“You have a responsibility that no man has ever faced. You have your fear, which could become reality, and you have Godzilla, which is reality.”
It’s the iconic roar that does it for me. The original Godzilla, directed by Ishiro Honda, saw the introduction of cinema’s most popular kaiju (literally translated ‘monster’). Godzilla as a character, having gone on to star in a further 28 Toho films and 2 American remakes, has since evolved far beyond its contextual origins, seen here in a film made just 9 years after two atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the closing stages of the second World War.
Birthed by nuclear radiation, Godzilla’s first path of destruction through Japan was very much meant as an overtly obvious metaphor for the disasters that had recently rocked the nation, and it aimed to communicate a clear anti-nuclear message. This message at times bordered on preachiness when conversed through the film’s often awkward dialogue, while its special effects weren’t nearly as revolutionary as RKO Pictures’ King Kong (1933) released twenty years prior. So then how exactly has Godzilla found itself so high in my list?
Well, say what you want about the film’s faults, but one word sums up what it conveyed better than any other of its time: power. Great, destructive power, as Godzilla rampages through the streets of Tokyo like the unstoppable beast he was. You’re not going to convince me there was anything more intimidating in all of cinema at the time, and it’s arguable whether modern CGI can truly come close to recreating that feeling of seeing a real, tangible creature (man in a suit or not) crushing a model city. Certainly the recent American movie, which I reviewed last year, merely did an adequate job of it. And if I’m being honest, it really is that iconic instrumental roar that mostly does it for me.