Godzilla in America

GigantisPoster (1).jpg

A Critical Comparison between the Japanese and
American Versions of the Godzilla Films

Gojira no Gyakushu
(Godzilla’s Counterattack)
Released: April 24, 1955
Running time: 82 minutes

Gigantis, the Fire Monster
Released: May 21, 1959 by Warner Bros.
Running time: 78 minutes
Formerly available as “Godzilla Raids Again” from Video Treasures

The enormous success of Gojira (Godzilla, King of the Monsters! ) caught Toho studios completely by surprise. By following this link you will discover more about the History of Japanese Pop Culture. Sensing that they were on to a good thing, Toho immediately pushed a sequel into production; Gojira no Gyakushu (Godzilla’s Counterattack). Like Gojira, Gojira no Gyakushu was filmed in black-and-white and standard format (aspect ratio 1.33:1). Released only five months after its predecessor, Gojira no Gyakushu does not reach the level of Gojira. Since Toho was reportedly interested in experimenting with different teams of directors and composers to work with special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, film director Ishiro Honda and musical director Akira Ifubuke were not tapped for this project. Taking the director’s chair was Motoyoshi Oda, who had directed 1954’s Tomei Ningen (The Invisible Man, a.k.a The Invisible Avenger, which was unreleased in America). Oda was a prolific director who would eventually helm 50 movies in his career, though Tomei Ningen and Gojira no Gyakushu were his few ventures into fantasy films. Wielding the composer’s baton was Masaru Sato, who would eventually score three more Godzilla films; Gojira-Ebirah-Mosura: Nankai no Daiketto (Godzilla-Ebirah-Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas, 1966. US title: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, 1968), Kaiju To no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko (Monster Island Battle: Son of Godzilla, 1967. US title: Son of Godzilla, 1969) and Gojira tai MekaGojira (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, 1974/1977). In the sixties, Sato would attain worldwide fame by scoring movies for Japan’s most renowned director; Akira Kurosawa.

Along with this change in the production team, Gojira no Gyakushu is hindered by an awkward script. The plot deals with the monster war for the first half of the film, virtually forgets about Godzilla for several scenes, then concludes with the military’s battle against Godzilla. Despite these artistic shortcomings, Gojira no Gyakushu is nonetheless an intelligent and atmospheric entry into the Godzilla legend, and in Japan is the third most-attended Godzilla film, after Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (King Kong vs. Godzilla, 1962/1963) and Gojira. Gojira no Gyakushu also saw the introduction of the first of a legion of opponents for the King of the Monsters, in the form of spiky quadruped Angilas.

Whereas Gojira benefited from a timely stateside release and a good job of Americanization, Gojira no Gyakushu suffered in both regards. Obtained by Warner Bros. in 1956, the film was held up for several years while Warner Bros. pondered on how to release it. One idea was to write a new script, called “The Volcano Monsters,” and to shoot new footage (this plan is heavily detailed in Guy Tucker’s book, “Age of the Gods”). In 1957, however, DCA had successfully released Rodan without any new American footage. Taking a cue from DCA, Warner Bros. decided to save effort and money, and to release Gojira no Gyakushu without added American scenes. The final task of Americanization was produced by Paul B. Schreibman and directed by Hugo Grimaldi.

However, for reasons that have never been fully explained, Warner Bros. chose not to use the Godzilla name. Possibly Warner Bros. thought that Joseph E. Levine, who released Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, owned the rights to the name Godzilla. Perhaps Warner Bros. backed off from using the name from pressure from Levine himself, though in fact the name Godzilla is trademarked by Toho and no one else. Thus it was that Godzilla’s second movie was released on this side of the Pacific as Gigantis, the Fire Monster. Similarly, Angilas was renamed “Angurus.”

Along with the renaming of the starring monsters, Warner Bros. made several changes to their Japanese acquisition. The film’s opening was completely altered. Toho‘s famous logo, the opening sequence playing against a cloudbank and backed by Sato’s stirring main theme were completely scrapped. Replacing this is a prologue consisting of newsreel footage of nuclear bomb tests and missile launchings, combined with a few shots of poor American SPFX stock footage. Accompanying the prologue is an ominous narration warning about the dangers of nuclear tests to the Earth. “This then, is the story of the price of progress to a little nation of people,” concludes the narrator. This sequence was in obvious imitation of DCA’s prologue for Rodan. The film’s title and opening credits are played against destruction footage (sans monsters) taken from the movie itself. After the credit sequence, newsreel footage was inserted, showing Japanese farmers at work. Finally, the actual movie begins, with a shot of the shadow of an observation plane on the sea.

