Monday, May 5, 2014

Why my father never met Godzilla

The most famous Japanese monster of all time turns 60 this year, and he returns to the big screen next week in the mega-budget "Godzilla." The film stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen; eagle-eyed fans will spot 80-year-old Akira Takarada, one of the main players in the original 1954 movie now known as "Gojira."

The special effects in the new one, which is meant to be seen on IMAX screens, look impressive. But it hasn't always been this way. Contemplate the last dust-up between the title characters in the 1962 "King Kong vs. Godzilla" and marvel at the rubber-suit shenanigans. (The quality of the video itself is as bad as the costuming, but that suits the film.)

The version released in America had Kong winning, while the Japanese ending had Godzilla triumphant: He has always been a hero over there, as he will be in the movie that's about to open. I thought of this film again today, because it represented my dad's one brush with cinematic fame.

If I remember the story correctly, Toho Studios wanted to shoot a scene where U.S. servicemen were seen fleeing from the thunder lizard; he was so terrifying that even Americans ran away when he appeared. We were living in Japan while the film was being shot, and somehow my dad was invited to be an extra.

He asked permission from a commanding officer to be part of the shooting for one day and was turned down flatly. "Air Force personnel," he was told, "run from nothing -- not even dragons, no matter how damn big they are." That'll be a comfort to remember, should any invade our shores.


Anonymous said...

I remember seeing the original Godzilla at the old Imperial Theater on Tryon Street in Charlotte when it first came out. Scared hell out of me, but I loved it. Still do. Its cheesy effects bring back fond memories of childhood and what it was like to be a kid in the fifties.

Richard Halliburton said...

Not that it really matters, but Godzilla experts will tell you that there wasn't a different ending for the Japanese version. The different ending was just a false rumor. If not, I would love to see Big G take the victory some day.

Anonymous said...

Hey, film history always matters! My understanding is that the "different" Japanese ending consisted of Big G rising from defeat (presumably after Kong is gone) to show Japanese kids that their hero could not be destroyed. I think that registered as "winning" for the Japanese audience, though perhaps that word doesn't really fit. I don't think he actually beats Kong.