The film was produced by Toho Productions, Limited, and had a budget of ~$250,000. (Adjusted for inflation about $6,000,000) It went on to garner large box-office revenues in Japan and America as well, when the Americanized version Godzilla, King of the Monsters was released in 1956. It was produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka and directed by Ishiro Honda. The special effects were directed by Eiji Tsuburaya, and the musical score was composed by Akira Ifukube. The film is considered a classic and one of the greatest monster movies ever made, as well as a powerful and evocative nuclear allegory.
The Japanese fishing boat Eikō-Maru is attacked by a flash of light from the water near Odo Island and sinks. A rescue boat, the Bingo-Maru, is sent out to investigate the accident, but meets the same fate. A second search boat is sent out and finds a few survivors in the area, and like the other two boats, is shipwrecked.
Meanwhile, on Odo Island, the natives of the fishing community are unable to catch anything. An elder says that Godzilla must be the cause. According to legend, Godzilla is a giant monster who lives in the sea that comes from the ocean to feed on mankind. Whenever fishing was poor, the natives used to sacrifice girls to prevent Godzilla from attacking the village.
Later, a helicopter carrying investigative reporters arrives on Odo Island. The natives all believe that the recent disasters in the ocean were caused by Godzilla, but the reporters remain skeptical. That night the natives perform an exorcism in hopes that Godzilla will not attack again. As the natives are sleeping, a storm arrives and a giant monster attacks the small village, causing death and destruction.
The next day, the witnesses are brought to the Diet Building in Tokyo. Paleontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane requests that an investigative party be sent to Odo Island. The ship is sent out and arrives safely on the island. Yamane finds giant footprints contaminated with radioactivity, along with a trilobite. Suddenly, the village alarm is set off and the villagers run towards the hills. Godzilla pops his head over the hill and roars. The villagers discover that Godzilla is too large to fight and flee for their lives. Godzilla then leaves for the ocean.
Afterwards, Yamane starts doing some research and discovers that Godzilla is really a prehistoric hybrid of land and sea reptiles. He also discovers that the sediment from Godzilla's footprint contained a massive amount of Strontium-90, which could have only have come from a nuclear bomb. After Yamane's presentation, a man from the crowd suggests that the information should not be publicly known. Since Godzilla is the product of atomic weapons, the truth might cause some bad consequences, since world affairs are still fragile. However, a woman objects to Mr. Ōyama's suggestion because the truth must be told. After she insults Ooyama, chaos breaks loose in the Diet Building.
Godzilla's origins are then revealed to the public. An anti-Godzilla fleet is immediately sent out and uses depth charges against Godzilla, in an attempt to kill the monster. In his home, Yamane sits alone in the room with the lights out. Yamane, being a zoologist, does not want Godzilla to be killed, but rather, studied.
That night, Godzilla suddenly rises in Tokyo Bay in front of a party ship. Within a minute, the monster descends back into the ocean, but his brief appearance causes nationwide panic. The next morning, officials ask Yamane if there is a way to kill Godzilla. A frustrated Yamane explains that Godzilla has already survived a massive amount of radiation, and believes that he should be studied to see what keeps him alive.
Yamane's daughter, Emiko, is engaged to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, a colleague of Yamane's. Emiko, however, is in love with Lieutenant Hideto Ogata of the Nankai Steamship Company. When Emiko visits Serizawa to tell him that she loves Ogata, and wishes to break off her engagement to him, Serizawa reveals to her his own dark secret. He had created a device that can destroy all life in the sea. This device is called the Oxygen Destroyer, and is more powerful than any nuclear weapon. He gives Emiko a demonstration in his lab, by using the device in a fish tank. All the fish are disintegrated, only leaving skeletons. Shocked by this discovery, Emiko leaves Serizawa, promising not to tell anybody what she witnessed. She was unable to tell Serizawa about Ogata, or that she wanted to break the engagement.
That night, Godzilla appears again out of Tokyo Bay and attacks the city. While the monster's attack was relatively short, it had caused much destruction and death. The next morning, the military hastily constructs a line of 40 meter electric towers along the coast of Tokyo that will send 300,000 Volts of electricity through Godzilla, should he arrive again. Civilians are then evacuated from the city and put into bomb shelters. The military then prepares a blockade along the fence line.
