Godzilla, or Gojira in the original Japanese release, was a film about nuclear destruction. It featured men in rubber suits acting out a nation’s greatest fears, and it was directed and acted with a sense of weight and tragedy that was, naturally, edited out for American audiences.
The above video explains and shows some of the differences between the original Japanese release of the film and the edited version that was shown to American audiences. The differences are stark, to the point where people are often shocked when they watch the original work.
“While there were definitely moments where the crowd chuckled at hammy lines and some particularly model-rific special effects, for the most part, the theater was silent,” a Motherboard story about watching the original edit of the film in a modern theater stated. “That's because Godzilla is not just groundbreaking as the genre-defining 'giant beast terrorizes city' film; it contains the most successful — and most severe — monster-as-metaphor in cinema history. Everyone already knows that Godzilla was a stand-in for atomic power gone awry, but I had no idea how bluntly or brutally the film hammered the point home.”
This Medium post by Lovely Umayam also discusses the differences of the two versions of the film, including the decision to change the final words in the Japanese version — which involved a dire warning that the same thing could happen again were nuclear testing to continue — to a line in the American version that inspires hope and optimism.
“With growing support for anti-nuclear testing all over the world, average Americans uniformly began to perceive nuclear war as a shared global threat,” Umayam wrote. “But at this point, US citizens were already adjusted to a lifestyle heavily influenced by the atomic age. Videos about civilian defense against nuclear attacks (Duck & Cover) were a normal part of classroom activity. Every day, families would gather in living rooms and listen to news about the arms race. It was just part of life. Perhaps this is why the 1956 Godzilla emphasized a collective fear that humanity can eventually overcome.”
But the damage had been done. American audiences grew up with the idea that Godzilla was a goofy monster, something to be laughed at during midnight showings of the later films. The somber tone and barely hidden subtext were lost completely, and the character never completely recovered.
Even Hollywood’s 2014 Godzilla entry never really found any solid footing, and even the director struggled to explain what he was trying to say. Maybe it was about global warming, but maybe it was about how the world would regulate itself no matter what we did. We were hurting the planet, but we are also insignificant.
2016’s Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla Resurgence in the US, was a critical and commercial hit, and attempted to bring the character back to its more serious roots with an actual message behind the slaughter. “This movie is a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but only indirectly,” critic Simon Abrams wrote. “It concerns the lessons that politicians can learn from such a nuclear disaster and how they can move forward with a minimum of finger-wagging and chest-thumping.”