Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Things always seem to be hectic this time of the year.  Not sure if it is the changing of season from winter to spring but the months of March and April always keep me buried under a myriad of problems from home fixer-up moments, to work headaches, to the ever enjoyable, “There’s too many TV shows on my DVR.”  No matter, writing during this time of the year involves a great deal of creativity, and that’s simply to free up the actual time to sit down and write.

I am finishing my next release Horror 101 (yes you have seen the book cover on my main site www.latenighthorrors.com as well as to the right on this very blog) and that book will finally see the finish line by June.  And of course my fourth book (top secret) is also about twenty percent complete which should have it available before the end of calendar year 2014.  So, with all that writing my blog naturally tends to be overlooked.  But the one addition I wanted to take care of was to include my review for Godzilla: King of the Monsters! complete with some nice photos.  My collection There Goes Tokyo! has been selling quite well and I’m seeing some nice reviews and getting some pleasant emails which makes it very rewarding.  Even though this review is the one that’s free to read on any of the major ebook sites I wanted to include it to my site for one simple reason – Godzilla (2014)!  The new movie looks incredible but you must pay tribute to the granddaddy that started it all and that journey begins in 1954 with the original.  And of course if you enjoy this trip down memory lane (or if you're new to Kaiju Eiga) then I endorse you purchasing my book and experiencing all the original thrills and excitement of the entire Showa Era of giant monster movies!

 “If he saw a monster, he’s had too much sake.”

 If you’re at all interested in Kaiju Eiga, then it’s time to start our journey.  We really should begin with the granddaddy of them all: from Toho studios comes the 1956 classic, Godzilla: King of the Monsters!  The exclamation point is mandatory.  I mean, this is Godzilla we’re talking about…Godzilla: King of the Monsters!  Now, right off the bat I know there will be fanboys out there crying, “No Mike, Godzilla came out in Japan in 1954!  And, the movie was called Gojira!”  If you’re that person I will now direct you to go back a few pages and immerse yourself in this book’s well written introduction.

And for the rest…we proceed…

Godzilla: King of the Monsters! is the birth place of Kaiju and the starting point of the Showa Era which is the focus of this book.  It is also a great movie, but, oddly, the one Godzilla film I was not a fan of as a youth.  After being deluged with many of the later Godzilla movies, this film was quite a shock to my young brain when I tuned in only to be greeted by an unsettling, somber movie delivered in the equally unsettling visual art form known as black and white!  Seriously, the most vivid memory I have of my first exposure to this movie was walking across the living room, hitting the side of our TV, and then turning the dial (yes, I am that old) back-and-forth to different channels to make sure the color setting wasn’t malfunctioning.  Had I been a few years older I most likely would have followed this up by picking up the phone and dialing our local WXYZ station and informing them, “You are accidentally showing the four o’clock movie in…(ack)…black and white!  Fix this promptly or I shall ask my parents to remove our antenna so we can stop watching all of your free programming!”

Those problems of a young child in the Midwest pale when compared to the symbolic message displayed on my television as the people of Japan rightly dealt with the atomic devastation of their country by focusing on the aftermath and the subsequent birth of a giant irradiated prehistoric lizard.  Over repeated viewings, it became obvious to me how US filmmakers inserted American actor Raymond Burr throughout the Japanese movie.  I’m guessing if this version ever aired in Japan that nation soon had a new source of national derision as America soiled their powerful message movie with a second-class actor.  Although in 1998 when Roland Emmerich and Mathew Broderick helped deliver the much hated US remake of Godzilla, the nation of Japan could not unite with hatred to different American filmmakers and actors

Eighty-four minutes of celluloid history created a franchise that would last forever (and give birth to at least one great book whose sole purpose is admiration for Kaiju Eiga).  The movie begins with reporter Steve Martin (not so much the wild and crazy guy variety) stopping off in Japan.  Luckily, he brought his cigarettes and pipe, since our main protagonist will spend more time smoking than having a participatory role in the action and destruction that take place all around him.  At varying spots throughout the movie Martin does have time to contact his editor at the United World News, in Chicago, to relay some of the information he’s recorded.

