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The Lonely Scientist as Hero – Dr. Serizawa in Gojira (1954)

10 Sep

Dr. Daisuke Serizawa is my lonely scientist of choice, from the original film Gojira. What attracted me to the character was how differently he is portrayed, for a lonely scientist, that is. Most lonely scientists inadvertently cause destruction…or at least their own downfall. But in Gojira, Serizawa’s loneliness is actually a sign of his heroism and humanitarian integrity, rather than instability or pride.

The original Japanese film was released in 1954 and launched one of the most famous – perhaps the most famous – movie monsters in history. His only competition is King Kong. What makes the original Japanese film so good, however, is not the special effects or even the monster, but what the monster evokes. It is a beautiful evocation of the trauma of war, evacuation and dislocation, and nuclear warfare.

The monster, Godzilla (or Gojira) actually looks rather unimpressive today. Whenever he rises from the sea, he sways woozily, like he’s had too much to drink the night before. He’s also a bit pudgy and ponderous. It does lend him an aura of unstoppability, though. Slow-moving, but invincible and inevitable.

But when he rises from Tokyo Bay and begins to lay waste to Tokyo, the burned out city he leaves in his wake is a painfully accurate image of how many cities in Japan (and around the world) did look after bombing. While the monster is stalking through Tokyo, a woman hugs her three children tightly and tells them that they are going to see their father soon, who no doubt died during the previous war.

The film surprisingly does not flinch from showing what must have been nightmare memories for many people. Children crying in hospitals, cities on fire, military machines ineffectually firing as the monster keeps coming. The monster represents not just the war, but also nuclear warfare. In the film, he  is a prehistoric dinosaur released by the testing of atomic weapons.

The only one who can save Japan is the lonely hero of the film: Dr. Serizawa. Serizawa himself is a living reminder of the war, having lost an eye while fighting during WWII. He is engaged to the daughter of a colleague, zoologist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura). The daughter, however, is in love with a ship’s captain

But Serizawa spends all his time in the lab and everyone wonders what he’s working on. The only person he shows is his fiance, Emiko (Momoko Kochi). Oddly enough, I think that was his way of telling her that he loved her. He’s a more reserved man, but after her shows her what he’s experimenting on – which horrifies her – he tells her that she is the only person he would show that to.

What he’s working on, however, turns out to be an inadvertent weapon of mass destruction. It’s an Oxygen Destroyer, which he discovered accidentally and deprives all living things in an area of water of its oxygen. He’s afraid of sharing it with the world for fear it would only add to the already lengthy lists of ways people can kill each other. Hence his isolation and refusal to see others.

The dilemma for Serizawa is to decide whether or not to use it to destroy Godzilla. If he uses it, then the world will know and he fears will want him to create a weapon for them. If he doesn’t use it, then Godzilla will go on destroying cities.

(Spoilers) His solution is to destroy his research, use his Oxygen Destroyer to kill Godzilla, and end his life in the process so that not even the knowledge in his mind can be used for ill. This only works because his research is entirely in his control, because he works alone. The lonely, principled hero standing up for right.

I can’t help but think, however, that once it is even known that such a thing as an Oxygen Destroyer exists, then it will be invented again by somebody. No one ever really does have a monopoly on scientific knowledge and scientists never can ultimately be alone – it’s there for everyone to find. As was pointed out to me recently, the knowledge is out there on how to create a nuclear bomb; the hard (and expensive) part is actually building one.

This is my contribution to The Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Ruth of Silverscreenings, and myself. Be sure to check out all the other posts, which can be found here for Days 1, 2, and 3.

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29 Comments

Posted by on September 10, 2017 in Movies

 

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29 responses to “The Lonely Scientist as Hero – Dr. Serizawa in Gojira (1954)

  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    September 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    I love Dr. Serizawa. Whenever my daughter and I watch Gojila, we sigh and say “oh” when he first appears on screen. Such a noble character is rarely portrayed as well as Akihiko Hirata presented to us.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 10, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      So true! I remember being really surprised when I first saw the film, because I was expecting more of a monster movie and didn’t expect a character like him at all. Really adds a depth, though!

      Like

       
  2. Silver Screenings

    September 10, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    This is not at all what I expected from an “introductory” Godzilla film. I thought it would be more of a classic Monster-Stomps-Everything-In-Sight kind of movie with one-dimensional characters. But this film sounds haunting and sad, as a person might expect, given the horrific bombings at the end of WWII. Definitely one to see when you’re not surrounded by distractions, and can focus.

    Thanks for the introduction to this film – and thanks for being a terrific co-host! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 10, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Thank you for co-hosting, too! It was a pleasure! 🙂

      Yes, it’s almost painful at times. Definitely deeper than the average monster film. It surprised me, too. Though the monster does definitely stomp on everything. And it’s interesting how the music is pulsing through the first 3/4 and then becomes rather melancholy and reverent by the end.

      Would be fascinated to know what you think of it!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. Michaela

    September 10, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Really great post! I’ve kind of avoided this film, mainly because I don’t find monster movies to be my cup of tea. But this really sounds fascinating. Maybe I won’t pass over Gojira the next time it’s on TV.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 10, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      Thanks! Yes, it’s definitely a superior monster movie! If one has to watch one or two monster movies, it’s a great one to see. With lots to think about. I hope you get a chance to see it sometime!

