It's a creature feature.
It's a kids' flick.
It's a foreign film must-see.
It's a geopolitical statement.
There are many reasons to revisit the original Japanese version of Godzilla on its 60th anniversary, but the best two reasons are: it's a classic, and it links the Idaho Japanese Association with the Idaho Horror Film Festival.
"It's culturally important," IJA Spokeswoman Naho Nakashima told Boise Weekly.
Not missing a beat, IHFF Director Molly Deckart said, "All these years later, it's still groundbreaking."
The timing couldn't be better for the two organizations to lure the original Godzilla to Boise; a 2014 reboot, with a rumored budget of $160 million invades North American cineplexes on Friday, May 16. But Nakashima and Deckart are betting that more than a few film buffs and sci-fi enthusiasts will converge at The Flicks on Thursday, May 15, to thrill to the original beast.
Westerners may recall the "Americanized" 1956 version of Godzilla, with scenes featuring soon-to-be TV star Raymond Burr (Perry Mason) sloppily edited into the Japanese original. But the May 15 screening at The Flicks will showcase the unedited classic.
Nakashima, who grew up in Japan, remembers it well from her childhood.
"The Japanese people saw Godzilla very differently than American audiences did in the 1950s," she said. "It's important to remember that in the 1950s, Japan was still deeply scarred from the war. Japan was nearly destroyed. So, we were just beginning to rebuild our country. But in Godzilla, the Japanese thought, 'We can defeat this. We have strength. We can do this.'"
To that end, Nakashima and Deckart agreed that the 1954 Godzilla was a carefully crafted propaganda film to boost Japanese morale in the wake of its defeat to Allied forces, while including some stark warnings.
"I really hope that people will come to The Flicks so that they can look at Godzilla from a different level," said Nakashima.
The original Godzilla is deadly serious, playing off the planet's Cold War fears of nuclear Armageddon in visceral fashion. Godzilla director Ishiro Honda is credited with being the Japanese godfather of the kaiju ("monster") genre and is quoted as saying, "If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn't know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla."
But long before Honda was to become one of Japan's most revered filmmakers, he was a soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army. Even though he survived World War II, he made a point of visiting the bomb-flattened city of Hiroshima to get a sense of those who had no chance of survival. A decade later, Honda filmed the story of an unparalleled onslaught from a creature mutated by nuclear radiation.
"Over the years, the Idaho Japanese Association has sponsored a number of films and, quite honestly, when we started talking about the possibility of screening Godzilla a few months ago, we forgot that the 60th anniversary was coming up," said Nakashima. "And when I started talking with Carole [Skinner, owner of The Flicks] about securing the rights to show Godzilla, she suggested we collaborate with Molly."
Deckart, who is spending the better part of 2014 putting together the inaugural Idaho Horror Film Festival slated to screen in October, saw working with The Flicks and IJA as a natural fit.
"Yes, Carole and I had a lovely conversation," said Deckart with a laugh. "And while I'm pretty busy getting set for this fall's festival, we thought Godzilla would be a unique collaboration in the meantime. And what's so great about Godzilla is, yes, it's a monster movie, but it's still pretty family-friendly. It's less of a horror film and more of a sci-fi classic."
And while no one is heaping overt praise on the 1954 film's old-school special effects, director Ishiro Honda's choice to film in black-and-white still holds up exceptionally well, particularly in one opening nighttime scene as Godzilla rises from a storm-swept sea.
When Godzilla was first released in 1954 (as Gojira) in Japan, an astounding 9 million tickets were sold and the film was nominated for two Japanese Movie Association awards, the nation's version of Oscar. Godzilla won for best special effects but lost best picture to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, still considered one of the greatest films of the 20th century and the source material for The Magnificent Seven. Kinema Junpo magazine lists Godzilla as one of the top 20 Japanese films of all time.
Godzilla eventually spawned 27 sequels--many of them laughable--and endless imitations--some of them great (without Godzilla, there is no Jaws or Jurassic Park). The 1954 original opened to mixed and negative reviews, but 60 years later, it remains a credible warning that if humankind continues to abuse nature it faces the risk of an unleashed retribution.
Yes, the 2014 version of Godzilla looks rather terrifying, but his great-grandfather still packs a wallop. In fact, he's a pretty great great-grandfather.