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Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films (1955 – 1975) - Blu-ray Review

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Godzilla (1954)

What do bathtub toy boats and plastic helicopters have in common with a dude in a monster suit?  Hint: the action takes place in Japan.  That’s right.  Godzilla, the mother of all mega-monster movies, is returning to run rampage through your home entertainment system.  Thanks to the remastering movie buffs over at Criterion, everyone’s favorite prehistoric lizard is getting a shiny new upgrade and it features the first 15 Godzilla films that followed in the A-bomb wake of 1954’s film.

"Godzilla and the fourteen films that follow, are now all on sparkling blu-ray. They will take your breath away."


Let that soak in. This is a monumental FIRST when it comes to Godzilla. Together, at long last, we have the original Godzilla (1954), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), Son of Godzilla (1967), Destroy All Monsters (1968), All Monsters Attack (1969), Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971, Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) and they are ALL presented with HD digital transfers.

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, presents Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films on blu-ray this week. This, their 1000th release, is an enormous collection and I mean that quite literally. First, there are a total of FIFTEEN films in the set, beginning with the original 1954 classic film and ending with the terrifying reign of Mechagodzilla in 1975. And the set itself, full of crisp and colorful artwork, is big, too. These films, the information concerning them, their place in history, and the monsters contained therein are HUGE, which makes this set a MUST-OWN.Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla

Directed by Ishiro Honda and produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, the original Godzilla (a.k.a. Gojira) film – the product of nuclear creation as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Daigo Fukury Maru incident were still very much in the consciousness of the Japanese people – is a demanding little spectacle of a film that is as equally entertaining as it is imaginative as a cautionary tale.  It also, in spite of its visible wires and obvious special effects, is a surprisingly solid melodrama.

That success continues with 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, the original sequel where the formula for a Godzilla flick is born. Here, Godzilla finds purpose and defends against the oncoming attacks of the ancient foe Anguirus; it is, after all, Earth’s protector. To my knowledge, the sequel has not been made available on blu-ray yet, but here it is, thanks to Criterion. Efficiently directed by Motoyoshi Oda as a straight-ahead monsters-on-the-loose drama. An underrated standout among the Showa Godzilla films, Godzilla Raids Again is finally made available.

Following that is the wildly successful third film in the series. Originally released in 1963 here in the United States, King Kong vs. Godzilla is simply a must-own for any fan of either monster. This co-production between Universal Studios and Toho Company is – to date – the most commercially successful of all the Godzilla movies. For the record, this film is cheesy and full of hokey special effects and silly acting, yet it is simply wonderful as a monster movie.

This is the second of two solid King Kong co-productions that Toho was involved with. Directed by Ishirō Honda, the movie opens with the head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), frustrated by the silly television shows he is sponsoring. He wants something interesting; something worthy of his product and his money. Enter a team to capture the rumored King Kong of Faro Island and put him on television.showa godzilla vs hedorah

Now, if you will recall the ending of Godzilla Raids Again, the sequel to the original Godzilla film, the last we saw of the King of the Monsters was a whole lot of freezing. Buried inside a massive iceberg, Godzilla hasn’t been a threat since 1955. Unfortunately, the American submarine Seahawk is about to change all that by accidentally breaking the iceberg apart when their submarine gets stuck.

The two monsters are on a collision course in Japan.  This would happen time and time again as Godzilla, as documented in the films here, faced off with Mothra, Ghidorah, the Astro-Monster, Ebirah, Hedorah, Gigan, Megalon, Mechagodzilla, and so on. And, thanks to Criterion’s remasters, they are all housed here for the very first time in ONE set. Obviously, there was a winning formula at work here and Showa would use it over and over again.Godzilla vs. Gigan

Sacrifices must be made.  Hearts must be broken.  Mankind must not toy around in the nuclear age.  This is the territory of Honda’s multiple series-inspiring classic; a film series that might have more to do with the aftermath of war than the actual war on the monster itself.  This isn’t camp.  This isn’t goofy silliness either.  These are young men and young women expressing their fears in the nuclear age.  Survival; they lived through it. 

