Six Decades Later, Godzilla Still Has a Message for Us

Watching Godzilla for the godzillionth time was even more rewarding than I had anticipated. It's one of those movies that is far better than its iconography and countless parodies might suggest. Someone says, “Godzilla,” and you think “silly monster movie with bad special effects,” but it's actually a fairly scary monster movie with some pretty decent special effects (for 1954) — plus a lot more. Much has been made, for example, of Godzilla's “nuclear message,” although on this viewing, I took in that concept from a new angle. The filmmakers weren't condemning Western nuclear aggression (read: Hiroshima and Nagasaki); they were warning Japan about the threat it posed to itself, and the threat that nuclear weapons posed to the entire world. Criterion's new Blu-ray disc showcases the film in its finest home video version to date, along with the re-cut American version (released in 1955 as Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and a substantial selection of extra content.

On balance, Godzilla is probably less of a monster movie than it is a message movie. A sober tone is established immediately. Blasts of radiation strike a fishing boat off the Japanese coast, and then a rescue vessel as well. A lone survivor washes up on Odo Island, and the islanders fear the return of the ancient predatory amphibious sea monster of the title. A scientific survey ensues to determine the origin of the blasts and the nature of the beast.

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