Similarly, the finale of the film was also changed. In the Japanese version, pilot Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) tearfully thanks the fallen Koji Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki, better known for his work in Kurosawa films), then the scene cuts to a matte painting of icy Shinko Island were the Japanese military have entombed Godzilla (but from which the Monster King would escape seven years later in King Kong vs. Godzilla), then fades to black with the Japanese character for “Owari” (“The End”). In the American version, the matte painting is removed, and the finale is drawn out by use of an overhead shot of the island, actually a shot of Iwato Island from earlier in the movie, then newsreel war footage of mass prayer, then a shot of Tsukioka and Hidemi Yamaji (Setsuko Wakayama) standing on a rooftop (again, taken from a scene earlier in the movie). This concludes with a seaside sunset and the closing credits in English, all set to sentimental music.

Along with the tampering with the opening and closing segments, newsreel footage was used liberally throughout the film. Clips of crowd scenes, scenes of Japanese commerce, military maneuvers, submarine footage and shots of mass prayer were all inserted in to the original film, yet serve little purpose. American war propaganda footage was also thrown into the film. One shot, purporting to show Japan’s military mobilization against “Gigantis,” is an animated graph of the Imperial Japanese government’s plans for conquest; the Imperial “sun ray” flag is clearly visible. The most outrageous instance of propaganda footage occurs in the nightclub scene, where a sloppy optical censor dot twice fails to hide the presence of a swastika on a Nazi flag!

Shots of Japanese newspapers reporting the onslaught of Godzilla were snipped and replaced with newspapers in English covering the movements of “Gigantis.” In a possible attempt to hold the interest of American audiences, the later part of the film features newspapers with headlines reporting that “Gigantis May Strike U.S.” and “America Offers Help.”

Beside these alterations, Warner Bros. snipped several scene bits from the original film. Several such instances are detailed below; text rendered in bold face denotes differences unique to the Japanese version.

  • The conference scene was trimmed slightly. A few lines from Professor Tadokoro (Masao Shimizo) were clipped, and a shot of Professor Yamane (Takashi Shimura, reprising his role from Gojira) nodding in agreement was repeated within seconds. Some of Professor Yamane’s lines, concerning the hopelessness of fighting Godzilla, were removed. To bridge the gap, a freeze-framed shot the police chief (Takeo Oikawa) was used against a voice-over of Professor Yamane explaining his theories. The alterations to the conference scene will be discussed in more detail further on.
  • Scenes at the Defense HQ of the military tracking Godzilla and Angilas were trimmed. The countryside scene of the evacuation of Osaka was also condensed.
  • After Godzilla and Angilas have demolished Osaka, Kyo Canning Company president Koehi Yamaji (Yukio Kasama) and his VP Mr. Shibeki (Sonosuke Sawamura) visit the charred remains of their factory. As Hidemi and her girl friend, the radio operator (Mayuri Mokushi), shift through the rubble for the company’s records, they are joined by Tsukioka and Kobayashi. Some incidental banter about between Kobayashi, Tsukioka and Hidemi about the latter two’s upcoming wedding was snipped from this scene.
  • At the inn in Hokkiado, the staff of the Kyo Canning Company is partying on the second floor, while Hidemi, Tsukioka and his “old friends” are enjoying themselves at their own party on the first floor. At the Kyo party, Kobayashi is drinking with Mr. Yamaji and Mr. Shibeki. Hearing how Tsukioka and his friends are enjoying themselves, Kobayashi excuses himself, and joins Tsukioka at the downstairs party.
  • Awaiting the arrival of the military, Kobayashi flies his observation plane over snow-covered Shinko Island, keeping a careful watch on Godzilla’s movements. Noticing that Godzilla is moving towards the ocean, Kobayashi curses “You bastard!” and files over Godzilla, diverting the monster’s attention from the shore.
  • Watching the futileness of their bomb attack on Godzilla, Tsukioka shouts in frustration to Chief Pilot Tajima (Yoshio Tsuchiya) “Aw, come on!” Tajima orders into his radio: “Throw some rocket bombs at him!” Tajima continues: “Our first wave of bombs have immobilized him for now. Return to base to restock so we can finish Godzilla!”
  • Back at the base, Tajima stands in front of a chalk board diagram of Shinko Island and outlines the final plan of attack on Godzilla. Tajima warns the pilots that “Unless you climb quick enough, you’ll crash into the mountain crest. But the job’s got to be done, or we’ll all die.” Tajima continues: “Our first attack immobilized Godzilla. Our second attack will bury him completely. We will bring these mountain peaks down on him (pointing again to the diagram). It is a difficult task ahead of us, but we will pull through. We will succeed!”
  • Back on Shinko Island, a landing crew ignites gasoline drums along the shore in an attempt to prevent Godzilla from escaping into the ocean. As the crew sails away, two planes, flying one after the other, fly into the ravine to distract Godzilla’s attention from the shore. (Included in the cut footage was a nice profile shot of Godzilla standing between the icy cliffs.)
  • The final attack on Godzilla was trimmed slightly. A shot of Godzilla swatting a jet out of the sky was also removed.