When night falls, Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay again. The monster easily breaks through the giant electric fence, with no pain inflicted. The bombardment of shells from the Japanese army also has no effect. As Godzilla breaks through the high-tension wires, he uses his atomic breath to melt the electric fences. The tanks and military are useless against Godzilla, who continues his raid well into the night. By the end, the entire city is destroyed and thousands of innocent civilians are dead, dying, or wounded. As Godzilla wades into the sea, a squadron of jets fire rockets at the monster but Godzilla is unscathed as he descends once again into Tokyo Bay.
The next morning, the city is in absolute ruins. Hospitals are overrun with victims, many exposed to heavy doses of radiation. As Emiko sees the many victims of Godzilla's attack, she takes Ogata aside and tells him Serizawa's dark secret, in hope that together, they can convince Serizawa do something against Godzilla.
Ogata and Emiko visit Serizawa to ask that they use the weapon against Godzilla. Serizawa refuses and storms down to his basement to destroy the Oxygen Destroyer. Ogata and Emiko follow him down in order to prevent him from doing so. However, this only results in a short fight between Ogata and Serizawa, with Ogata receiving a minor head wound. As Emiko treats the wound, Serizawa apologizes. Ogata tries to convince Serizawa that he is the only one who can save the world.
Then, after the argument, a grim television program appears on the air, showing the devastation and deaths caused by Godzilla, along with prayers for hope and peace. Shocked by what he's witnessing, Serizawa ultimately decides to use his last Oxygen Destroyer, but only one time. Serizawa then ultimately destroys his research, knowing that this weapon was almost as dangerous and destructive as Godzilla himself, and that destroying this weapon will be for the betterment of society.
The next day, a navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. Serizawa requests that he be put in a diving suit to make sure the device is used correctly. Ogata at first refuses, but soon gives in. Ogata and Serizawa then descend into the water, and find Godzilla resting. Seemingly unaware of the divers, the monster slowly walks around the ocean floor. Ogata then is pulled back to the surface while Serizawa activates the Oxygen Destoyer. As Serizawa watches Godzilla dying from the destructive weapon, he cuts his cord and dies with Godzilla, sacrificing himself so that his knowledge of the horrible weapon dies with him. A dying Godzilla surfaces, lets out a final roar, and sinks to the bottom, disintegrating.
Although Godzilla is destroyed, the tone is still grim. As the people aboard the ship look to the sun and salute the sacrifice of Serizawa, it is uncertain whether the death of Godzilla is either the end or the beginning of an apocalyptic era.
A powerful undercurrent in this film is derived from visual and psychological references to the atom bomb. Godzilla is not only radioactive, but after he smashes through a city, the ruins are quite reminiscent of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The characters visit a radiation ward hosting victims who have been contaminated by proximity to Godzilla or his radioactive breath.
And of course Dr. Serizawa's reluctance to use his awful weapon is clearly intended to reference thermonuclear horror.
Japanese vs. AmericanIn the U.S., this film was released as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. It starred Raymond Burr, and featured additional dubbing and re-editing, with footage of Burr worked into the film. Burr plays as American journalist, Steve Martin. Burr's role was to provide a narrative on the events unfolding in Japan from an American perspective. Martin's character was close to the style of American journalist Edward R. Murrow. Martin in detail reports the atmosphere and attack that Godzilla has caused in Japan, much like Murrow's description of the Blitz in London caused by the Nazis. Although key elements were removed from the original Gojira, Raymond Burr added legitimacy through an American perspective to an otherwise foreign film. It was because of Burr's addition, Godzilla was a success and cultural icon in the United States. While 20 minutes were added, 40 minutes were cut out for the American edition, including most of a wonderful scene in which journalists watch from Tokyo Tower as Godzilla approaches, heroically continuing their broadcast until they are killed.
