The original Godzilla movie — with its strong antinuclear message that was lost in the version edited for American audiences — will be shown in British cinemas for the first time.
The movie, which was influenced by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is being screened next month in Britain partly because of the 60th anniversary this year of those attacks.
The British Film Institute, which is distributing “Gojira” to several London cinemas in October, also wants audiences to see there is a serious message behind the original monster creation. Some argue this has been lost with the 20 sequels over 50 years and countless rip offs.
Made in 1954 by Toho Studios and directed by Ishiro Honda, the movie was made in the shadow of the newly developed hydrogen bomb. It also followed an incident when several Japanese sailors suffered radiation sickness after being exposed to a U.S. hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll.
The incident caused a massive outcry in Japan and this, in effect, is the moment when the movie opens, when a bomb test in the sea awakens a long dormant prehistoric monster, Godzilla, with white-hot radioactive breath.
With its images of panic and mass destruction and its references to nuclear contamination, black rain and the incineration of Nagasaki, Godzilla struck a chord of terror with Japanese audiences traumatized by recent history, according to the BFI. The movie’s main message is that more monsters could be created if nuclear testing continues.
The original was sold to an American distributor in 1956 and turned into a typical monster-on-the-loose picture which, through editing, costarred Raymond Burr as a news wire reporter commenting on the action.
“That butchered U.S. re-release removed 38 minutes of the original Japanese footage and excised the antinuclear message,” said Margaret Deriaz, the BFI’s head of film distribution. “The whole serious background to the film got lost.”
Following the original, there were several sequels and a cartoon series in the 1970s. The monster was also used in advertising.
Ian Edwards, assistant manager of the London science fiction shop Forbidden Planet, said that though Godzilla is one of the few monster icons, his image has suffered over the years.
“I think it’s a good idea to show the original in Britain because over the years he has gained a rather hokey reputation,” he said. “When you see the original film it’s not a comic message at all. It’s trying to do what good science fiction should do.”
Deriaz said, “I would say that the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one of the triggers for the film’s distribution.
“The original has remained unknown in this country. It is a landmark in science fiction history and we thought it was important for a British audience to understand what sparked this global phenomenon.
“I hope it’s going to attract science fiction fans as well as cinemagoers interested in Japanese cinema and the way that it has represented the trauma of the atomic age.”