It’s not often for a film to kickstart a whole artistic movement, let alone live in the memory of spectators for decades and be eternally referenced in pop culture.

Well, Godzilla did just that and without it, we would have probably had a very different film landscape. Jaws? Jurassic Park? If little Steven Spielberg didn’t have access to the epic Japanese film, these American classics wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

Godzilla should be a mandatory feature in every undergrad film course, but it’s especially important to talk about it in terms of how it personified the concept of tokusatsu. We will also discuss the film’s production and themes.

Inspiration and Theme Analysis

The production company Toho had planned to make a movie about the Japanese occupation of Indonesia where a Japanese soldier falls in love with an Indonesian woman. This move was bold, a little too bold, considering that Indonesians still remembered the bloody period in their history.

Having been denied the chance to do that, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka left Indonesia for Japan and on the flight home, he got the brilliant idea for another movie, one about a monster devastating Japanese cities. He was actually inspired by the American film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which is interesting when you think about it as it shows the dialogue between American and Japanese monster films.

Another thing which inspired Tanaka was the Daigo Fukuryū Maru (Lucky Dragon Five) incident of March 1954, when 23 Japanese fishermen experienced radiation after the United States tested their Castle Bravo nuclear weapon nearby. Tanaka wanted the film to have a clear anti-nuclear message.

It was only natural for nuclear weapons to be turned into a monster. The fascinating field of monster studies have showed that monsters, hailing from anticity to modern times, tend to be a reflection of the society that created them.

Japanese fears of further nuclear attacks after Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave birth to Godzilla. Tanaka simply illustrated them. It had been 9 years since the two devastating attacks, but the nuclear testing continued until the 1960’s, as shown by the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident, so the movie was to be a wake-up call and a sign of protest (Godzilla first attacked a fisherman boat, thereby referencing the incident).

Director Ishirō Honda further explained that if Godzilla was a regular dinosaur, since it looks like one, a single shot from a canon would be able to take it down. Godzilla, however, is an analogy for nuclear weapons and you cannot shoot a nuclear bomb down (at least not back then). As such, Godzilla is almost invincible.

If the nuclear analogy wasn’t clear, the film’s plot confirmed it. Godzilla comes from a lineage of ancient monsters, but it was awakened, and likely made stronger, by a hydrogen bomb test. The film creators also noted that Godzilla is a crime against not only humanity, but also against nature.

A mutated monster is the perfect metaphor for the devastation of nature by a nuclear bomb. Mankind created this unnatural warfare and nature responded by unleashing Godzilla against mankind. Japanese viewers even thought of the gigantic monster as a tragic hero, similar to the demon Mephastophilis in Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus.

Pop culture has almost divorced Godzilla from its original context, which is a shame, because the film is in fact a sophisticated work of art that examines post-war Japan. We purposefully made this as spoiler-free as possible, so you can watch and evaluate the film yourself.

Special Effects

Now, let’s talk about the tokusatsu or the special effects of the film. They are the work of visionary Eiji Tsuburaya. Initially, Tsuburaya wanted to employ stop-motion, but he didn’t have the time as the studio required the film to be released the same year (there’s still one scene with stop-motion). Thus, Tsuburaya utilized suitmation and miniature.

Kintaro Makino created the miniature set after scouting different places in Japan. The workers created a mini-version of Ginza, a district of Tokyo, out of wood. The buildings were sized down to 1:25 with the exception of the Diet building (sized 1:33). The whole process took a month.

Mini-explosives were put inside some buildings, while others were created to crumble easily under Godzilla’s feet. The Odo Islands were also recreated with the crew constantly throwing barrels of water to simulate the tides created by Godzilla.

Actor Haruo Nakajima donned the suit, but due to its design, he could only wear it for three minutes at a time or else fear suffocation. The suit’s linings also had to be changed every day, because of how much Nakajima sweated. Overall, the suit experienced many re-designs and repairs by the time the film was finished.

Apart from the special photography, Godzilla also had brilliant sound editing. Akira Ifukube was hired as a composer and he was the one who created the Godzilla roar despite the fact that reptilians cannot roar, and we thank him for that. He also created a track he named “Godzilla’s theme”, which arguably started the tradition of character music themes (e.g. Darth Vader’s).

What’s even more interesting is how the sound effects were created. The answer is – live. Ifukube directed the orchestra, while foley artists followed Godzilla’s every move and created sounds using tin, wood, and debri to mimic the devastation brought on by Godzilla.