In the 1950s, while Akira Kurosawa was in Japan making two of the most highly regarding films in cinematic history (Ikira and Seven Samurai) there was another filmmaker in Japan who was making a film with one of the most memorable and recognizable characters in cinematic history—Godzilla. Ishiro Honda, the director (and co-writer) of the first Godzilla film actually worked early and late in his career with Kurosawa.
So along with his Godzilla directing credits (Godzilla, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, All Monster Attack) he also worked as an assistant with Kurosawa on Stray Dogs, Ran and Dreams. After Honda passed away at age 81 in 1993, his eulogy was done by Kurosawa.
In his book Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda Peter H. Brothers writes, “While Honda is best remembered today for having directed the original Godzilla film, there was considerable more to his career. Honda worked on 82 feature-length films, 36 as assistant director and 46 as principle director. Of those 46 films, 25 were in the fantasy-film realm (or genre), making him arguably the most prolific director of such films in the history of cinema.”
Also part of Honda resume includes serving in the Imperial Army during World War II where he was a prisoner of war for six months in China. Honda later said, “When I returned from the war, and passed through Hiroshima there was a heavy atmosphere, a fear that the world was already coming to an end.” That gives an extra layer of needed context to the man behind Godzilla.
The version that most American’s saw as some part of their childhood is different than the Godzilla seen in Japan in the 1950s. Remember the first fire-breathing Godzilla came on the scene in 1954. The atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred in 1945 at the tail end of World War II. The death and destruction of those bombs has been well documented. I have not seen the original cut of Godzilla, but I’ve read some say that it’s politically anti-American and or at least critical of America’s use of the bomb. Godzilla either represents America or the fire-breathing atom bomb that America dropped. Either way, its serious anti-nuke warning is a long way from some of the cheesy Godzilla movies I remember.
According to the NPR Program that aired May 25, 2004 Original ‘Godzilla’ to Make Uncut Debut in U.S. the exploitation distributors repackaged the Japanese film for an American audience by cutting out 40 minutes, and reshooting some scenes written by Al C. Ward. The result was the 1956 film Godzilla , King of the Monsters! starring in Raymond Burr.
Can’t imagine Honda being to thrilled with the results. Anyone have Honda quotes in regard to what he thought of the American version of his film originally known as Gojira? (It was probably whatever is Japanese for WTF.)