fitting he fell over due to the weight. The suit was cut in half and was used only for partial body shots. A second suit was made much slimmer for Nakajima to use when full body shots were needed, but even then he would only be able to last three minutes inside the suit before passing out. Nakajima commented that he lost 20 pounds during the production of the film.
Gojira was released on November 3rd, 1954 and even though it received mixed - negative reviews by Japanese critics, the film remains as the second most attended Godzilla film of all time, with King Kong vs. Godzilla taking the number 1 spot. It won the award for Best Special Effects, but lost to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai for the Best Picture award. Gojira would later be released in United States as Godzilla: King Of The Monsters in 1956 with a re-cut version with Raymond Burr playing as an American reporter named, Steve Martin, to explain what is going on in the movie to the audience.
The story is about a giant ancient monster that awakens from the tests of the H-bomb and starts off by destroying some fishing boats and then later rampages through Tokyo. The story sounds like your typical monster film, but the music done by composer, Akira Takarada, mixed with the effects done by Eiji Tsuburaya makes the film even more terrifying and tragic. In today's standard, it would just be another monster film, but back then this was the stuff of horror to the Japanese. I heard that Gojira was so realistic that the audience ran out of the theater screaming believing that an actual monster was attacking the theater in real life. It was like the Japanese version of The War Of The Worlds incident that happened on October 30,1938, where many people in New Jersey thought there was an actual alien invasion. But it isn't just the scare factor that the movie focuses on. It also focuses on the aftermath and how these people were effected physically and emotionally. The whole movie is an anti-nuclear energy message wrapped into a monster film that slaps you across the face with Hiroshima and Nagasaki metaphors. The most emotional part of the whole movie would have to be the part where a school choir sings a prayer for hope and during the singing the movie does a montage of the people that are in hospitals and the people that lost their homes. This is during the scene where Dr. Serizawa must come to a decision on whether he should allow the use of his invention to kill Godzilla. There are other emotionally driven scenes like this especially at the end of the movie where not even the ending is a happy ending. Dr. Yamane has an opposite opinion on Godzilla and believes Godzilla is just misunderstood and he should be studied rather than killed. He hates the idea of killing the first and possibly the last of his kind and that man has no right to judge nature. So it makes the audience wonder if Godzilla is truly misunderstood or if he is actually evil.
Both the original and American versions are really good at story telling. It was like watching two different movies telling the same story. The original is in the perspective of the victims that were attacked by Godzilla and the American version is in the perspective of Raymond Burr's character, Steve Martin, who witnesses and reports Godzilla's path of destruction from afar. What bums me out though is that in the American version, the English dub did not age very well even considering that back then the whole translation to English in movies was very new. It loses some of the seriousness that the movie was suppose to have and I feel as though that in today's day in age the American version should be re-dubbed.
Gojira/Godzilla: King Of The Monsters will always be the most recommended and most important Godzilla movie in the series. It is a tragedy film where the monster is very much misunderstood and reflects the terror of the people that were affected by the bombing in World War 2. If you were to ask any fan which movie to recommend, they will all answer Gojira/Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is where you need to start.