With twenty-eight films under his belt, and fifty years in the business, he is, literally and figuratively, the biggest movie star to ever come out of Japan. So itâ€™s only fitting that Gojira â€œGodzillaâ€ Yoshikawa would finally be getting his due with a series of truly special edition DVDs from Classic Media. Which isnâ€™t just long overdue because of Godzillaâ€™s stature as an actor and icon, but because many of his films, when released in the U.S., were dramatically edited, had new footage added, and were so badly dubbed into English that they made a generation of American filmgoers believe that everyone in Japan talked like bad ventriloquists.
The most dramatic example of this was in Godzillaâ€™s debut, 1954â€™s Gojira. When released in America two years later, the film was retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters and had nearly twenty minutes of footage replaced with new scenes that showed an American journalist named Steve Martin (no relation), played by Raymond Burr, cut into scenes from the original Japanese film. The U.S version also downplays much of the anti-atomic weapons rhetoric, especially at the end of the film, though with a gigantic, radioactive, and rather clumsy lizard stumbling around Tokyo, stepping on people, itâ€™s hard to view this movie as anything but anti-atomic.
Thankfully, you can witness both versions of the film on the Gojira DVD, a lovingly-assembled two-disc collection. Besides featuring remastered versions of both films, the collection also includes the original trailers, featurettes on how the movie, and the iconic rubber suit, came together, as well as full-length audio commentaries by Steve Ryfle, author of Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of Godzilla, and Ed Godziszewski, the editor of Japanese Giants magazine.
The changes were slightly less invasive in Godzillaâ€™s second movie, 1955â€™s Godzilla Raids Again, in which the big guy battled the prickly Anguirus. Though the American film, called Gigantis the Fire Monster when it was released four years later, is only two minutes shorter than the original, its badly dubbed and altered dialog does make the film â€“ and its tragic hero Kobayashi â€“ seem a bit sillier than the Japanese version. Again, though, the DVD rectifies this by presenting both versions on one disc with remastered sound and picture, as well as such interesting extras as a slide show of movie posters, a self-explanatory featurette called The Art of Suit Acting, and a running audio commentary.
Part of the appeal of having Raids on DVD, however, is just being able to see it in either form. The closest Godzilla has to a lost movie, the film hasnâ€™t been available on video since the early â€™90s, was never released on DVD until now, and, in fact, wasnâ€™t shown on American television as often as his other films.
One of those far more seen movies is 1964â€™s Mothra vs. Godzilla, which was released that same year stateside as Godzilla vs. The Thing, a rather odd title change considering that everyone in the American version knows that the giant moth-looking monster is called Mothra. Otherwise, the film is relatively unscathed, save for the usual bad dubbing, and was even called Godzilla vs. Mothra when it was released on home video in the 1980s.
As with the other DVDs, the single-disc Mothra vs. Godzilla DVD features remastered versions of both films, as well as the original Japanese trailer, another full-length audio commentary by Ryfle and Godziszewski, and a featurette on Akira Ifukube, who did the music for many of Godzillaâ€™s films.
This, thankfully, is not the end of the Godzilla parade. Classic Media recently announced that 1964â€™s Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster and its sequel, 1965â€™s Invasion of Astro-Monster (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), will be released this June. Though weâ€™re personally pulling for his third film, the 1962 buddy picture King Kong Vs. Godzilla, which is second only to Gojira in having the most lost in translation. Paul Semel
Visit Godzilla online at godzillaondvd.com
Mr. Semel has written about anime for such publications as Emmy, E! Online, Lemonade, and this website.