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      Godzilla Review

      Godzilla poster


      Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

      What would the 1954 Japanese monster classic "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" be without Raymond Burr?

      As it turns out, it would be a much better movie, something you can confirm for yourself at the Music Box by catching the original version of "Godzilla," director Ishiro (or Inishiro) Honda's epochal tale of a post-nuclear sea monster's assault on Tokyo.

      Godzilla, of course, is the oft-copied, never-duplicated, gigantic scaly monster who, mutated into super-monstrosity by atomic radiation from bomb tests, rises up and marches on Tokyo, spreading havoc until the humans finally strike back.

      Called "Gojira" in the original Japanese, the Go-guy first conquered America in 1956, when the dubbed, shortened and absurdly reshot 80-minute American version hit theaters - with Burr as dolorous Yank reporter Steve Martin, explaining everything in silly scenes added by director Terry Morse. The Music Box's original version, shorn of Burr and with lots of excised Japanese scenes restored, runs 98 minutes. For many, it will be a revelation.

      The story makes much more sense. The characters - especially worried Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura), his daughter Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kochi), her boyfriend Ogata (Akira Takarada) and the brilliant but reclusive Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) - are just as archetypal but more believable. (That great movie actor Shimura made "Godzilla" the same year he played the leader of the "Seven Samurai" for Akira Kurosawa and two years after he starred in the immortal "Ikiru.")

      The drama and tension are magnified. And Godzilla's cataclysmic rampage through Tokyo, ripping up buildings and turning the town into a fiery ruin, is far more terrifying.

      Even though "Godzilla" pales technologically beside the horror spectacles of today - special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya wrecked Tokyo on tabletop models, and the original Godzilla was two guys taking turns in a rubber suit - it retains most of its eerie, gut-clutching power.

      And though director and co-writer Honda was so successful here, this original version shows why his lifelong friend Kurosawa made him associate director on his last five films, including "Ran."

      "Godzilla" has always been regarded as the most famous expression of Japan's post-World War II nuclear-bomb fears, and that's even more obvious here. This original "Godzilla" is both bleaker and more intentionally funny than the bastardized 1956 version and better also than the super-expensive 1998 Hollywood remake by Roland Emmerich. Seeing it here, we can even more easily rank it with 1933's "King Kong" (a heavy influence) as one of the great archetypal monster movies. Once we bid "sayonara" to Burr, we can say "hello" to a terror classic, without apologies.


      Directed by Ishiro Honda; written by Honda, Takeo Murata; photographed by Masao Tamai; edited by Yasunobu Taira; supervising art director Takeo Kita; special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya; music by Akira Ifukube; produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka. In Japanese, with English subtitles. A Rialto Pictures release; opens Friday at The Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:38. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for special-effects monster violence).

      Dr. Kyohei Yamane - Takashi Shimura

      Emiko Yamane - Momoko Kochi

      Ogata - Akira Takarada

      Dr. Serizawa - Akihiko Hirata

      Reporter Hagiwara - Sachio Sakai

      Dr. Tanabe - Fuyuki Murakami

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