The 1954 Godzilla Succeeds Where Many of Its Modern-Day Descendants Fall Short


In an era when Hollywood considers destroying whole cities obligatory for blockbusters, it’s refreshing to recall a time when such fantastical demolition had a poignant significance. You can feel it in Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla, receiving a 60th anniversary re-release.

Honda’s miniatures are both charmingly quaint and touchingly physical (a sequence where a miniature village is bombarded with flames is strikingly pulse-raising). They stir that queasiness peculiar to mayhem that’s actually “real,” even if on a miniature scale, as opposed to the effect often produced (or not produced, rather) when it’s created through computer graphics. Yet most unnerving isn’t the realism but the pathos as Godzilla destroys Tokyo. It’s these sequences that bear the closest resemblance to Honda’s modern-day descendants, yet it’s also here that the film feels bracingly unique.

It’s no secret that Godzilla is a cultural working-out of the trauma of a society hit with two atom bombs not even a decade earlier, and as the great beast stomps Tokyo to bits, it’s heartbreaking to consider that trauma was too intense to be addressed outside the ostensibly frivolous medium of the B-movie.

Clever storytelling manages to confront tragedy from any number of angles, and sometimes swinging at it from the side can be the most affecting. This is a pathos, needless to say, that too few of this film’s influences fail to capture.