The above described deletions did little harm to the film. The three main drawbacks to the American version, along with the renaming of Godzilla as “Gigantis,” are the alterations to the conference scene, the script, and the dubbing.

In the Japanese version, Professor Yamane presents a film of the first Godzilla’s rampage in Tokyo, in actuality footage from Gojira. As the film is played, there is no narration, nor is any background music employed; the eerie footage of Godzilla wrecking havoc speaks for itself. In the American version, the power of this scene is completely ruined, as Professor Yamane’s lecture is padded by nearly two minutes of footage purporting to show the “creation of the world, as science has been able to reconstruct it for you.” Included in this awful montage was footage of active volcanos, tossed together with stockfootage of real reptiles outfitted with plastic frills, and a shot of men in stiff-looking dinosaur costumes. Also thrown into this cinematic mess was jerky stop-motion footage of two brontosauruses in combat. Too frequently, Western writers have wrongly attributed this pathetic “lecture sequence” to Tsuburaya! This scene is further worsened by the added American music, and Professor Yamane’s seemingly endless lecture.

Apparently impressed by DCA’s method of having the main character in Rodan narrate the entire movie, Warner Bros. used the same tactic. However, this ploy fails miserably in Gigantis, the Fire Monster. No matter how sincere the reading is, the narration is incredibly tedious and often outright corny. Compounding this is that the script tried to phonetically fit English words into the Japanese actors’ mouths, such as “Banana-oil” for “Bakayaro” (“Fool” or “Idiot”) “What a guy!” for “Mataka.” (“Again”) and “Hop to it!” for “Hiraku!” (“Hurry!”). The resulting “dialogue” bears little resemblance to the original Japanese script, and is just barely comprehensible. This is best illustrated in the scene described below:

Tsukioka, Kobayashi, Hidemi, the radio operator, Mr. Yamaji and several of his colleagues are all intently listening to a radio broadcast about the movements of Godzilla. After the broadcast, Tsukioka speaks.


Tsukioka: Boss, with Godzilla loose in the area . . .
Mr. Yamaji: We will have to stay grounded for a while.
Yamaji’s colleague: We’ll also need to reduce our factory output.
Radio Operator: I wish they would drop that light bomb (intended by the military to draw Godzilla’s attention from Osaka) and get this over with!
Kobayashi: Hey, this is a big job! It’s not a small problem that you can –
Radio Operator: It’s the same as the time you got sick eating all that fish!


Tsukioka: Doctor, I’d to like suggest that you give me a crack at this monster.
Mr. Yamaji: You don’t know what you are saying.
Yamaji’s colleague: Don’t such a mind (sic). Can’t you see hundreds of men will be needed?
Radio Operator: I know two men you could escort there. You could get twenty to one they would go.
Kobayashi: Oh, you too good to me! You must see that thing as a cat!
Radio Operator: Don’t talk like that! Last night in the automobile you thought you were being chased by a cow!

