Gareth Edwards’s reboot of Godzilla, the first good entry in the fifty-year-old franchise since 1984′s The Return of Godzilla, returns the monster to its horror roots. A cautionary tale at once brooding with cryptic consciousness and unabashedly pulpy, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla (1954) depicted a monster engendered by nuclear folly, the product of America’s “victory” by way of nuclear devastation.
The eponymous monster is famous for rising from the murky water and wrecking havoc on Japan and, later, an increasingly silly series of adversary monsters, but the seminal incarnation, and the progenitor of all kaiju, didn’t actually appear on screen for a surprisingly long time. We see the percolating water, and ships consumed by flames, and we hear about the mysterious disappearance of sailors, but we don’t know what exactly is causing the destruction. Not at first.
Ripe with political resonance and unsubtle discord with the west, the film taps into modern anxieties of Japan circa 1954. The new film, stripped of political conviction but jacked-up with intensity, is another suspenseful thriller, keeping us in the dark, as it does its characters, shrouding the monster with the smokey whorls of a city on fire and a conspiratorial cover-up. Not as paranoid or blistered as the original, Edwards’s film nonetheless harnesses the same aesthetic philosophy as Honda and those who followed in his wake: the less we see, the more our imaginations perceive.
Godzilla didn’t make it to America in one piece, however. Embassy Pictures hacked it apart, flensing its nuclear references and splicing in shots of Raymond Burr (because Americans wouldn’t watch a film without any Americans in it, apparently). Ironically, the age of atomic monsters was entering its embryonic phase in America at the same exact time, as a little film called Them! was about to be unleashed on American moviegoers.