Godzilla (1984) Blu-ray Review

Genuine G

Erasing the pop feel which coalesced into wonky (if imaginative) children’s films in the ‘70s, Toho returned their monster star to original form with 1984’s Godzilla. Isolated in its period, its style, and the series as a whole, Godzilla’s emphatic Cold War drama ushers in a film devoid of playfulness, if high on spectacle.

Compared to concurrent American pop cinema, say Rocky IV which quite literally beat communism with sweat and muscle, Japan’s placement was that of an international middle man. Forged from a mature, considered script, Godzilla displays the impact of superpowers through a burdened Prime Minister (Keiju Kobayashi). Godzilla’s appearance (returning to the screen while ignoring all but the original film) forces international cooperation. Although frequent series director Ishiro Honda did not return for this second cycle of Godzilla films, his belief in unity carries through to new director Koji Hasimoto.

Godzilla now stands as an unusual film. It’s heightened political theater brushed with the typical sci-fi of giant monster cinema, albeit under stricter narrative control than franchise norms. With immediacy, the following sequel Godzilla vs Biollante dipped into experimental genetics, comedic interludes, and heavier action. Not so here. Godzilla’s placement as more animal – as opposed to superhero or shadowy destructive force – leads to a portrayal of the beast trying to feed and survive. It’s measured and careful, even empathetic, parlayed by Yosuke Natsuki’s turn as the reserved Dr. Hayashida. His parents, killed by Godzilla’s first Tokyo march in 1954, gifts Hayashida with a quiet sense of vengeance, while anchoring the character in scientific urgency.

Fraught with legitimate drama and symbolically sustained from its anti-nuke action, this is (arguably so) Godzilla The Series at peak maturation.

It’s through tempo which Godzilla finds strength. Rising the threat’s severity via press gag orders and swirling around a purposefully misinformed public, everything leads toward a near exchange of nuclear arsenals. The exquisite perspective is unique, a film whose only agenda is to expose then withstand the eagerness of allies willing to use Japan as a radioactive testing ground.

While audiences swarm to theaters for monsters and laser beams, Godzilla traps them in foreign policy debates. That’s okay. The what and how of Godzilla are emphatic while dramatically poignant. Flanked by Russian and American ambassadors, Japan’s Prime Minister withstands a barrage of shouting over the right to use nukes. Cinematography creates an intimate, even uncomfortable point-of-view from near the PM’s eye line. Such dialog-driven intensity has yet to return to this series.

In the back-half remains a big event monster picture, one elegant and ferocious despite some notably imperfect scenery. Godzilla’s obliteration of the Japanese mainland defense with a single breath connects to the allegory; Japan’s vulnerable against an irradiated threat. Once on land, Godzilla is less destructive than prior, more curious when dwarfed by the country’s growing economic status. Compare Godzilla 1954 and Godzilla 1984; the startling Western-like growth of the creature’s usual stomping grounds shows a country high in economic confidence, but in a film antsy about loss. The emblematic contrast is genuine.

In the third act, Godzilla shifts toward the typical expectations. Guided along by a laser emitting, cadmium missile-shooting flying machine, Super-X engages the title monster in a frenzy of pyrotechnics. The film features high technology developed with radiation-quelling cadmium bombs at the ready – just in case. How telling. What follows are series highlights: gorgeous miniature cinematography, superlative animatronics, invisible wirework, and an in-suit performance by Kenpachiro Satsuma, which, years later, revealed itself as a near impossible acting gig.

Although naturally dated in its policy, Godzilla remains an essential imported time capsule. Fraught with legitimate drama and symbolically sustained from its anti-nuke action, this is (arguably so) Godzilla The Series at peak maturation. This Godzilla resurrects via unexplained circumstances. No one explains how he survived years on from his melee in 1954. As it turns out, he just shows up when needed to put our senses back in order.

Godzilla (1984) Blu-ray screen shot 16

Video

The lone Godzilla entry never to see prior release on domestic DVD or Blu-ray, the film finally sees light courtesy of Kraken Releasing. While only the Japanese version is included (not the hokey if more commercial reworking titled Godzilla 1985) this cut is seeing US release on any format for the first time. It’s special, if not treated as such.

Best guess? Kraken licenses Toho’s own low-grade, low resolution Blu-ray master. While slightly improved in terms of compression, the effort leaves Godzilla flat, aged, and unimpressive. The print appears generations removed from the negative, if not impacted by reel markers indicative of such release prints. In fact, damage is the smallest concern. While a few composites are understandably scratchy, the rest is clean.

Resolution is the battleground, detail fighting for its life. Softness permeates the transfer. Fidelity slips away, mushy and imprecise. Fair at best, grain replication shows as overly noisy and messy. Likewise, Toho’s Japanese Blu-ray didn’t show care or effort, rather a hurriedly produced disc created nearer to the format’s inception.

Expect limited color or saturation. Godzilla’s visual space dries up, particularly with soggy black levels. The disc ignores a sense of contrast, flattened and primarily gray. As such, image density fades. Even the top-end – from explosions or Godzilla’s nuclear breath – feels weakened. Even if given leniency for age, this Blu-ray hardly elevates the presentation to even baseline expectations. In this one rare case though, something is better than nothing.

Audio

Although rarely if ever heard by American audiences, the international English dub isn’t worth the wait. Flip over to the Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 mix and the superlative, all-new subtitled translation.

This Blu-ray best represents the original stereo of the theatrical release, if with caveats. During action scenes, the stereo effects are bright and widely separated. Elsewhere, effects are audibly wrong. Listen as the bum pours wine into a glass – clearly on the right of the frame, while the sound leans more on the left. The same goes for the Russian boat Captain who inputs numbers on a keypad. Same thing, right and left barely distinguished with an odd left-leaning reverb.

That aside, some clean-up brings Godzilla into a new era. Minor sound effects lost on other formats (footsteps as Goro (Ken Tanaka) wanders on the boat early) are now apparent. Adding subwoofer support, the effect is inauthentic and applies mostly to Reijiro Koroku’s brilliant score. A few footsteps from Godzilla do add a thump, although a mild one.

While of the era, fidelity is an asset. Clean dialog and bright explosions create a firm, accurate sound. It’s a shame stereo effects try too hard.

Extras

Four trailers are included, three for Kraken’s first trio of Godzilla Blu-ray releases and one for the featured film. Each are interesting considering they include deleted scenes and effects. Sadly, none of the Japanese bonus features make the trip.

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process. Patreon supporters were able to access these screens early, view them as .pngs, and gain access to exclusives.

  • TheMantaBluRay

    These recent Godzilla Blu-rays is one of those times is when I wish the North American distributor handles the remastering b/c Toho’s transfers are MEDIOCRE. Sony as I recalled remastered some Showa films for the 2000s DVDs and they look GREAT. Let’s not even mention Criterion.
    It’s a relief that this film is FINALLY here uncut and subtitled. But the fact that the disc itself is mediocre and has carried over none of the extras from Toho’s Blu-Ray makes this a bittersweet buy.

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