Although a handful of independent, low-budget films had previously been filmed in Japan after World War II by American companies and featuring Japanese players in the cast, Godzilla represented the first to present Japanese in principal, heroic roles or as sympathetic victims of the destruction of Tokyo (albeit by a fictional dinosaur) to the American public in a commercial release given A-picture status and bookings.
It was this film that introduced audiences outside of Japan to Godzilla and labeled the monster as the king of monsters.
United World News reporter Steve Martin awakes in the rubble of a devastated Tokyo. Hours later, rescue workers remove him to a hospital overflowing with the injured and the dying. Martin is soon found by an old friend, Emiko Yamane, who is assisting at the emergency hospital. Steve Martin reflects on how it all began...
While Steve Martin is flying to Cairo with a lay over in Tokyo, thousands of feet below an incident occurs in the Sea of Japan. A Japanese fishing ship is destroyed by a mysterious flash of light from beneath the sea. Japanese officials question all of the airline passengers when the plane lands in case they saw anything that relates to the disaster. Martin soon makes the acquaintance of Officer Iwanaga. The Japanese official tells the reporter what little is known. Martin is intrigued and accompanies Iwanaga to the office of the Nankai Steamship Company, whose ship it was that sank. The company is at a loss to explain the sinking. By radio, they are in contact with a rescue ship which is rapidly nearing the area of the sinking. All are shocked when the rescue ship meets the same fate, just as mysteriously. The news spreads like wildfire. Soon, eight ships have been claimed by the unseen force and all shipping is banned from the area. What few survivors are found die soon after rescue from shock and strange burns. With such a story happening in Tokyo, the Cairo leg of Martin's trip is cancelled.
Scientists and officials meet to decide how to deal with these ship disasters. Among them is Dr. Yamane, Japan's premier paleontologist. He suggests an investigation be sent to Odo Island, which lies in the region of the ship disasters.
On Odo Island, a survivor of the sinkings washes ashore. Like the others, he dies minutes after the islanders find him. The next morning, a helicopter from Tokyo arrives, bringing investigators to question the natives. Officer Iwanaga arranges for Steve Martin to join the investigation. They discover that the natives think that a monster is responsible. A twilight performance of an ancient ritual gives the investigators the monster's name - Godzilla.
That night, a tropical storm strikes Odo Island. Sensing danger, young Shinkichi flees his home during the fierce gale. His parents remain and perish when the dwelling collapses about them. Over the fury of the storm, a thunderous shriek sounds. Shinkichi screams that Godzilla is attacking the village. Even Steve Martin is convinced that something more than wind and rain has visited Odo Island.
Some of the islanders are brought back to Tokyo to make an official report. Although the tales of Godzilla are ridiculed, it is decided to send a better-equipped team to the island. Dr. Yamane will head this expedition. Steve Martin receives Yamane's permission to join the expedition. Yamane's daughter Emiko joins her father as well. Although formally engaged to Dr. Serizawa since both were small children, Emiko soon falls in love with a sailor named Ogata.
The ship safely plies the dangerous waters and arrives at Odo Island. Dr. Yamane examines massive footprints in the ruined village, discovering a living trilobite inside one. The prints are also discovered to be radioactive. Soon, the village's alarm bell sounds. Villagers and investigators alike flee into the hills. Their flight is brought to a halt when a monstrous reptilian head peers over the hill. Godzilla roars at the cowering people before slipping out of view behind the hill. He leaves behind him massive footprints which lead into the sea.
Back in Tokyo, Dr. Yamane makes his report. Godzilla, he says, is a prehistoric creature brought back to life by atomic radiation, specifically H-bomb tests. The Japanese decide to destroy the monster. Cruisers are sent out, employing depth bombs to kill the submerged monster. Meanwhile, Steve Martin calls his old friend Dr. Serizawa. Serizawa begs off meeting with his friend, as he is meeting with Emiko later that afternoon. Serizawa prevents Emiko from telling him about Ogata when he shows her the results of his experiments. Serizawa makes his fiance swear to tell no one of what he has shown her.