Especially maddening is the “scientific” gibberish used to explain the origin of the dreaded “fire monsters.” Poor Godzilla is variously referred to as “A Gigantis,” as “The Gigantis monster of the Angurus family,” and “The first Angurus.” This dialogue leaves a frustrated viewer to wonder: “Who wrote this crap!?” The title of the book that Professor Tadokoro reads from is another sterling example of artistic ineptitude: “Angursaurus: Killer of the Living.” This as opposed to “Killer of the Dead”?

The Americanization also dubbed in dialogue were there was none in the Japanese version, such as in the sequence when the police pursue the escaped convicts in the streets of Osaka. Among the actors tapped to dub the film were George Takei and Paul Frees, both of whom had previously worked on Rodan. However, the dubbing in Gigantis, the Fire Monster is simply awful, and the voice used for Kobayashi is especially bad. Dubbed with a Yogi Bear-like voice, Kobayashi unfortunately comes across as a buffoon. The atrocious dubbing was not limited to the human cast. Apparently, it was felt that Godzilla did not roar enough in the movie, and the Monster King was dubbed to sound like his opponent Angilas!

Except a portion heard during the battle in Osaka and again at the climax, much of Sato’s score was replaced with tracks from Kronos (1957) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). Though this might have been meant to give the film more atmosphere, since Sato left many of the scenes unscored, the American music does nothing but make Gigantis, the Fire Monster feel like a typical American B-Movie.

Released in the same year that MGM released The Mysterains (Chikyu Boeigun/Earth Defense Force, 1957) and Columbia released The H-Man, (Bijo to Ekitai Ningen/Beauty and the Liquid People, 1958) Gigantis, the Fire Monster formed the top-half of a double-bill with Teenagers From Outer Space. Variety deemed Gigantis, the Fire Monster to be “inept and tedious,” stating that “The Japanese have made some good ones (movies) of this type, but Gigantis is not one of them.” Conceding that “The Japanese miniature work (in Gigantis) is remarkably good. Scenes of the dinosaur-like animal crunching his way through houses, traffic and high-tension wires are interesting and exciting,” Variety identified the main problem by stating “Although the dubbing is adequate to an understanding of the action, the language is often ill-chosen, even granting the special intricacies of adapting dialog to fit lip movement. The use of the phrase ‘banana oil,’ as a term of derision, for instance, while arresting, does not have exactly the audience effect intended.”

After moderate box-office returns, Gigantis, the Fire Monster was rarely shown on television, and for over twenty years was considered the “lost” Godzilla film. Indeed, the only way that many Godzilla enthusiasts (including this writer) even knew about the existence of Gigantis, the Fire Monster was by reading Famous Monsters of Filmland and The Monster Times.

In the summer of 1989, Gigantis, the Fire Monster was released on home video by Video Treasures, following their 1988 releases of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla and Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1965. Japanese title: San Daikaiju:Chikyu Saidai no Kessen/Three Giant Monsters:The Greatest Battle on Earth, 1964). Though retitled “Godzilla Raids Again” on the packaging and the videocassette, the original title Gigantis, the Fire Monster still appeared in the movie itself. However, when broadcast by Channel 11 (WPIX) in New York that same year, the new title was video corrected onto the picture. Unfortunately, the Video Treasures releases have long since disappeared from video sales outlets.

Yet whether the film is called Gigantis, the Fire Monster or “Godzilla Raids Again,” Warner Bros’. Americanization of Godzilla’s second movie fails miserably in every aspect. The renaming of Godzilla as “Gigantis,” for whatever reasons, obscures the continuity with Godzilla, King of the Monsters! The inserted newsreel and propaganda footage adds little and gives the film a choppy pace, while the near-complete subistution of Sato’s score with American music seriously changes the mood of the film. The tampering with the conference scene, an important point in the film, results in this sequence being unintentionally funny. As has been noted above, the pathetic added footage in this scene has been too frequently credited to Eiji Tsuburaya. Finally, the movie is dealt a mortal blow by the ridiculous narration, the badly-written script and the awful dubbing. All these negative factors combine to turn Gigantis, the Fire Monster into a virtual mockery of its original Japanese incarnation. Among so many Godzilla and kaiju eiga films released in America, Gigantis, the Fire Monster will stand as a prime example on how intelligent, entertaining Japanese fantasy films were ruined by the process of Americanization.