Godzilla/Gojira (1954)

Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Ishirô Honda

Writers: Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada

Rating:★★★½

Gojira as its original Japanese name would be is more commonly and famously known as Godzilla, a creature which has created one of the largest film franchises in history. It was in 1954 which this King Kong inspired giant monster was first seen on screen, and since then a further thirty-two productions have been made, the most recent of course is Gareth Edward’s $160million 2014 blockbuster.  Godzilla is very much a product of its time, however it is actually a lot different compared to its franchise and is more about a deeper meaning, something learnt when studying Honda’s classic within Film Studies. Its main focus is on narrative, whilst the outdated suitmation, although the contemporary usual, doesn’t transfer well to modern times, but there should be a real appreciation for this influential Japanese cinema classic.

Japan is rocked by a disturbance off their coast when a group of ships are reported missing; search parties disappear and local coastal villages are soon destroyed. The Japanese government soon learn that nuclear testing within the ocean has awoken a monster reptile from hibernation, which is now looking for revenge and mass-destruction. Godzilla, a huge, fifty metre tall beast, soon learnt to be covered in radioactive matter, terrorises central Tokyo, killing and destroying many. Meanwhile a group of scientists are debating whether they should use their scientific deadly weapon to defeat the beast, as they believe and fear it will provoke further nuclear war.

Within most “monster films” we would expect a huge focus on mass destruction and of course the majority of the film to show our monster roaming around killing, providing huge action. However Gojira is the complete opposite, with our beast getting very little screen time. The main focus is on our scientists and the emotional trauma on our victims, something highlighted by our trio of writers to convey an important message.

Gojira is a film which shows the dangers of nuclear warfare and more so science as it develops, this message coming from a country such as Japan is very important, definitely regarding their history. Godzilla, a beast of destruction, being woken by nuclear testing is of course very symbolic, as our monster itself represents a nuclear bomb, which is referenced clearly to be linked with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It conveys how the testing with nuclear weaponry will only lead to more destruction, whilst science’s involvement within the film, also being equally important. It is science which eventually destroys the beast, which also sees a sacrifice, which symbolically presents how science now needs to destroy itself and is more so outdated, as deadlier weapons are being created and bringing harsher consequences.  It is learning this deeper meaning, although clearly obvious, which creates an appreciation towards Gojira.

As previously mentioned this is a film which is very much outdated and is a product of its time, being very hard to transfer into modern day. The acting is very poor, despite the appearance of Seven Samurai star Takashi Shimura who does produce a solid display of one of our older scientists. Momoko Kôchi and Akira Takarada play Emiko and Ogata a young couple and our main protagonists, who are planning to help destroy the beast. Their roles are very well-written however Kochi’s portrayal of Emiko is very poor, somewhat becoming laughable, whilst Takarada is fairly average.

The effects as expected are not the high-budget breath-taking display you’d expect from the latest Godzilla remake; however it is mainly suit-mation within the original. Our beast is nothing more than a man in a suit tramping about in a tiny Tokyo model-city, however again this criticism is something which occurs only due to the transition of time periods and technology. Explosions however were a little more impressive, whilst Honda’s directing was refreshing and inspiring given such the early year of release.

Gojira is a very good film, in terms of story it is somewhat a classic for sure with the under the surface meaning adding to appreciation. However the action unfortunately doesn’t match, and despite its focus on a deeper story, I would have expected more action and of course more Godzilla. If you are going to watch this original and influential film, then take into consideration the low key effects and acting may make it less enjoyable watch. However this is a piece of history within cinema, and an interesting comparison to make when looking ahead to the soon to be released big budget remake.

 

 

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Seven Samurai (1954)

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto ,  Hideo Oguni

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima

Rating: ★★★★★

Seven Samurai is possibly one of the best and most popular Japanese films to be released until this present day with such a great deeper meaning behind an entertaining, touching and comedic story. Akira Kurosawa’s classic shows off some great directing and acting too from what was at the time an iconic and popular cast. Seven Samurai is a film that is must-watch not just for some entertainment but for appreciation of classic Japanese cinema as well as cinema as a whole.

The story of Seven Samurai follows a group of farmers who each year allows bandits to take their women, food and crops as they invade doing their expected “duties”. However they call for a time of change and for others to take action. Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) a young farmer demands that his fellow farmers must stand up and protect their land so they set off to their local town to hire seven Samurai to defend them from the bandits. Finding the Samurai is not easy for the farmers; those who pass have masters or better values than to serve peasants with the wage of a bowl of rice. Despite this they acquire their Seven Samurai returning to their farm, they begin to form a strategy and a plan to defend and defeat the bandits. When the bandits attack the Samurai and farmers stand brave and strong, but in a battle there are always fatalities and the farmers have to pay a price for their land.

Seven Samurai has a much more deeper meaning than what first meets the eye, the film is actually a metaphor for the battle between Japanese Society and the Military in 1954 Japan as post-war to American a big paradigm shift took place, something I will separately post about when I analyse Kurosawa’s classic. There’s so much depth to the story and characters that you seem to form a connection with so many and route for them all the way. The individual characters of the seven Samurai are brilliant, Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune) is my personal favourite as he offers so much in the sense of comedy and for entertainment, and he also delivers such a powerful and meaningful speech. The character of Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) a skilled samurai is also brilliant, as at one point he arrives back with his sword telling the leader Kambei (Takashi Shimura) to cross off another two dead bandits. In a whole all the cast give great performances and even more than 50 years on they are still as believable and effective, like the film itself. A huge amount of credit is deserved and should be directed towards the writers for such amazing development of characters as well as conveying that important hidden meaning and additional message.

The directing from Kurosawa is also something that is excellent, something that makes Seven Samurai such a classic. The battle scenes are entertaining and a real treat, what I find remarkable is how at the time to manage to capture rain on the camera they had to use black dye and buckets full of water had to be constantly chucked over the set and actors. When you realise the effort they all went to, it is actually amazing. The way he also chooses to shoot certain scenes are interesting, especially when delivering those important messages which again help to emphasise arguments and values.

Another aspect I find a real positive is how Seven Samurai is a staggering 202 minutes,  in the present day that isn’t a common runtime but what I find remarkable is how despite that enormous length of time you stay so engaged and entertained, something I don’t think many modern day films could even achieve in short amount of time.  Since 1954 it has become a real classic and furthermore a “template film” in terms of structure and story, with films such as Antz (1997) playing a complete homage.

Seven Samurai is certainly my favourite Japanese film of all time, a real classic too and there’s no surprise it ranks so highly among IMBD’s Top 250. The story, directing and acting are just brilliant but once you analyse the film and truly see its excellence everything becomes a work of art. It brings great action, comedy and entertainment making it a real “must-watch” and an enjoyable experience so I would recommend it greatly.