Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a 1956 kaiju film directed by Terry O. Morse and Ishirō Honda. It is a heavily re-edited American adaptation, commonly referred to as an "Americanization", of the 1954 Japanese film Godzilla. The film was a Japanese-American co-production, with the original footage produced by Toho, and the new footage produced by Jewell Enterprises. The film stars Raymond Burr, Frank Iwanaga, along with Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, and Takashi Shimura, with Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka as Godzilla. In the film, an American reporter covers a giant reptilian monster's attack on Japan.
|Godzilla, King of the Monsters!|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Terry Morse (American footage)|
Ishirō Honda (original footage)
|Produced by||Tomoyuki Tanaka|
Edward B. Barison
|Screenplay by||Takeo Murata|
Al C. Ward
|Story by||Shigeru Kayama|
|Music by||Akira Ifukube|
|Edited by||Terry Morse|
|Distributed by||TransWorld Releasing Corporation (US, West)|
Embassy Pictures (US, East)
|Box office||$2 million|
In 1955, Edmund Goldman acquired the 1954 film from Toho and enlisted the aide of Paul Schreibman, Harold Ross, Richard Kay, and Joseph E. Levine to produce a revised version for American audiences. This version dubbed most of the Japanese dialogue into English, altered and removed key plot points and themes, and added new footage with Burr narrating most of the film and interacting with body-doubles and Japanese-American actors in an attempt to make it seem like Burr was part of the original Japanese production.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was theatrically released in the United States on April 27, 1956 and theatrically released in Japan on May 29, 1957, with the English dialogue subtitled in Japanese. The film was responsible for introducing international audiences to the character Godzilla, as the 1954 Japanese version remained unavailable overseas until 2004.
Injured American reporter Steve Martin is brought from the ruins of Tokyo to a hospital filled with maimed and wounded citizens. A recent acquaintance, Emiko, discovers him by chance among the victims and attempts to find a doctor for him.
Martin recalls in flashback stopping over in Tokyo, where a series of inexplicable ship disasters catches his attention. When a victim of those disasters washes up on Odo Island, Martin flies there for the story, along with Tomo Iwanaga, a representative of the Japanese Security Defense Forces (JSDF). He learns of the island inhabitants' long-held belief in a sea monster god known as "Godzilla", which they believe is causing the disasters. That night, a heavy rain and wind storm strikes the island, destroying many houses and killing some villagers. The islanders believe that Godzilla and not the storm is responsible for the destruction.
Martin returns to the devastated island with Dr. Yamane, who is leading a team to investigate its ruins. Huge radioactive footprints and a prehistoric trilobite are discovered. An alarm rings and Martin, the villagers, and Dr. Yamane's team head up a hill for safety. Near the summit, they see Godzilla's head and upper torso looking down at them, and they quickly flee downhill. Dr. Yamane later returns to Tokyo to present his findings: Godzilla was resurrected by repeated Pacific nuclear tests; he estimates the creature to be more than 400 feet tall. To Yamane's dismay, the military responds by attempting to kill the giant creature with depth charges. Martin contacts his old friend, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, for dinner, but Serizawa declines due to planned commitments with his fiancé.
Emiko, Dr. Yamane's daughter, goes to Serizawa's home to break off her arranged engagement to him because she is actually in love with Hideo Ogata, a salvage ship captain. Dr. Serizawa, however, gives her a demonstration of his secret project, which horrifies her. She is sworn to secrecy and unable to bring herself to break off the engagement. Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay, unharmed by the depth charges, and attacks the city, destroying a train before returning to the bay. The next morning, to repel the monster, the JSDF supercharges the tall electrical towers along Tokyo's coast.
The King of the Monsters resurfaces that night and breaks through the electrical towers and JSDF tank and artillery defense line using his atomic heat breath. With his tape recorder, Martin documents Godzilla's annihilation of the city and is injured during the attack. The military sends in more tanks and even fighter jets, but their counter-attack fails. Godzilla returns to the sea leaving Tokyo a burning, destroyed ruin (the flashback ends).
Martin wakes up in the hospital with Emiko and Ogata. Horrified by the destruction, Emiko reveals to Martin and Ogata the existence of Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer, which disintegrates oxygen atoms in salt water and causes all marine organisms to die of acidic asphyxiation. Emiko and Ogata go to Dr. Serizawa to convince him to use his weapon on Godzilla, but he initially refuses. After watching a television broadcast showing the nation's plight, Serizawa finally gives in to their pleas.
