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Unpacking the most special of the Godzilla Criterion box set's special features
Typically, Japan is Godzilla's stomping ground, though the kaiju has made occasional visits to Monster Island and Planet X. Even so, it's been tricky for fans of Godzilla's work to watch many of the original movies in the United States. Thankfully, that's changing in a fittingly kaiju-sized way with the upcoming release of Criterion's Blu-ray collection of all the movies from the first era of Godzilla films. The impressive box set brings all 15 of the Showa-era movies to the States, plus all sorts of extras and versions all but the most dedicated fans have probably never seen before.
The box set is a culmination of an earlier effort to get all the Showa-era Godzilla films to American audiences. In November 2017, Janus Films and the Criterion Collection confirmed reports that they had expanded the number of Godzilla movies in their itinerary. The company, which had previously released Ishiro Honda's original 1954 Godzilla (along with its 1956 American re-edit Godzilla, King of the Monsters!) on Blu-ray/DVD back in 2011, now had North American distribution rights to Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), Ghidorah the Three-headed Monster (1964), Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), Son of Godzilla (1967), Destroy All Monsters (1968), All Monsters Attack (1969), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974), and Terror of MechaGodzilla (1975).
The reaction among Godzilla fans was one of sheer elation: Criterion, one of the most respected and prestigious home video labels in the world, had acquired all but four of the original Showa Godzilla movies! Right away there were hopes that the company would one day put all of the kaiju films in its ownership on home media. A tantalizing thought, given the quality of Criterion's Godzilla '54 release, with its stunning restoration and plethora of special features. As of this moment, many Godzilla movies are quite difficult to see.
And now, two years later, excitement has risen yet again with the announcement of Criterion's 1000th DVD/Blu-ray release, a box set called Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975. Composed of eight Blu-ray discs, this set will include all of the movies listed above as well as King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966), Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), and Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). In short: the entire 15-movie Showa era spectrum of Godzilla movies amassed and put together in one release.
According to Criterion's website, the films will be presented in high-definition digital transfers and in their original Japanese-language versions with English subtitles. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (again: the Raymond Burr version of the original Godzilla, not the recent Legendary movie) and the American version of King Kong vs. Godzilla will also be included. Due to legal limitations, international dub tracks will only be supplied for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, and Terror of MechaGodzilla.
The box set will come with a sizable number of supplements, including a booklet with contributions by genre historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski. Godziszewski has written liner notes on each of the 15 entries, with Ryfle providing a lengthy essay on the history of the films as well as the social conditions under which they were made.
Bonus features that were present on Criterion's Godzilla '54 release will be ported over. Film historian David Kalat's audio commentaries for Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! will return, as will the illustrated audio essay "The Unluckiest Dragon." Repurposed interviews feature suit actor Haruo Nakajima, composer Akira Ifukube, actor Akira Takarada, critic Tadao Sato, and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai.
New to this set, however, will be a couple of interviews new to the English-speaking market. One this writer is most eagerly looking forward to is a subtitled video interview with Ishiro Honda hosted by none other than Yoshimitsu Banno (director of Godzilla vs. Hedorah). Recorded for the Directors Guild of Japan in 1990, this interview will provide fans a rare opportunity to see two Japanese Godzilla directors in conversation. Other new interviewees on the set include suit actors Bin Furuya and Tsugutoshi Komada — Godzilla vs. Megalon fans, sit up and take notice; this is the man who played Jet Jaguar!
Another bonus feature: footage of unused special effects sequences and programs detailing the creation of effects in the Godzilla series.
THE JAPANESE VERSION OF KING KONG VS. GODZILLA
As mentioned earlier, all 15 movies will come with their original language versions intact. This includes the elusive Japanese cut of 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla, which, due to its unusual legal background, has never been released in the United States before.
King Kong vs. Godzilla's distribution rights in North America have always been interesting. When John Beck (producer of the film's American cut) sold the film to Universal in 1963, the agreement between him and the studio specified that Universal would maintain North American rights not for any set number of years, but for eternity. As a result, Toho has long been unable to sell their cut of the film stateside; doing so would require negotiations with Universal and (very expensive) legal work.
Thanks to Criterion's efforts, however, the original Japanese-language version of King Kong vs. Godzilla will soon be available to American consumers. Heavier on (intentional) comedy, featuring a lusher and more exciting score, and (best of all) void of those awful scenes of Dr. Johnson explaining Godzilla's biology with a children's dinosaur book, the Japanese-language version of King Kong vs. Godzilla is markedly different from its Western counterpart and in dire need of greater exposure in the United States. The "Americanized" cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla will be the version most prominently featured on the set (hence some confusion online as to whether the Japanese version will be included at all), but at last American fans will have access to an authorized, subtitled print of director Honda's original version.
One note, though. For those who have just finally crawled out from under their rock: No, Godzilla does not triumph over Kong in the Japanese version. That was always just an urban legend. The big ape comes out on top in both versions.
Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 will be released on October 29. As of the moment, Criterion has not expressed plans for a DVD edition or individual releases of any of the post-1954 films.