Believing Godzilla to be dead, Tokyo breaks out in a great celebration. Only Dr. Yamane seems upset, believing Godzilla should be studied, not destroyed. The celebration is short-lived when Godzilla appears in Tokyo Bay. News of Godzilla's appearance plunges the city into panic and the military is deployed. The next evening sirens announce Godzilla's return. The monster attacks Tokyo's railyards, crushing trains with his powerful jaws. Steve Martin and Dr. Yamane join the masses of on-lookers. At last, Godzilla returns to the Bay. Dr. Yamane grimly predicts that he will be back.
The Japanese decide that they will try to stop Godzilla with a fence of high-tension electrical towers. This will keep Godzilla out of the city's heart. Even so, Tokyo's evacuation is begun. By nightfall, the streets are quiet. From the news office, Martin and other reporters await coming events. Martin decides to make a tape-recording of his report as events unfold in case he does not survive.
All to soon, Godzilla emerges from the Bay. Howitzers blast the beast, to no effect. Godzilla makes his way to the electric fence. The barrier also has no effect on him, and Godzilla soon breaks through, employing his atomic breath to melt the metal structures. Godzilla proceeds into the city, igniting whole blocks with his fire. The monster's rampage is unrelenting and unstoppable. An entire tank core is moved to point-blank range, but their shells are utterly useless on the monster. A single blast of Godzilla's fire breath reduces them to smoldering wrecks. Tokyo burns as Godzilla's onslaught continues. The heart of Tokyo is nothing more than a sea of fire.
The flashes of cameras from reporters on Tokyo Tower causes Godzilla to attack the structure, pitching the unfortunate men to their deaths. Godzilla's path of carnage brings him toward the news office. Realizing escape is impossible, Steve Martin continues to report into his recorder even as the building collapses around him.
The fiery holocaust continues and Godzilla moves back toward the Bay. Finally, jets arrive, their missile fire aggravating Godzilla and finally driving him back into the sea. Again, everyone is certain that it is only a short reprieve.
In the emergency hospital, Martin talks to Emiko and Ogata. Emiko reveals to the two men that she knows of a weapon that will kill Godzilla. She breaks her oath and reveals the experiment Dr. Serizawa showed her - the oxygen destroyer. A pellet-like device, when placed in water, it removes all oxygen, disintegrating all living matter. Serizawa is worried that his discovery might be used for evil and made Emiko swear to secrecy. With the threat of Godzilla hovering over Japan, Emiko and Ogata decide to see Serizawa and get the weapon.
At Serizawa's, Ogata reveals that he knows about the oxygen destroyer. Serizawa refuses to give up the weapon. Desperate, Ogata struggles with the man in his lab. Serizawa bests Ogata in the melee but notes how Emiko treats the sailor's wounds. Serizawa states again that he fears the oxygen destroyer will fall into the wrong hands. Ogata tells him that he has a terrible decision - his fear, which may become reality, or Godzilla, which is reality. Serizawa agonizes over his dilemma, at last conceding, but insisting it must be the only time it is used. The scientist proceeds to burn all of his research.
Soon, a cruiser makes its way to the middle of Tokyo Bay, using Geiger readings to locate Godzilla. While Emiko, Dr. Yamane and Steve Martin watch, Serizawa and Ogata descend into the water wearing deep-sea diving suits. They soon see Godzilla advancing in their direction. Serizawa motions for Ogata to ascend while he deploys the oxygen destroyer. Ogata calls for Dr. Serizawa to hurry and follow him.
The oxygen destroyer soon does its terrible work, engulfing Godzilla in its destructive force. Serizawa waits until he is certain it is working. He tells Ogata and Emiko to be happy together. Ogata orders that Serizawa be pulled up, but it is too late, the scientist has cut his lifeline and air hose. The secret of the oxygen destroyer will die with him.
Godzilla surfaces, screaming his death cry. Sinking once again, the oxygen destroyer swiftly disintegrates even the monster's bones. As Steve Martin reports - Godzilla is dead, but at the cost of a great man.
The film was a considerable success in North America, grossing approximately $2 million USD. Although it received initially negative reviews from the press, the filmed has gained in popularity over the years and currently has a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based out of 18 reviews.
