In 2004, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the original Japanese version of Gojira - better known in the States as Godzilla, King of the Monsters - was finally given a limited theatrical release in America. If you were a genre fan who didn't live near a major metropolitan area, you were, sadly, out of luck, but the faithful took heart in the knowledge that a DVD was surely on the way. Well, it took two years to arrive, but it has to be admitted: it was worth the wait.
Gojira itself is a fairly bleak movie, which will come as a surprise to those whose only exposure to Godzilla are through the later, increasingly light-hearted movies of the sixties and seventies. That the giant monster is a not-so-veiled metaphor for the atomic bomb - Hiroshima and Nagasaki not even a decade in the past at this point - has been pointed out repeatedly. It is the depiction of human suffering in the aftermath of Gojira's attacks that makes this the most emotionally powerful of the series, even without the added historical resonance.
It is a bit fashionable in the cult movie community to bash the American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Almost 20 minutes shorter than the original version, it features Raymond Burr as American reporter Steve Martin, who is lucky enough to know all the major characters in the story and be in the right place over and over again for the developing story. But even this tampering (and some particularly terrible body double) does little to dilute the power of the Ishiro Honda-directed masterpiece; and it is arguably this version that introduced the Big G to the world at large, sparking an enormous franchise and, indeed, its own genre: the kaiju eiga, the giant monster movie.
This is a beautiful box - perfect bound, like a book, it opens to reveal the two discs and pack-in booklet. The film itself is doubtless the best version Sony Classic Media could get its hands on, but still sadly speckled. This is actually referenced in the audio commentary - the film labs were so low-tech that it is likely that a pristine print of Gojira has never existed. Past this minor problem, the film is in good shape, with a fine transfer of lush blacks and warm grays.
The aforementioned booklet is a 14-page affair with a very good overview of the film, it's making and impact by Steve Ryfle. My wife - who knows Godzilla mainly through myself and my son - found it quite revelatory. Ryfle returns on the audio tracks for both films with Ed Godziszewski, and what excellent tracks they are! Though never less than informative, they seem to run a bit out of steam on King of the Monsters, but cover this by trotting out recorded interviews of people associated with the American distribution, and the son of the director of the American segments, Terry Morse.
Two quite interesting docs round out the first disc, covering story development and construction of the Godzilla suit. Godziszewski again narrates these, and though not an ideally powerful speaker, damn but this man knows his Godzilla. These docs are composed of a wealth of still pictures, and are never less than fascinating.
Rounding out the set are theatrical trailers for the two movies. Even if one is not a fan of the kaiju eiga, this is undeniably a significant movie, which should not only be lauded in the rarified genre atmosphere of science fiction - and it thoroughly deserves the respectful presentation given here by Sony Classic Media.
Dr. Freex, 10/1/2006