Things would get real in later films in the series, especially in 1971. Intended to address the crisis levels of pollution in postwar Japan, Godzilla vs. Hedorah finds the King of the Monsters fighting an alien life form that arrives on Earth and steadily grows by feeding on industrial waste. Director Yoshimitsu Banno infuses the film with equal parts ecological horror, humorous monster antics, and sixties psychedelia straight out of San Francisco, making for a truly unique—and divisive—entry in the series.All Monsters Attack

The love for all things related to Godzilla is a real thing.  A truth more terrifying than a towering monster, mind you, and its evil twin Mechagodzilla. Every frame from every movie in this set is dripping with love and admiration.  If you can’t get past the rubber suit and see the actual meaning and fun in these cautionary tales, well, you should probably sit closer to the screen.

Godzilla and the fourteen films that follow, are now all on sparkling blu-ray. They will take your breath away.  From the now-classic growling score from Akira Ifukube to the radioactive trilobite theatrics, Godzilla, his foes, and his team-ups are remarkable and misunderstood gems of science fiction films.

5/5 beers

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Criterion
Available on Blu-ray
- October 29, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles
: English for all except King Kong vs. Godzilla: English SDH
Audio:
Japanese: LPCM Mono on all except King Kong vs. Godzilla: English: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)Japanese: LPCM Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Eight-disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

There are EIGHT blu-ray discs, all considered special edition collector’s sets, included here. Criterion Collection gives us 15 films PLUS a lavishly illustrated deluxe hardcover book featuring an essay by cinema historian Steve Ryfle, notes on the films by cinema historian Ed Godziszewski, and new illustrations by Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly, and Chris Wisnia. Along with the upgraded picture thanks to these transfers, this set is a MUST-OWN.

Video:

Showcasing a lot of technical wizardry, Criterion has outdone themselves with the look and the color of these films. Obviously, the visual punch is there and the results, with fine remastering efforts, are absolutely incredible. For a number of the films in this set, this is as good as it gets. Criterion’s frame-by-frame digital restoration is presented in glorious black-and-white. Both the original film and the 1956 American reworking (directed by Terry Morse) have been painstakingly remastered for the best HD quality possible from the source material. Masao Tamai’s cinematography is brilliantly realized with great attention to the glory of Tokyo’s destruction and the crackling textures of cityscape to seascape. Obviously, most of the destruction occurs with cheap miniatures and the wires on the planes and the toy monster are, at times, more than visible. Detail is consistently impressive and the clarity of the picture is superior than the print used for Screen Media’s release awhile back. The source print is also nicer; being bold and dark in tones and spot-on in texture. There also appears to be less damage to the print which always makes for a better experience when watching. In fact, I noticed no scratches, hisses, or pops on the negative while watching.

Audio:

With uncompressed monaural soundtacks and international English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla, the original Japanese tracks are included for the rest. It is sub-titled, though, so PCM-Linear tracks rule the day here.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Fans get audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat.

Special Features:

On top of the lavishly designed book, there are interviews with crew members, an interview with Alex Cox about his love for the series, interviews with the original composer, and lots of looks at unused Toho special effects. Overall, a great haul for this magnificent creature.

  • Honda and Banno
  • Handcrafted Artistry
  • Launching Jet Jaguar
  • Man of Many Faces
  • Music is Always Simple
  • Toho Unused Special Effects Complete Collection
  • Trailers
  • Blu-ray Rating:

The box set includes:

High-definition digital transfer of Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956), the U.S.-release version of Godzilla Japanese-release version of King Kong vs. Godzilla from 1962.

Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat

International English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzillaand Terror of Mechagodzilla

Directors Guild of Japan interview with director Ishiro Honda, conducted by director Yoshimitsu Banno in 1990

Programs detailing the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences from Toho releases including Destroy All Monsters

New interview with filmmaker Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era Godzilla films

New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai

Interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011

Illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla

New English subtitle translations

Trailers

A lavishly illustrated deluxe hardcover book featuring an essay by cinema historian Steve Ryfle, notes on the films by cinema historian Ed Godziszewski, and new illustrations by Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly, and Chris Wisnia

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

5/5 stars

Godzilla: The Showa Era Films Blu-ray

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