      Like

       
  4. FictionFan

    September 11, 2017 at 9:53 am

    This isn’t a film I’d ever have been tempted to watch but your post makes it sound absolutely fascinating! I had no idea that Godzilla (Gojira) had so much to say about post-war Japan and weapons of mass destruction… now I must see if I can fit it in somehow. Have you watched any of the modern versions? Do they stand up to comparison or are they just CGI monster movies?

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 11, 2017 at 10:14 am

      I saw the 2014 film recently, but it had an oddly unfocused plot and actually relegated Godzilla to second fiddle after some evil Muto monsters – Godzilla saves the day, though.

      It’s curious how Godzilla gradually became a hero. In later Japanese films, he becomes a hero, too. Somehow, despite representing war and nuclear bombing originally, he was identified with. That would be a fascinating study, to see how that happened!

      But the original film is definitely worth seeing! A great war (or anti-war) film, in a way.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Cory Gross

        September 13, 2017 at 8:19 pm

        Godzilla stays fairly villainous for a while… The direct sequel to Gojira is (going by US titles) Godzilla Raids Again (1955) where he first fights another monster as a metaphor for the Cold War. It’s a more lighthearted film but Godzilla is still seen as a threat. Likewise in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), where Godzilla’s enemies are seen as more heroic. It’s not really until Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) that Godzilla starts shifting to a more heroic role as even more dangerous monsters (and aliens!) show up. Once you get into the Seventies, Godzilla conforms ever more closely to the “Super Sentai” genre, which are children’s TV shows about teams of colourfully costumed teens that fight off giant monsters (and which was imported to the US as Power Rangers).

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • christinawehner

          September 13, 2017 at 8:50 pm

          Ah, very interesting! Thanks for the history! So it took a little longer than I thought for him to become a kind of hero. It seems like a fairly natural progression, then. You have made me rather curious about the other films. 🙂

          Like

           
  5. Eric Binford

    September 11, 2017 at 11:51 am

    You explained very well why Gojira IS such interesting film. The doctor is a well-written character with a fascinating dilemma.

    Like the monster in Forbidden Planet and the birds in The Birds, the movie’s titular monster is a symbol — it’s almost like a physical manifestation of the country’s psyche.

    “What makes the original Japanese film so good, however, is not the special effects or even the monster, but what the monster evokes.”

    That’s precisely why the two Hollywood remakes are no good — they are all about the FXs.

    BTW, Daimajin (1966) ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062851/combined ) is another Japanese monster flick with an interesting subtext.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 11, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      Oh, I hadn’t heard of that film. Thanks for telling me about it! I’ll have to look for that one. I’ve actually really been becoming a fan of Japanese cinema in general and trying to learn more about it. 🙂

      Like

       
  6. cottagecaretakersyahoocom

    September 11, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    This is an excellent article. I found it to be very stirring. I can imagine how symbolic this movie must be. Thank you for hosting this blogathon with Ruth; I enjoyed participating in it very much.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    Liked by 1 person

     
  7. Quiggy

    September 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    I’m a big fan of the original, now that I’ve seen it, without Raymond Burr’s unnecessary presence. Good review.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 11, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, the one with Raymond Burr is rather odd. It seems like all he does is stand around and do voice-over narration. It couldn’t have been a very interesting role for him, though.

      Like

       
  8. Randall Green

    September 12, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    The original and still the best. I grew up on (and still love) the campy take on the character, so the fact that the original was a serious, weighty film with themes such as those you pointed out was a revelation for me. Call me crazy, but I like this Godzilla. The one in the last American version was kinda thick and weird looking, and let’s not even mention the travesty in the Broderick one. The actor who wore the suit in the original died just a short while back. There’s a rumor that Kurosawa wanted to make a Godzilla movie at one point. Can you imagine? That would have been a whole new level of awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 12, 2017 at 9:02 pm

      Wow; yes, that would have been! So wish Kurosawa could have done so! One can dream, I suppose. 🙂

      Yeah, I agree about the Godzilla from the last American film. He looked awkward, somehow. The one from the original did look a bit awkward, but had a kind of aura about him.

      I know what you mean! I was surprised, too, about how weighty the film was. I was expecting something more like King Kong; a good monster adventure. It really blew me away. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing it better!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Cory Gross

    September 13, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Great commentary!

    There are really two Godzillas out there. The one is the giant monster icon who fights other giant monsters and stomps all over model cities. That’s the fun Godzilla. The other is the original Godzilla, the terrifying metaphor for atomic power, in deeply moving and provocative films. One can like both, but you really see the divide in the debate over which was better: the American Godzilla movie of 2014 or the Japanese Shin Gojira of 2016. American Godzilla has monster fights and dynamic property damage. Shin Gojira has beautiful cinematography and a powerful message about nuclear power and government bureaucracy. After the original Gojira, I highly recommend Shin Gojira. Then watch all the monster fight movies ^_^

    Thanks for hosting the blogathon and letting me take part!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 13, 2017 at 8:53 pm

      It was a pleasure! 🙂

      Oh, I didn’t realize they made another one in 2016!! Will definitely have to see that one soon. My first introduction to Godzilla was actually the American version in the ’90s, but I really want to see more of the Japanese ones.

      You are a fountain of Godzilla knowledge! I appreciate it very much!

      Like

       
  10. Leticia

    September 16, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Very nice review! I haven’t seen this original Godzilla, but I am now very intrigued.
    Thanks for co-hosting this event!
    Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      September 16, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Thank you – it has been such fun!

      It definitely is worth seeing! It’s doesn’t have as much action as even the 1933 King Kong, but is really a more intelligent and evocative film than most monster movies.

      Like

       

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