Even an Americanized Butchering of Godzilla Is Still a Great Monster Movie

[A scene from Godzilla (1954) happens.]
Some White Guy: [leans over to Some Japanese Guy] What’s he saying?

Actually, it’s even funnier when they don’t do the whole “what’s he saying?” thing. Like, when Dr. Yamane just speaks English in front of the assembled Japanese government because there’s one (1) white American guy there, or does the same when warning islanders of deadly radiation. Also the guy who dubbed Dr. Yamane can’t pronounce the word “phenomenon,” and they script him to use it at least half a dozen times.

We also get a whole lot of Japanese characters having private conversations in English for no apparent reason. Dr. Serizawa and Emiko have an intimate conversation in English, and even more impressively, Dr. Yamane speaks English without moving his lips when the filmmakers just decide to insert dialogue into a shot that didn’t have any in the Japanese version.

Also, it’s kind of hilarious seeing Some White Guy just kind of creep around the periphery of every single scene of the movie like some kind of stalker and then have heavily edited conversations with every single character in the movie, all of whom are apparently his close, personal friends. And when that doesn’t happen, we just get his overbearing narration over whatever particular thing is happening. It honestly almost feels like a parody at times.

There are also some pretty distracting contrivances to keep Some White Guy there for every single plot point. Like, he’s on the island that gets initially attacked by Godzilla, goes to the Diet to hear the scientists recommend an expedition to the island, and then goes back to the island with that expedition. The story was clearly on the island, so why wouldn’t he stay there? (Though, if he weren’t there, Dr. Yamane wouldn’t have addressed the Diet in English because there’s one white American guy there, so I guess there’s that.)

My absolute favorite change in this edit, though, has got to be during the hill scene when Godzilla first appears. The big reaction shot in the original has Emiko falling down and Ogata helping her up, and her reacting to the sight of Godzilla. They actually mostly keep this in the movie, but they wanted to give their big reaction shot to the white guy, so they actually have a nearly identical shot of the white guy’s Japanese companion falling to the ground, and the white guy helping him up. And that’s when he sees Godzilla and has his big reaction. The parallel structure with Ogata and Emiko’s scene sure does Imply Some Things about our random white guy and his random Japanese companion, though, huh? I for one am surprised and excited to see such a neutral depiction of homosexuality in a 1956 American adaptation of a 1954 Japanese film.

As much as I can make light of a lot of the changes that were made for Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, what isn’t a laughing matter is the way the American edit completely excises the blatant anti-nuclear weapons message of the Japanese original. All of the discussion of the effects of nuclear weapons is removed from the scene at the Japanese Diet, with just enough reference to nuclear weapons left to make this fit into the American “atomic age” style of B movie silliness. We also lose the very frank discussion on the train between two civilians that referenced the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and the one clearly war-weary passenger complaining about having to “evacuate again.”

Most damningly, although some of Dr. Serizawa’s reluctance to use his superweapon is retained, the reasons for this are totally glossed over and end up having much less of an impact. Also, the scene where he first shows Emiko his oxygen destroyer is extremely awkward in this edit, he basically has one line where out of nowhere he’s like “hey I gotta show you something,” and then he takes her down to his lab without any dialogue, turns the thing on, and she recoils in horror. It’s just a bizarre scene.

So, why the high rating? Because Godzilla (1954) is so good they just couldn’t ruin it no matter how hard they tried. Even a butchered version of this film with its teeth removed is still easily one of the best movies that was available to Americans at the time of its release. For instance, despite Random White Guy’s constant, overbearing narration and the jarring cuts to his reaction shots, the attack on Tokyo remains one of the most incredible sequences you’ll ever see. There’s enough of Godzilla (1954) in this that they just couldn’t ruin it no matter how much they tried. Make no mistake, though: they definitely tried.


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