Simitar Entertainment Released: May 6, 1998
Aspect Ratios: Widescreen (1.37:1) letterboxed, full frame (1.33:1)
Sound: English (1.0), English (5.1)
Supplements: Godzilla art gallery; Sci-fi monsters documentary; Trivia game; Godzilla trailers; Film facts; Liner notes (Raymond Burr biography); DVD-ROM (screensavers, printable art gallery, web access)
Sony Wonder (Classic Media)
Released: September 17, 2002
Aspect Ratio: Full frame (1.33:1)
Supplements: Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters video game trailer
Sony Wonder (Classic Media)
Released: September 6, 2006 (Included with the Japanese Version Gojira)
Aspect Ratio: Full frame (1.33:1)
Supplements: Original trailer, Audio Commentary by Steve Ryfle & Ed Godziszewski and Special Guest Terry Morse Jr, also includes the Original American Ending Credits Sequence which were cut out around 1980 by Viacom.
- Released: Fall 2004 (included as an Extra in Godzilla Final Box DVD Set
- Aspect Ratio: Full frame (1.33:1)
- Supplements: Original Trailer
- Region 2
- Mad Man Co Ltd
- Released: Summer 2005
- Aspect Ratio: Full frame (1.33:1)
- Region 4
U.S. ProductionIt was Edmund Goldman who found the original Godzilla in a California Chinatown theater. He bought the international rights for $25,000, then sold them to Jewell Enterprises Inc., a small production company owned by Richard Kay and Harry Rybnick which, with backing from Terry Turner and Joseph E. Levine, successfully adapted it for American audiences. The adaptation process consisted of filming numerous new scenes featuring Raymond Burr and others, and inserting them into an edited version of the Japanese original to create a new film. The new scenes, written by Al C. Ward and directed by Terry Morse, were photographed by Guy Roe with careful attention to matching the visual tone of the Japanese film. Burr's character Steve Martin appeared to interact with the original Japanese cast through intricate cutting and the use of doubles for the Japanese principals, in matching dress, shot from behind in direct interaction with Burr's character.
A documentary style was imposed on the original dramatic material through Burr's dialogue and stentorian narration; he plays a reporter, replacing a comical reporter character in the Japanese original. More importantly, his presence as the lead character, along with trimming (though not outright deletion) of protracted dialogue regarding the arranged marriage between the Japanese heroine and a scientist (a concept unfamiliar to Westerners), scenes evincing an active affair between her and the young naval officer–hero (a concept unlikely to be accepted by many parents of the film's youthful target audience), and a raging debate in Japan's Diet over the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continued nuclear testing (a concept not likely to be approved of by American veterans of the recent war), served to ease American audiences into comfortable relationships with characters, whose mere nationality might otherwise have made them pariahs. The theme of devastation of Japan by nuclear holocaust became sublimated in the editing, but was definitely not eliminated, giving the film a subversiveness on the nuclear question which would later be consciously recognized by the youngsters at whom the film was aimed as they entered adulthood.
There is sometimes confusion about who distributed the film to the U.S. The poster for the film states only that it is "A Transworld Release", while the poster itself bears a copyright notice for "Godzilla Releasing Corporation". Trade reviews from its New York showing indicate that it was released by Embassy Pictures. Classic Media indicates that it was released by Jewell Enterprises, but in fact the credits only show this company as presenting the film. In fact, the film was adapted from the Japanese original by Jewell Enterprises, which took "presentation" credits on the screen and in some advertising copy, copyright by Godzilla Releasing Corporation in its adapted form, and nationally released under control of Transworld, Inc., all of which were companies owned by Rybnick and Kay. It was actually distributed in the western U.S. by Godzilla Releasing Corp. and in the eastern half by Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures Corporation, then just a Boston-based states rights exchange. Embassy was most frequently noted as sole distributor in reviews and trade annuals published in New York: the movie was given "A-film" promotion, and opened at Loew's State Theatre on Broadway and 45th Street in New York City on April 27, 1956.