I view these moments much like in an episode of the classic television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker when Carl Kolchak would contact his editor with stories about vampires, werewolves, and mummies.  Inevitably his editor would blow up at him and tell him he was out of his mind.  Here, though, Martin seems to carry more clout, although his reporting and interviewing skills leave a lot to be desired.  It’s doubtful his skills are showcased in any college-level journalism courses.  Steve Martin is no Woodward and Bernstein, but he’s at least confident enough in his own abilities to deliver lines like, “Terrible sea of fire engulfs all…sign it ‘Steve Martin.’”  You want to talk about balls the size of…well, Godzilla.  Martin always makes it clear to the editor that, “Crazy shit is going down and I stand by my story, so be sure my name is attached at all times.”  I’m guessing the Pulitzer that year was pretty much locked up after the debris was cleared and people could actually find the Pulitzer.

Martin is in Japan for a social visit.  Impeccable timing, since Godzilla will be dropping by shortly for his own social visit.  While at this point the people of Japan don’t know who Godzilla is, everyone knows Steve Martin (and not just because he sings that King Tut song).  Steve is in town to visit his good friends, Dr. Yamane, Emiko, Ogata, and the semi-mysterious Dr. Serizawa.  Of these good friends, none appear to want to share actual screen time with Martin in fact, they regularly face away from the camera only allowing us views of the backs of their heads.  Eye contact and line of site be damned, even when a meaningful conversation is expected.  Again the fanboys will be shouting, “American filmmakers butchered this movie and edited Raymond Burr into it!  That’s why nobody wants to be seen talking to him.”  I get it, but it’s worth mentioning because once you know what to look for during the movie, it does add a new level of both humor and appreciation because for technology in use in 1956, the filmmakers did a decent job with the inserts.

No sooner has Martin pulled out his pipe in the land of the Rising Sun than a bevy of cargo ships burst into flame.  Not only do they catch fire, they sink like a bowling ball, ignoring all scientific theories of buoyancy.  Martin gets wind of the story and heads to Odo Island just as a powerful ocean storm strikes.  To give you an idea of the intensity of this typhoon, it’s strong enough to interrupt Martin as he lies in his tent-bed smoking.  The storm brings rain, wind, and lightning, but there seems to be an added bonus.  Loud thundering pounding footsteps?  Perhaps a roar?  Martin’s coverage of the storm sums it up as, “It was more than rain, wind, and lightning.”  Notice he wasn’t signing his name to this reporting.  Even Steve Martin isn’t confident enough to start speculating in his column about what was lurking within that storm.  Clearly he remembers that old rule from Journalism 101: you need proof.

We’re now about twenty-eight minutes into the movie.  The controlling interest at Toho knew it was time for a reveal, lest the audience think this movie was merely about casual reporting, freak island storms, and boating disasters.  The occupants of Odo Island run from their village up into the mountains, where they are greeted by everyone’s first view of Godzilla: King of the Monsters!  People scream, people run, and Steve Martin knows that he’s stumbled onto the story of a lifetime.  “It’s big and terrible and more frightening than I thought possible.”  Trivia experts will recognize this line as the original one uttered by Roy Scheider in Jaws, until consultants informed him that the line was actually supposed to be, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  Not sure how Roy made that goof, but it’s a good story.

It’s clear the United World News is sitting on a big scoop.  The movie handles this well, in spite of Godzilla being – a man in a rubber suit (full respect to that “man” because the suit weighed over two hundred pounds), using solid editing to enhance the sense of awe and menace of the surroundings.

Luckily, the Japanese military isn’t really interested in explanations.  They immediately set their fleet into full action and depth charge the hell out of the ocean where Godzilla was last sighted.  The montage footage is taken from a military film reel.  It made me curious whether it was from World War II or simply film of naval exercises but I wasn’t curious enough to research the matter, I mean, I’m watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters!  Turns out, footage was merely naval exercises filmed by the movies director Ishiro Honda

One doctor, however, states that his fear is that Godzilla was spawned from Spandium-90 and the repeated use of H-Bombs.  That’s pretty much the only acknowledgement of this sort of thing in the American version of the movie: however, I’m betting the Japanese version, Gojira is littered with references to the amounts of American-induced atomic radiation that contaminated their country.  Keep in mind, he wasn’t subtitled as “King of the Monsters!” in the Japanese version, so contrary to popular belief American filmmakers did bring some positive elements to the Godzilla franchise.