For years it was difficult to obtain the original Japanese version in the West. It had a very limited release, mostly for film salesmen, in 1955 America and again in 2004 by Ratio pictures. But it finally has been released in a double-disc edition by Classic Media titled Gojira/Godzilla, permitting Godzilla fans to easily compare the film versions. The DVD soon won an award. A couple of other countries followed suit, including Australia and Germany. In Japan, both versions were released in a double laserdisc version in 1994 and in 2004 a box set containing all Godzilla films minus Godzilla: Final Wars.
With war films becoming frowned upon in Japan's film industry after WWII, Toho Studios looked for a new genre of films to make. Tomoyuki Tanaka, comming back to Japan after making progress on an over seas production, had a thought of "what if a giant monster awoke from nuclear radiation and attacked Japan, taking residence in Tokyo Bay". While nuclear radiated monsters started becoming popular at the time, the use in this film is due to the unfortunate accident of the Lucky Dragon No. 5 fishing boat which was unknowingly catching fish too close to the Bikini Islands when an atom bomb test was conducted.
Chosen to direct was war veteran and pacafist Ishiro Honda, who would later on direct a good half of the Godzilla series during the Showa era. To handle the special effects were Eiji Tsuburaya and Yasuyuki Inoue. Eiji Tsuburaya was one of the greatest masters of miniature effects on film; one of his WWII works (a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor) was later mistaken for actual war footage. Eiji Tsuburaya originally wanted to film Gojira in stop motion like a recent sci-fi blockbuster, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and the earlier classic and personal favorite of Tsuburaya's, King Kong. However, Haruo Nakajima quoted Tsuburaya in saying that "...it would take seven years to make..." so suit-animation was born. The Godzilla suit was originally brown, and weighed over 200 pounds. When suit actor Haruo Nakajima tried to move in it, it took several minutes. A lighter suit was made along with a pair of suspended legs. The filming took, in all, approx. three months.
Gojira opened in Japan in 1954 and sold approximately 9.6 million tickets, gaining a lot of money for the time. While successful, it was small in relation to other works of the same year such as Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which along with Gojira have become Japan's most famous films. A sequel was rushed into production. In America, the film was reedited with added footage of American actor Raymond Burr, playing reporter Steve Martin and retitled Godzilla King of the Monsters. In America, it was also more successful than anticipated. The reedited version of the film would be the one shown all over Europe and gained Godzilla an unprecedented audience which has since made the monster an Icon as reconizable as Superman.
For the German theatrical version 13 minutes of the film were cut, cutting out Dr. Kyohei Yamane's return to Japan, shortening his speech and presentation of what Godzilla is and shortening the final scene. This version was used for all home video releases of the film. The uncut director's cut was not released until 2004, when it appeared in a special 50th anniversary box set by Splendid Film, along with the German version and for the first time ever the US version, plus a two disc edition of Final Wars. 'Gojira' was then made available as an individual release. In the USA and Canada, Classic Media released 'Gojira' in 2006 as part of its 'Master Collection'; this release was a two-disc set, with one disc being the Japanese original version and the other being the American version with Raymond Burr
In the 1970s, the film was re-released in Italy in a crudely colorized version with clips of Rodan, Godzilla Raids Again and World War 2 footage added. The film was not well recieved and was only shown on TV a few times. The colorized version has since been very rare.
- Godzilla vs Megaguirus offers a different version of the movie that has Godzilla simply go away and then reappear at other times through history.
- In GMK, Godzilla is killed by the Oxygen Destroyer, but his body is later inhabited by the collective will of the dead from the World Wars.
- In the Kiryu Duology, Godzilla is killed by the Oxygen Destroyer but his skeleton survives and is used to construct Mechagodzilla, nicknamed Kiryu.
- In Godzilla vs. Destroyah it is said that the oxygen destroyer used by Dr. Serizawa created Destroyah.
- When they close-up into Godzilla either roaring or using his atomic breath, a puppet is being used.
- Godzilla's roar was made by Akira Ifukube by rubbing a leather glove on contrabass strings, then slowing the recording down.
- The film has also been released on blu-ray.
- In Godzilla: Unleashed for the Wii, Godzilla 1954 from Gojira appeared as a playable monster.
- The trilobite in this film reappears in Godzilla X Mechagodzilla.