New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther gave the film a bad review the following day. He dismissed it with, "'Godzilla' produced in a Japanese studio, is an incredibly awful film." After complaining about the dubbing, the special effects ("a miniature of a dinosaur"), and an alleged similarity to King Kong, he concluded, "The whole thing is in the category of cheap cinematic horror-stuff, and it is too bad that a respectable theater has to lure children and gullible grown-ups with such fare."
Crowther notwithstanding, the film was a notable success with the American public. It easily exported to Europe and South America, where the original was unknown and where it also had a major impact, and even made its way full circle back to Japan, where it was exhibited with Japanese subtitles for the American dialogue. The door was thus opened in the Americas and Europe for the import of unexpurgated Japanese science-fiction, horror, and other commercial film products; it also garnered western awareness of Toho Studios, which had retained producer credit. After its theatrical run, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! became a television staple for decades, even into the cable years, and opened the international market for dozens of Godzilla sequels.
In theatrical form and on original TV syndication, the main title is followed by a minimal credit screen reading "Starring Raymond Burr, directed by Terry Morse and I. Honda" in white lettering over a background; and following the fadeout of the final shot, the scene of the hymn being sung by the schoolchildren was reprised with fuller cast and credits, following the fadeout of which the "The End" title appeared, again white lettering on a black background, with Godzilla's echoing footsteps eerily replacing the soulful music. However, when Viacom acquired the film for TV re-syndication and first publication on videotape around 1980, Viacom removed all cast and credit material from both the opening and the closing of the film, and re-publications made thereafter were taken from the Viacom-revised master (even the so-called "uncut" version released on DVD in 1998 by Simitar). This missing material was partially restored in 2006 on the Sony Corp.; however, the opening star-director credits remained missing, and the end cast and credits were mis-edited after the THE END credit instead of before. They were also presented in a widescreen letterbox format on what was otherwise a standard anamorphic-format film image.
In 1976, a colorized version of Godzilla, King of The Monsters was re-released in theaters in Italy. Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi bought the rights and distributed the film to magnetic band and sensurround theaters. Originally, Cozzi planned to re-release the original 1954 Godzilla without the Raymond Burr scenes. But Toho (who personally sold the film to Cozzi) said the film was unavailable, so they gave him the 1956 American version. Since the film was in black and white, regional distributors in Italy refused to release the film. In order to release the film, Cozzi hired Armando Valcauda to colorize the whole film frame by frame. Most prints of the film were lost but some still exist. Up to today, the Cozzi colorized version of Godzilla (also known as Cozzilla by fans) has not yet been released in any format in Italy or any country outside of Italy.
- All the scenes with Raymond Burr were added after the Japanese version of Godzilla was finished.
- Godzilla's roar was made by dragging a resin-coated leather glove up and down a contrabass and having the subsequent recording slowed down significantly.
- Tôhô released this American version of its own Godzilla to Japanese audiences in 1957. The studio ballyhooed it as being a CinemaScope production, when in fact what Toho did was chop off the top and the bottom of the frame. These mutilated shots later made it into the studio's Daikaijû Baran.
- The Japanese version of the film received a Japanese Academy Award nomination for Best Picture but lost to Seven Samurai. It did, however, win the award for Best Special Effects. It is the only Godzilla movie to receive a nomination for Best Picture.
- Several months before this film received its editing job, the original Japanese version of Godzilla was shown on a limited release in the United States.
- In the original Japanese version, there were several references not only to the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also to the firebombing of Tokyo. These were deleted in the American version of the film.
- It is often said that "Since his contract said that he could only work for one day on the film, Raymond Burr was kept at the studio for 24 hours to shoot all of his scenes."; but, this is an urban myth with absolutely no evidence to support it. Between set construction and outside shots it took 6 days to shoot.
- The scenes shot for the US version were shot at Visual Drama Inc., 129 North Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, California. Today, the former studio is now the Frank del Olmo Elementary School (formerly Belmont Elementary). On March 25, 2006, a plaque was dedicated at the school in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the film's release in the US, a collaboration between the Godzilla Society of North America and Platrix Chapter No. 2, E Clampus Vitus.