After this small bombardment the military has clearly won and Godzilla is dead.  So Steve Martin heads back to Tokyo to reconnect with his friends.  There’s eye-patch wearing Dr. Serizawa, the typical scientist who only has eye for his work.  Serizawa has overlooked beautiful Emiko for too long, and she’s drifted toward strong-fellow Ogata.  In a last-ditch effort to win back Emiko’s love, Serizawa tosses a small disc-invention into a fish tank, but instead of sighing in awe and appreciation for his work, she screams in horror.  The effect of this disc is never displayed, however it’s dangerous enough that Serizawa wears gloves while he handles the device.  Except then he doesn’t remove his gloves, not even when Emiko runs into his arms and he protectively holds her.

Now, I have had extensive Blood Borne Pathogen training, and I know for a fact that in a laboratory you need to take those gloves off and dispose of them in a proper fashion.  Otherwise scientists would be tossing devices into fish tanks and then eating a sandwich or taking a piss, and then who knows what’s ending up in their Albacore or on their glans?  Perhaps Emiko left Serizawa after his demonstration of poor laboratory safety methods?

Meanwhile, there’s a lot happening in Tokyo, but nothing that Martin can really lock his reporting chops into.  We mainly see him smoke his pipe and long for a real juicy story that’s going to make this entire trip worthwhile and allow him to write it off as work related on his taxes.

Godzilla solves all of Martin’s problems.

I know you’re saying, “Wait a minute Mike, you said the military killed Godzilla.”  Yeah, well turns out I was wrong.  Because if they had succeeded then Godzilla: King of the Monsters! would only be about forty-eight minutes long.  That would be unacceptable, and definitely not worthy of the exclamation marks we are required to use when referring to the movie.

So, one night Godzilla lumbers out of Tokyo Harbor: he’s decided it’s time to show Japan who’s the new boss.  Godzilla destroys some dock area and a few power lines.  Then, in a colossal mess of poor scheduling, the Japan Rail train happens to drive past, and Godzilla pays homage to King Kong by assuring the destruction of any form of mass transit that passes within his reach.  Godzilla didn’t make the rules, but damned if he doesn’t live by them.

This is a nice scene, and works surprisingly well, thanks to the black-and-white imagery.  The shadows help hide wirework, and Godzilla is pretty scary, being a cross between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a fire breathing dragon.  Although people mock “men in monster costumes,” the scene works because it has realism in movement and destruction that the stop motion effects of King Kong could not deliver.  The Godzilla presented in this movie reaches a level of fright that future versions were unable (or unwilling) to attempt.

Here’s the problem now facing Japan in the movie: they didn’t get the memo that they are dealing with Godzilla: King of the Monsters!  The military is mobilizing again, and this time thrilling music accompanies the procession.  I get excited when I hear that music, but Kaiju tend to become equally infuriated thus guaranteeing destruction levels to match the bass (or as Spinal Tap would say, “Turning it up to ’11.’”)  Once those tanks and jets are all in position, Godzilla rises out of the bay again to teach another harsh lesson to the Land of the Rising Sun.

“A prehistoric monster the Japanese call Godzilla is walking out of Tokyo Bay.  He’s as tall as a thirty-story building!”  That’s Steve Martin handling the play-by-play as some serious shit goes down.  Had Blue Oyster Cult been formed in 1956, this would have been the ideal time for the lyrics “Oh no!  There goes Tokyo!” to be playing in the background.  Much like when Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped off at a Los Angeles police station in The Terminator, Godzilla isn’t fucking around anymore [Note: Spoiler alert: More than “thirty cops” are killed by Godzilla.]  There’s stomping, smashing, and the coup de grace when Godzilla huffs out some acid, followed by his trademark radioactive breath.  Martin’s on the microphone, “Neither man nor his machines can stop this creature!”  Probably not his most descriptive reporting, but I’m sure the editors at the United World News will punch it up with some adjectives to sell more copies.

Godzilla’s not done by damn sight.  As the fire and explosions spread across town, a whole gaggle of Japanese reporters and photographers have massed together on a radio tower to see who can get the best view of this disaster.  Luckily, Godzilla aims to help each of them score primo pictures and first-hand accounts.  In what is arguably the best-ever illustration of how flash photography provokes animals, Godzilla brings down the entire tower!  There’s a neat on-board viewpoint that shows the tipping and eventual plummet of each of these screaming newshounds as they meet their death.  If these eager beavers had followed the lead of veteran Steve Martin they might have avoided Godzilla’s wrath.

