Or: how Japan learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Restored, recut and re-released with a full 40 extra minutes to celebrate its 50th birthday, Godzilla shrugs off its politically neutered US edit to stomp tall once more: a 30-storey atomic metaphor as urgent, fraught and ambiguous as ever.
Actually, as the DVD’s featurette Designing Godzilla reveals, that 150ft national icon is really a terminally sweaty man in a rubber suit with what look suspiciously like Christmas trees glued to his back. But then, Godzilla is a movie crackling with mutant fusions – from ancient folklore crunched with modern monster madness to terrifying, news-y realism shouldering up against wobbly effects. But if those “suit-mation” techniques clunk and jolt next to King Kong’s bristling stop-motion, there’s no swerving Godzilla’s searing, apocalyptic impact.
Kicked off the Pacific seabed by a nuclear blast, the mega-ton sea-monster unleashes his appetite for mass destruction on Japan with elemental force. Belching radioactive breath, tearing through electrical grids and smashing skyscrapers, Godzilla turns civilisation into a city on fire. While Seven Samurai über-thesp Takashi Shimura and scientist Akihiko Hirata agonise over whether to risk another secret superweapon to destroy the monster, the movie chokes up with panicked references to nuclear contamination, black rain, bomb chaos, blazing infernos and twisted metal. And, rewarding his apprenticeship to Kurosawa, director Ishirô Honda keeps human drama pounding at the heart of Japan’s first big-budget blockbuster: the nuked children, babies wailing as their mothers lie dead, the bodies oozing blood. Unspooling less than a decade after America’s obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo, these images would have rattled viewers to the core. Easy to forget that for Japan, nuclear armageddon is less sci-fi nightmare than bitter memory. Indeed, Godzilla’s opening scene – a Japanese fishing boat drowning in an ocean of flame – is a moment mainlined, roughly, direct from history.
Surviving half a century, countless mad sequels and Roland Emmerich’s reptile-to-turkey devolution, the Lizard’s scorched warning continues to resonate, now finding new rhythm in the tremors of a post- 9/11 world. In short? As an awesome big brother to Hiroshima Mon Amour and Dr Strangelove, Big G is still da bomb.