- The working title for the American version before the "King of Monsters" was added was "Godzilla, the Sea Monster".
- Prior to the film's release, it was hyped that Raymond Burr spent two months in Japan working on his scenes. In actuality, his scenes were filmed at a studio in Hollywood in one day.
- The original Japanese footage and the added American footage were all shot in standard academy (1.37:1). However, the U.S. distributor indicated that the film was to be projected in spherical widescreen. The cast and production credits that ran following the final fade-out were produced in hard-matted widescreen. Those theaters that had not installed wide screens could still run the release prints, which were full frame, but the cast and production credits would appear with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. When the television version was being prepared, the distributor avoided the lab cost of having the cast and production credit footage enlarged and re-framed to fill the television screen (as required by then current Federal Communicatins Commission FCC regulations) by simply removing this footage. At the fade-out, there is an abrupt cut to "The End." The loss of this footage, which ran approximately 90 seconds, reduced the running time to just under 79 minutes. The footage is believed to have been removed from the original master negative so that all reduction elements, and all elements used to produce the U.S. home video releases, were missing all cast and production credits. The elements for this footage were assumed to be lost, but this footage still exists in the surviving 35mm theatrical release prints. In Japan, however, the film was released in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, and the end credits were found in pristine condition for the film's release on the 2006 DVD set (released in the USA by Classic Media) with the original Godzilla.
- It was felt that an experienced editor was needed to direct this American version in order to maintain the continuity and make it appear that Raymond Burr was part of the original production, which was actually shot two years earlier as Godzilla. Terry O. Morse was selected because he had almost 30 years experience as an editor, as well as experience as a director of low-budget films.
- Was the first anamorphic widescreen film ever released by Tôhô Kabushiki Kaisha.
- Godzilla's roar did come from a contrabass, but the echoing sound came from playing the sound in an empty toilet tank and recording it.
- Raymond Burr said that, contrary to popular belief, all his scenes were not done in one day, but over the course of six days. It was simply impossible to create all the sets in one day, especially the daylight scene filling in for Odo Island and the night scene on the hilltop during Godzilla's first rampage.
- Al C. Ward, who later wrote the entire 171-episode run of "Medical Center," was given a choice of $2500 up front to write the American scenes for "Godzilla" or five percent of the profits. Ward, thinking the movie would bomb, second-guessed himself and took the money. He later admitted to telling students of his college movie writing classes that he always regretted the decision. It was estimated he could have raked in $5 million in his lifetime from residuals.
- In the original Godzilla, the electrical barrier is stated to contain 50,000 volts, which was actually the voltage rating of just one line. In the American version, the voltage was upped to three million volts because director Terry O. Morse felt no one would believe 50,000 volts could even faze Godzilla.
- In the American version, Godzilla's size was increased from 150 feet to nearly 400 feet because of the disparity between Japanese buildings (built short to meet earthquake codes) and American skyscrapers. It was felt that Godzilla's original size would be lost among the tall buildings of New York, the city most often compared to Tokyo.
- An uncredited Kenji Sahara, who plays one of the singles on the harbor cruise ship, would go on to become Toho's most prolific actor.
- "Godzilla" was the last known film for both Frank Iwanaga, who played Tomo, and Mikel Conrad, who played Steve Martin's editor George.
- Akihiko Hirata, who played Dr. Serizawa, wore the same eye patch in Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster and Atragon.
- 'Momoko Kochi', who played Emiko, reprised her role in Godzilla vs. Destroyah, her final film role.
- Godzilla/Gojira was the only film role for Toyoaki Suzuki, who played Shinkichi. However, his photo from Godzilla appeared in Godzilla vs. Destroyah.
- After Emiko and Serizawa leave the lab, a different English-speaking actor's voice is heard dubbing actor Akihiko Hirata than the actor heard elsewhere in the movie.
- In one scene of the movie, in the court, where Dr. Yamane is giving some information based on his scientific expertise about the Godzilla, he pronounces the word "phenomenon" wrongly as "phenonemon" at least two times.