But, wait!  Before Martin can reach for his next tobacco fix, Godzilla has turned his insatiable anger on the very building where our American eye-witness is relaying all of these exciting details.  “This is it, George!  Steve Martin signing off from Tokyo, Japan!”  And with those heroic words the ceiling collapses on Martin.

With the American down for the count, Godzilla has time for one final bridge flip, delivered in real “fuck you”-style to the people of Japan.  I think everyone can agree that this was totally unnecessary.

The survivors of this rampage are taken to over-crowded medical facilities where they are first tested with Geiger counters before being given a space on the floor.  Steve Martin passes his radiation test and meets Emiko who (in a painfully awkward exchange at 1:01:00) decides to fill in the details of what, exactly, Dr. Serizawa was up to all those scenes back, when he dropped his device into the fish tank.

The device is called an Oxygen Destroyer, and it is capable of removing all the “O” from H20.  It works like the world’s worst Alka-Seltzer.  All of the fish inside that tank were quickly dissolved.  However, I did notice that a large amount of water still remained in the tank.  If all the oxygen had been removed then instead of water this tank should simply be filled with H2.  Now I’m not a scientist but H2 is simply a molecule of hydrogen and it really shouldn’t look like water.  But maybe the Mythbusters can tackle this item for us - we’ve still got Godzilla to deal with.

Fish in Dr. Serizawa’s possession have a shorter shelf life than the critters in the tanks at Red Lobster on Good Friday.  With nothing more to prove and his love life in disarray, Dr. Serizawa is talked into using his device on Godzilla.  A boat is readied, Dr. Serizawa, Ogata, and Emiko are front and center to wage an assault on Godzilla.  Steve Martin is along for the ride, observing from the sidelines as our faithful reporter-hero has been trained to do.  Dr. Serizawa dons a heavy diving bell suit and descends into Tokyo Bay looking for Godzilla.  The Oxygen Destroyer is activated as Godzilla awakens from his nap and approaches over some underwater hills.  Dr. Serizawa’s only faithful love is the science of invention, so he cuts his safety line and embraces the Oxygen Destroyer as Godzilla moves in for the kill.  Much like the active ingredient in Scrubbing Bubbles, the bubbles do the scrubbing so the people of Japan don’t have to.

Godzilla’s skin is dissolved…and then his bones melt away, as Steve Martin finalizes his Story of the Century…

“People of the World, Godzilla is dead!”

Final Thoughts

 Just that fast, the movie is over!  Apparently in 1956 cleaning out a theater and ushering in the next audience took the place of fussy production-value details like allowing a movie to conclude with any form of dramatic pacing.  This abrupt end becomes a staple of pretty much all Kaiju Eiga.  Once the monster has been vanquished, don’t blink, or you’ll find that the movie has completely wrapped up and the lights have been turned on and you’re being asked to leave.  (This is awkward and unsettling if you happen to be watching the movie at home…)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters! is a better movie than I remembered from my youth.  As a child I was always more enamored with the Godzilla movies that included multiple monsters, or those that incorporated a “vs.” in the title.  For a movie that essentially revolves around a man in a rubber-monster suit, Godzilla has a gravity that you seldom experience in Kaiju Eiga.  Certainly the aftermath of the atomic bombs helps maintain the serious message about man’s tampering with forces beyond his control and the unforeseen calamity that may erupt years later.  It’s a cryptic message that was also touched upon in Them! (See Bonus Review #2 – and, where do they get off stealing that exclamation point?)  When a Kaiju-centered movie handles a gripping message this deftly, it alters the overall experience in a good way.  When a Kaiju movie completely stumbles with the message and beats you over the head with it, you end up with a piece of junk called Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.

Truly, Godzilla: King of the Monsters! is a solid movie.  The laughter is solely gained from the inclusion of the extra scenes of Raymond Burr’s character (and the original filmmakers had nothing to do with that) and with his overall impotence throughout the proceedings.  I am embarrassed to admit I have never seen the original Gojira.  I should watch it sometime since I do own it, but my love for the Americanized version and the nostalgia it provides tend to override my need to experience the original uncut film.

