Peace, love and Godzilla

Last night, with my Godzilla geek rising in advance of the U.S. release of the new film Godzilla Minus One, I took another of my occasional looks at the film that started it all, the 1954 Japanese classic Gojira, and was again struck by what an awesome film it is and still so relevant in this crazy world of ours.

The crux of the film is convincing research scientist Dr. Serizawa to employ the horrible weapon he accidentally discovered to kill the 150-meter-tall monster that has ravaged Tokyo — an ancient dinosaur made even more dangerous due to the radiation from H-bomb tests in the Pacific. 

Serizawa is convinced his device — the oxygen destroyer — must remain a secret for humanity’s sake.

“If the oxygen destroyer is used even once, politicians from around the world will see it. Of course, they’ll want to use it as a weapon,” Serizawa explains. “Bombs vs. bombs, missiles vs. missiles, and now a new super weapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist — no, as human being, I can’t allow that to happen.” 

He is finally convinced by the televised images of the ruined Tokyo and a girls choir singing a mournful prayer for peace called “Oh Peace, Oh Light, Return”:

May we live without destruction
May we look to tomorrow with hope
May peace and light return to us

But Serizawa insists on operating the oxygen destroyer himself, burns all his notes, and after deploying the underwater weapon that destroys the giant monster, he cuts the hose that links him to the surface, choosing to die rather than to risk being coerced to share the secrets of the horrible device with the damned politicians.

As the story closes, Professor Yamane, who has served in the role of the scientist who wants to study Godzilla, not destroy him, says, “I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving members of its species, but if we keep on conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear, somewhere in the world, again.”

The film ends with a reprise of the prayer for peace. 

The story was sanitized when Gojira was recut for American audiences and titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Serizawa’s on-target description of political animals was excised. The words of the hymn were never shared, leaving only its mournful tone. And, of course, Yamane’s warning that we should stop testing nuclear weapons was nowhere to be heard.

In fact, the original Japanese version of the film was impossible to find in the U.S. outside of bootleg editions. I was one of the first in line to buy the DVD when it finally was released in America in 2004, the 50th anniversary of the movie.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters was one of the formative movies of my childhood, fueling my love of science fiction and the fantastic, but I was thunderstruck upon seeing the film its creators intended. 

Its message, nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is simple and powerful: May we live without destruction; may we look to tomorrow with hope. That U.S. citizens were not allowed to see that film for 50 years speaks volumes.

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