Haruo Nakajima past away yesterday. I know that name will mean nothing to 99.9% of you, but to the other 0.1%, he’s kind of a big deal. Nakajima was the actor inside the Godzilla costume for every one of the films made between 1954 and 1972. After that, he worked in the Toho Studios bowling alley–but that’s another story.
In the past few Godzilla movies, the creature was rendered in CGI, and he destroyed CGI cities. In the 1950s, the options were stop-motion or bloke in a rubber suit. Toho Studios and director Ishiro Honda went with the latter, and Gojira is all the better for it.
You can tell that it’s a person in a costume, just as you can tell Godzilla is trampling on model cities. I knew this as a child, but didn’t care; it was so cool. All this becomes even more evident on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray. I must admit I don’t mind seeing the wires keeping the fighter jets aloft.
Like a lot of science fiction, Gojira has a message, but doesn’t whack you upside the noggin with it. The science in the script is wonky, yet far more plausible than the pseudoscience some use to try to dispute actual science. Once again: another story.
Gojira proved so popular, two years later it was reedited and new footage was shot by Terry Morse. What was Gojira (sort of; long story) became Godzilla: King of the Monsters! Now the film has an Americanized title, (kind of) a subtitle, an exclamation point, and 100% more Raymond Burr.
For decades, this was the version of Godzilla that aired on weekends on US television. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I saw Gojira on TCM. To use a cliché: it’s a totally different experience. Both versions are included on the Criterion Blu-ray; which is handy. I like each version for different reasons. If I’m in the mood for a B-movie, I’ll watch Godzilla. If I’m in the mood for a more serious take, I’ll watch Gojira.