With my praise of this movie complete, several questions still linger.

What happened to the fishing industry in Japan?  If Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer removed all of the oxygen from the water, certainly enough to dissolve both Godzilla and himself, it stands to reason that millions of fish were equally killed.  I would have to imagine the price of sushi went through the roof.

How did Dr. Serizawa get that eye-patch?  For a mild-mannered, fish-killing scientist, Serizawa sports some real tough-guy eye-wear.  Was he formerly with the military?  Or is this a result of his patented bad lab etiquette?  After all, you never see the good doctor put on even one set of safety glasses.

Where will Steve Martin’s globe-trotting reporting take him next?  What adventures await his causal observations from the sideline?  Does he turn into one of those annoying people who simply sit around the newsroom talking about Godzilla?  I imagine that when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, Martin was sitting in front of a TV with the other employees at the United World News and telling everyone, “That’s pretty impressive, it reminds me of the time Godzilla destroyed Tokyo and I was there to see it firsthand.”  Inevitably this would be met by eye rolling from his cohort who must endure this story on a weekly basis.

Finally the big question is: Will Godzilla ever return?

I feel comfortable in saying that, thanks to Dr. Serizawa’s brilliance and his personal sacrifice, the people of Japan are now safe and have nothing more to fear from any form of giant monster.

Kaiju Rule 1: Monsters must destroy things for your entertainment.

            Excellent.  Godzilla does a solid amount of destruction!

Kaiju Rule 2: Laughing out loud is mandatory.

            Average.  Although this is the most serious entry for Kaiju Eiga, chuckles can still be found thanks to Steve Martin’s interactions with people who clearly exist in another movie.

Kaiju Rule 3: You must be entertained at all times.

            Excellent.  There’s plenty going on with Godzilla: King of the Monsters! that even Kaiju Eiga newbies or non-fans will be entertained.


How accurate is the title?: Since Godzilla started the entire Kaiju Eiga genre, the title is 100% accurate.  Godzilla is in the movie, and based on the damage he does he makes a strong case for both being called King of the Monsters and for claiming eternal use of all exclamation marks after the title.

Original Japanese Title: Gojira

One Sentence Synopsis: The horrors of atomic radiation spawn Godzilla, who unleashes his own brand of horror on the people of Tokyo before they successfully melt him.

Our Moral Message: The use of nuclear powered weapons may unleash disastrous monsters upon society.

Kaiju entrance: Godzilla appears over a mountainside and roars.  Villagers of Odo Island stop and take many pictures, thus ensuring stereotypes that will persist for decades.

Good Kaiju: None

Bad Kaiju: Godzilla

Kaiju Timeline: First entry into Japanese Kaiju Eiga.

First line of dialogue when people see Kaiju: “Look at the size of those footprints.”

Kaiju firsts: Godzilla meets Tokyo.  Godzilla attacks Tokyo and levels towers, buildings, the mobile military, and pretty much everything in his path.  “There goes Tokyo”…indeed.  Godzilla meets Raymond Burr (a sizable US acting import).

How bad is the situation?: “It’s big and terrible and more frightening than I thought possible.”

Best intended moment of the movie: Godzilla’s Tokyo attack, which levels at least fifty percent of the city and is capped with the “F-U” bridge flip.

Best accidental moment of the movie: Godzilla decides to take precision aim at one lone police car.  The explosion kills several officers one of whom dies with a girlish scream (the Anti-Wilhelm Scream if you will).  Look for it at 53:47.

Single most quotable line of dialogue: “You have your fear, which might become reality, and you have Godzilla which is reality.”

Best action moment: When fifty percent of Tokyo becomes property “Ready to Build.”

Total amount of destruction: Flaming boats sunk, wrecked train, burned tanks, radio towers toppled, electrical towers ripped low, and skyscrapers that drop faster than you can say “Jenga!”

Body count: Off-screen, thousands.  On-screen, people get burned alive and several unwillingly plummet to their deaths or are buried under rubble.  Dr. Serizawa melts.  Godzilla melts.

Last line of dialogue: “The menace was gone, so was a great man, but the whole world could wake up and live again.”

Kaiju exit: Godzilla’s nap is ruined by the Oxygen Destroyer, which melts his skin and then dissolves his bones.  Tough to bounce back from this one.