- In his deposition upon returning from Odo Island, Dr. Yamani - supposedly Japan's foremost paleontologist - says that the Jurassic Age was "two million years ago," rather than the 144 million it actually was.
- In the American version, during one scene Dr. Yamane's dialogue in Japanese contains the name "Godzilla" even though the monster hasn't appeared yet (revealing that this scene was originally later in the film).
- As Steve Martin watches the "Godzilla" ceremony being performed on Odo Island, the same shots of the ceremony are repeated several times.
Crew or equipment visible
- During one scene where Godzilla breathes his radioactive fire, the nozzle that provides the spray can clearly be seen inside his mouth.
- The TV in Dr. Serizawa's laboratory goes from being off to playing with no one turning it on (the scene with the schoolchildren singing).
- As Steve Martin and friend fly to Odo Island, the shot of them sitting in the helicopter was obviously filmed in front of a regular wall (the roof does not curve as it would in a helicopter, but instead goes straight up).
- The airplanes are seen on strings.
- After Godzilla drops the building on Steve Martin's head, the tail can be seen through the hole in the wall with its puppet strings clearly visible.
- The photo shown at the press conference of Godzilla (which in reality is a painting) looks nothing like the real Godzilla, and is at an angle which the cameras on the hill could not have captured.
- When Emiko is talking to Steve Martin in the hospital, her blouse is one plaid when seen from the front (scenes of the original actress in the Japanese version), but a different one when seen from behind (an American stand-in added for the American version).
- In the American version scene where Masaji washes ashore on the raft, it said that he died shortly after the raft was brought on shore. However, he is very much alive when the reporter, Hagiwara, is interviewing the islanders and just before the house collapses when Godzilla comes ashore during the typhoon.
- Many prints and videos have absolutely no credits, beyond the title at the start (with a clearly video-generated copyright notice below it) and a "The End" graphic at the close. As of 2006, Classic Media's release of the film in the Gojira/Godzilla: King of the Monsters on DVD has the restored English credits.
- In the original American version of the film, end credits and the Transworld logo were present. The Transworld logo (but not the end credits) was restored in the 1998 DVD release by Simitar. The end credits (but not the Transworld logo) were restored in the 2006 DVD release by Classic Media.
- The American version added the sound of Gojira's (Godzilla's) roar during the typhoon scene. This is also true with the cruise ship scene when Gojira (Godzilla) first appears in Tokyo Bay.
- Originally Godzilla destroys the Diet Building but the model didn't collapse properly and there was no time to rebuild. In the finished scene when Godzilla approaches the Diet Building if you look closely you can see footage of the Real Diet Building was super-imposed into the film and when Godzilla destroys it all you see is the ground level of Godzilla's feet destroying the model.
- In the Japanese version the praying mother and her children are crushed by a falling building as Godzilla passes by. This is omitted from the American version.
- The American version deletes all scenes that reference Hiroshima or the fire bombing of Japan.
- At the end of the original Japanese version, Doctor Yemane makes a speech that is very anti-nuclear. The American producers wanted a more upbeat ending, so they inserted the speech that Steve Martin makes at the end.
- Since being reacquired by Toho, all current U.S. prints now have the Transworld logo removed and replaced with black footage
- A scene where Emiko is in Ogata's apartment as he is exiting the shower is deleted from the American version. This scene helps to establish the relationship between the two.
- Other deleted scenes from the final cut of this movie include...
- A scene on Odo Island where Dr.Yamane, Ogata, and Emiko visit the graves of several victims killed by Godzilla during the typhoon.
- A scene of Ogata and his crew conducting a series of tests attempting to determine what caused the shipping disasters early in the film
- A scene of Ogata and Emiko setting up camp on the beach of Odo island and being frightned by the site of Godzilla tail moving in the water. This was meant to be the first appearence of Godzilla in the film but was later changed. The actor's scenes were filmed but the speacil effects shots of Godzilla's tail were not. -When Godzilla first appears (by popping his head over a hill on Odo Island) he originally had a dead cow in his mouth. The scene was deemed "no good" because you could barely see the small cow prop in the Godzilla's puppet head's mouth. The scene was reshot without the dead cow.