A Navy ship takes Ogata, Serizawa, Yamame, Martin, and Emiko out to the deepest part of Tokyo Bay. Wearing deep sea diving gear, Ogata and Serizawa are lowered down by lifelines near the sleeping Godzilla to plant the weapon. On the bottom, they quickly move into position, awakening the monster. Serizawa signals the surface and Ogata is pulled up, but Serizawa delays his ascent and activates the device. He radios the surface to tell them that it is working and also wishes Emiko and Ogata happiness together. Removing his knife, he cuts his diving helmet's oxygen supply line and rope tether, taking the secret of his invention to the grave. Godzilla succumbs to the force of the Oxygen Destroyer, eventually dissolving to just a pile of bones. All aboard the ship mourn the loss of Dr. Serizawa. In this solemn moment, Martin makes a final observation: "The menace was gone...so was a great man. But the whole world could wake up and live again".
- Raymond Burr as Steve Martin
- Takashi Shimura as Dr. Yamane
- Momoko Kōchi as Emiko
- Akira Takarada as Ogata
- Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Serizawa
- Sachio Sakai as Hagiwara
- Fuyuki Murakami as Dr. Tabata
- Ren Yamamoto as Seiji
- Toyoaki Suzuki as Shinkichi
- Tadashi Okabe as Dr. Tabata's Assistant
- Toranosuke Ogawa as President of Company
- Frank Iwanaga as Security Officer Tomo
- James Hong as Ogata and Dr. Serizawa (English voices)
- Sammee Tong as Dr. Yamane (English voice)
- Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla
- Katsumi Tezuka as Godzilla
—Richard Kay on the film's alterations.
In 1955, Edmund Goldman approached Toho International Inc., (a Los Angeles-based subsidiary created to distribute Toho films overseas) about purchasing the rights to Godzilla. Toho had shown Goldman advertisement materials, which interested him in a screening of the film. Goldman then made Toho an offer of $25,000, which they accepted quickly. The contract was forged on September 27, 1955. The contract stipulated that Toho and Goldman agreed that the film would be "narrated, dubbed in English and completed in accordance with the revisions, additions, and deletions," with final approval by Toho. Paul Schreibman assisted in the film's acquisition. Samuel Z. Arkoff of American International Pictures also made a bid for the film, negotiating with Toho for three months until he discovered the rights were already sold to Goldman. Goldman enlisted the help of Harold Ross (sometimes credited as Henry Rybnick) and Richard Kay of Jewell Enterprises to distribute the film. According to Goldman, it was Ross and Kay's idea to dub the film and hire Raymond Burr. Goldman would later sell his interest to Jewell Enterprises.
Ross and Kay turned to Joseph E. Levine to further finance the project. The duo arranged a screening of the film for Levine in Los Angeles. The film's possibilities excited Levine and paid $100,000 for half of the rights. This arrangement allowed the rights to Godzilla to be split between Jewell Enterprises and Levine's Embassy Pictures. Levine enlisted Edward Barison to create Trans World Releasing Corp., to distribute the film. Levine also enlisted producer Terry Turner to develop promotional strategies. Turner managed to get the film mentioned by Steve Allen on The Tonight Show. Levine and Turner initially considered the title Godzilla, the Sea Beast but eventually settled on Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Ross and Kay hired Terry O. Morse to direct the film. Schreibman had arranged for Burr to participate in the film. Morse was paid $10,000 for re-writing and directing the film and Burr was paid the same amount for a single day's work.
Filming and dubbingEdit
Alterations and new footage with Burr interacting with body doubles were produced in order to appeal to American audiences, as foreign films held no appeal to the mainstream public at the time. Rather than dub the entire film, Morse chose to retain most of the original Japanese dialogue and have Frank Iwanaga translate, albeit inaccurately, those scenes and alternate with Burr narrating. Burr worked with body-doubles, who were filmed over their shoulder to conceal their faces. Editing techniques were also used to mask the body-doubles and the original Japanese actors. Asian-American extras were hired to play minor roles. The American footage was filmed in three days on a rented soundstage at Visual Drama Inc.
The dubbing required for the entire film was recorded in under five hours. James Hong and the other voice actors were not given any details of the film's production. The voice actors were locked in a room with Morse and were told to read for every role. Each line was recorded at different speeds and the best one was chosen to match the footage. The voice actors never saw the film as they recorded their lines. The voice actors dubbed the entire film sitting at a table with a microphone before them. Hong confirmed that a number of Japanese actors auditioned for the voice-over job, however, Hong and Sammee Tong were hired due to their versatility. Tong recorded six voices (older characters) while Hong recorded seven voices (younger characters).
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! opened on April 4, 1956 in Loew's State Theater in New York City and theatrically released in the United States on April 27, 1956, on a double-bill with Prehistoric Women. The film was released to 283 theaters in Boston. The film grossed $2 million during its initial theatrical run. The film earned a $200,000 profit for its producers. The TV rights were then sold to RKO and the film made its broadcast debut in 1959 on KHJ-TV in Los Angeles. The film was theatrically released in Japan on May 29, 1957 as Kaiju Ō Godzilla (Monster King Godzilla) to a positive reception from Japanese audiences, with the English dialogue subtitled in Japanese.
