For decades, a terrible crime has been committed against kaiju films and fans alike. Throughout the fifties and sixties (and onward), a large number of these movies were hacked up by American editors, filled with stock footage (or newly shot footage starring American actors and actresses), and changed to the point where an entirely new film was formed. I like to refer to this criminal act as Americanization!
The first major occurance of Americanization that I can recall, involved the immortal 1954 classic, “Gojira.” The film served as an allegory for the horrors of atomic radiation and was hugely successful in it’s native country of Japan. A year after “Gojira’s” release, the American rights for the film were acquired by Joseph E. Levine. Instead of releasing “Gojira” uncut and subtitled, Levine decided that it would be more profitable to “redecorate” the film a bit. The motion picture was retitled as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and footage of an extremely young Raymond Burr (as newspaper reporter Steve Martin!) was inserted throughout. As a result the movie’s running time was cut down by a full seventeen minutes!
Despite all the major changes, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” turned out to be a rather decent film and garnered two million dollars at the box office! Seeing the success of “Godzilla,” the Japanese began churning out sequels. In 1955, the first Godzilla sequel was released, entitled “Gojira No Gyakushu” (a.k.a. “Godzilla Raids Again”). This film features Godzilla’s first battle against another giant monster, namely Anguirus. The film didn’t hit U.S. theaters until 1959, but even when it did, only knowledgeable sci-fi fans knew that it actually was “Gojira’s” sequel. The title of the film was changed to Gigantis, the Fire Monster and the running time was slimmed down by four minutes!
Toho followed up this film with other non-Godzilla creature features. “Rodan,” Toho’s first daikaju film shot in color, came out in 1956. The version of the movie that is currently available in the United States is missing nearly ten minutes of footage! 1958 saw the release of “Daikaiju Baran” which went through some very drastic changes. Scenes starring actor Myron Healey as an army commander were inserted throughout the film and a good chunk of Akira Ifukube’s music was replaced by stock music. Once “Varan the Unbelievable” was released to American audiences in 1962, it was seventeen minutes shorter than the Japanese original! Included among the cut footage were several scenes of Varan flying!
Also in 1962, “Gorath” was released after undergoing a few changes. Six minutes of footage was edited out of the movie, including an entire scene where a giant walrus attacks an Antarctic base! Other than that, the movie largely remained intact as did a lot of kaiju films from this point on. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of films ended up with a shorter running time, but several Godzilla films from the Showa series (which ranged from “Gojira” to te Terror of Mechagodzilla”) surprisingly remained unchanged. They included “Godzilla vs. Mothra,” (which actually has an added scene involving an American naval strike against Godzilla), “Godzilla’s Revenge,” “Godzilla vs. Hedorah” (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), and “Godzilla vs. Megalon!” Considering that the entire Showa series consisted of fifteen titles, I’d say that this is a pretty bad track record.
The Godzilla franchise took a decade-long hiatus after “Terror” then started up again in 1984 with “The Return of Godzilla.” Seeing as how history does repeat itself, “Gojira ‘84″ was changed considerably. The title was changed to “Godzilla 1985″ and Raymond Burr reprised his bastardized role as Steve Martin. (Due to the fact that comedian Steve Martin was well known at this time, Burr’s characters is only referred to as Steve or Mr. Martin.) After the editors had finished with this entry in the Godzilla series, it was twelve minutes shorter than the original Japanese version! After this film, the only other Godzilla movie to be changed at all was the more recent te Godzilla 2000.” Apparently the soundtrack and dubbing contained on the film’s American release was completely redone by Columbia/Tri-Star pictures.
Well I believe I’ve harped on enough about the changes made to Japanese giant monster films, so let’s take a quick look at a Danish kaiju film. In 1961, “Reptilicus,” a giant rubber snake with amazing regenerative abilities, was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world! What most people don’t know about the film is that footage was cut that shows Reptilicus flying! Apparently the flying scenes were so poorly done that the American distributor cut them out entirely! (See Also “Daikaiju Baran.”)
As you can see, many a perfectly good daikaiju film has been utterly ruined simply to make it more appealing to American audiences! And I’d like to say that this no longer happens in our modern world but I’d be lying. While Godzilla films are pretty much released in their original form these days, other Asian films aren’t faring as well. It recently came to the attention of many that Miramax (which is owned by Disney) was bullying certain websites. Said websites were selling perfectly legal, Region 3 copies of films that Miramax owned the American distribution rights to. Fuel was added to the fire of this debate once it was learned that Miramax planned to radically edit and redub Stephen Chow’s “Shaolin Soccer.” Needless to say, fans of the film were not pleased at all and a huge petition was started.
The Americanization of kaiju films (and other foreign films in general) is truly a criminal action. I find it appalling that a company, once it picks up the rights to distribute a film, can make any changes that they please. By doing so, it alienates the film’s fan base and it ruins the director’s original vision. Perhaps one day all the films mentioned above (and then some) will be released in their original versions. Doing so may just be enough to atone for the cinematic sins of the past. Until the day comes when we can all watch the likes of “Gojira” and “Daikaiju Baran” fully uncut in our own homes, it’s up to us genre fans to pull together and make a difference.