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The monster from Japan

There is an intensely moving and, at the same time frightening, scene early on in Ishiro Honda's 1954 classic, Godzilla (Gojila in its original Japanese).

hollywood Updated: Jul 23, 2011 14:31 IST

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There is an intensely moving and, at the same time frightening, scene early on in Ishiro Honda's 1954 classic, Godzilla (Gojila in its original Japanese). We see only the medium-shot faces of panic-stricken members of a family who, woken from their sleep, suddenly witness an unimagineable terror. We don't actually see the source of this mass hysteria until much later. But the viewer already knows that a gigantic dinosaur brought to life again by nuclear weapons testing is just the 'face' given to a real sense of terror that we are unable to comprehend.

It is impossible not to see this scene in the light of Japan's current catastrophe. Like the tsunami, the monster that appears from the sea in Gojila is part of the folklore of the cowering fisherfolk in the film. And like the fear of fatal radioactivity stalking Japan today, we witness the unnatural force of destruction turning swathes of Tokyo into a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Honda's astounding metaphor of man's battle against Nature and against man's own destructive streak.

Honda's film (that his friend Akira Kurosawa was also keen on making) was released nine years after the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pulverised by American atom bombs in 1945. In one scene, passengers on a train talking about the approaching menace of a gigantic monster that cannot be killed by tanks or bombs is telling. One woman says with a resigned tiredness, "After leaving Nagasaki, I can't run again."

While Honda's Godzilla spawned a whole new wave of Japanese monster-disaster movies, this original stands out for its realism - highlighted by the fact that a giant creature from the sea ('Gojila' literally means gorilla-whale) played by a man inside a monster suit is quite the opposite of realism. The film also never becomes an Ed Wood-type B-movie because at its core, it deals with the serious issue of nuclear holocaust is replete with crushing buildings familiar to a people aware of the next big earthquake and tsunami.

This restored DVD contains the scene in which a scientist, reluctant to use the deadly 'Oxygen destroyer' to kill Godzilla and thereby endanger all marine life in Tokyo bay, grapples with the question of whether to use a more destructive force to neutralise a seemingly all-powerful enemy. With the obvious resonances with America's use of the atom bomb to supposedly 'hasten the end of World War 2 and thereby spare the world of more deaths', it is no surprise that the American release of Godzilla kept this scene out.

The special effects and the Godzilla costume are quite dated. But the raw power of Honda's grand metaphor of human and natural destruction comes from the visualisation of fear, something that neither the King Kong films before and after it nor the much more sophisticated special effects-ridden 1998 American Godzilla have been able to capture.