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a bad review, dismissing 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".
On the film's alterations, film critic Danny Peary accused the producers of making "deletions that arouse suspicions regarding the cover up of references to damage done by the A-bomb." Film critic Tim Lucas noted, "Much has been done to Americanize the Godzilla series over the decades, much of it inane and destructive, but the craft and cleverness that went into Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is immediately apparent." Over the years, original director Ishirō Honda was asked by film historians if the alterations made by the American version without his permission had offended him. Honda found the alterations amusing, stating that his film was "trying to imitate American monster movies."
In 2006, Classic Media and Sony BMG Music Entertainment Home Entertainment released a two-disc DVD set titled Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece. This release features both the original 1954 Japanese Gojira film and the 1956 American Godzilla, King of the Monsters! version, making the original Japanese version of the film available on DVD in North America for the first time. This release features theatrical trailers for both films, audio commentary tracks on both films with Godzilla scholars Steve Ryfle (author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G) and Ed Godziszewski (editor of Japanese Giants Magazine), two 13-minute documentaries titled "Godzilla Story Development" and "Making of the Godzilla Suit," and a 12-page essay booklet by Steve Ryfle. This release also restores the original ending credits of the American film which, until recently, were thought to have been lost.
On January 24, 2012, the Criterion Collection released a "new high-definition digital restoration" of Godzilla on Blu-ray and DVD. This release includes a remaster of the 1956 American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, as well as other special features such as interviews with Akira Ikufube, Japanese film critic Tadao Sato, actor Akira Takarada, Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima, effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai and audio commentaries on both films by David Kalat, author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series. In 2019, the film was included as part of a Blu-ray box set released by the Criterion Collection, which included all 15 films from the franchise's Shōwa era.
While the 1954 Japanese version is credited for starting the franchise and establishing the template for tokusatsu filmmaking, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was responsible for introducing international audiences to the character Godzilla. The Japanese version was unavailable overseas until 2004, when it was given a limited theatrical run in North America to commemorate the franchise's 50th anniversary. In 1982, a subtitled version of the Japanese cut was screen in New York and Chicago film festivals honoring Takeshi Shimura's work. After the release of the 1956 American version, Toho adopted the moniker "King of the Monsters" in publicity materials. The moniker was used as the title for the 1983 unproduced American film and as the title for Legendary's Godzilla sequel. Subsequent Godzilla films featured reporters as the leads. Author David Kalat credits Burr for this trend, stating, "these reporter heroes may owe their prominence to the legacy of Raymond Burr's Steve Martin."
In 1985, New World Pictures released Godzilla 1985, an American adaptation of Toho's The Return of Godzilla. Like Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, it used footage from the Toho film, with added footage shot in Hollywood, and the dialog re-recorded in English. Raymond Burr reprised his role as Steve Martin, acting as an adviser to the Pentagon, but did not interact within the main story as he had done in King of the Monsters. The Return of Godzilla was a sequel to the original 1954 film, and Godzilla 1985 served as a sequel to Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.
In 1977, Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi released to Italian theaters, a further modified and colorized version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, with a soundtrack that used a magnetic tape process similar to Sensurround. Originally, Cozzi had planned to just re-release the original 1954 Godzilla (without the Raymond Burr footage). He was unable to secure the rights from Toho, so he purchased rights to the 1956 Americanized version. Being in black-and-white and already released in the 1950s, Italian regional distributors refused to release it, so Cozzi created a new version. After adding new footage, he hired Armando Valcauda to colorize the entire film, frame-by-frame, using a process called "Spectrorama 70". The process consisted of applying various colored gels to the footage. As a result, it became one of the first colorized black-and-white films.
This new version was advertised as "The greatest apocalypse in the history of cinema with the sonorous and visual wonder of Spectrorama 70". The film's content was also re-edited and added new scenes. These included a new opening of Bombing of Hiroshima, scenes from other famous monster movies and wartime stock footage of graphic death and destruction. This includes a famous scene where Godzilla destroys a train. This increased the film's running time to 105 minutes.
The soundtrack was composed by Vince Tempera, Franco Bixio, and Fabio Frizzi under the "Magnetic System" screen credit. In cinemas, the soundtrack was played in "Futursound", an eight-track magnetic tape system based on Sensurround. Special sonic effects vibrated the seats each time that Godzilla took a step. Cozzi's version was a success and received generally positive reviews. Its theatrical release poster was later used as the cover for Fangoria #1.
Most prints of Cozzi's release were lost, but some still exist. A bootleg version was released on VHS tape, but the quality is poor when compared to the theatrical release print. The Cozzi version had only been released in Italy by 2012, but it has since been shown in Japan and Turkey. On November 24, 2017, the Cozzi version was screened at the Fantafestival in Rome.
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