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Happy Birthday Gojira

November 3, 2015

  Haruo Nakajima (l) and Katsumi Tezuka (r) 1964, on the Mothra vs. Godzilla set 

In 1954, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had little time to come up with a replacement movie idea for Toho’s schedule when production of a current movie was abruptly cancelled. While on a flight from Jakarta to Tokyo, he stared out into the sea and his thoughts turned to the recent tragedy of Lucky Dragon No.5

 Storyboard sketch from “Godzilla” 1954 

Mr. Tanaka ran with this idea and combined it with the premise of an upcoming American film titled “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms“. The concept was about a dinosaur awkakend by nuclear tests in the Arctic, and was modified to H-bomb tests in the South Pacific. The original title was “Kaitei Niman-ri Karakita Daikaiju” or “The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea“. Code named “Project G”, mystery/fiction writer Shigeru Kayama was brought on board to come up with a treatment based on his and special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya’s ideas. 

  Promotional poster for Godzilla 1954

Not since 1938 had there been a monster movie in Japan, so director Ishirō Honda was hired and soon the treatment was a screenplay. Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons, and as the film series expanded, some stories took on less serious undertones portraying Godzilla as a hero. But Godzilla’s attacks on Tokyo were seen as an incarnation of war itself, and the company’s approach was to treat this “monster movie” as seriously as they would treat any other production. A monster movie with a social conscience. 

  American lobby card for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” 1954

The origin of the name Gojira is shrouded in mystery…legend has it that a nameless Toho employee who worked on the lot apparently had the physical prowess of a gorilla and the stature of a whale (kujira). Gorilla + kujira = Gojira. As legend has it…

  Godzilla stars Akira Takarada and Momoko Kochi and an unfinished Godzilla suit 1954

The suit itself weighed in at a whopping 220 lbs, and  2 separate actors switched back and forth when filming became to physically exhausting. It was cut into 2 sections for different shots and there was even a hand puppet Godzilla used for his nuclear breath close-ups.

  Haruo Nakajima and Godzilla 1966

61 years ago today, Godzilla was unleashed on the public. And Tokyo has never been the same. 

  Eiji Tsuburaya on set 1955


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