"The abrupt emergence from the south of the monster's unspeakable threat reminded Japanese audiences of the U.S. military bombs that had reduced the city to flaming ruins only a few years before," according to the book Japanese Cinema (2007, page 105).
In almost pointed contradiction to this social critique about modern man and his dreadful new brand of warfare, Godzilla also features a narrative that appeals to children, one explicitly about an "innocent" or "tragic" creature stumbling into the modernity of the human world, and wreaking (not entirely intentionally...) havoc.
All the Godzilla films since the first have picked up, to one extent or another, on this story of Godzilla as an "innocent and tragic" (to quote Godzilla: 1985) being simultaneously worshiped and hated by the world of man.
"Godzilla is about a beast of superhuman proportions encountering the human world," asserts Murray Pomerance in Cinema and Modernity (2006, page 13), "but it is impossible without the appurtenances of modernity."
In other words, Godzilla could not wreak his havoc on Japan if the modern world had not created, or awakened him in the first place. Therefore, in some sense Godzilla is blameless, or guilt-less, even considering all the destruction he causes. I have seen how my son, Joel, reacts sympathetically to Godzilla. He sees him not just as a great and powerful monster, but as a being who has stumbled into a world he doesn't understand, and that, largely, rejects him, because of his very nature.
If one ties these two ideas -- Godzilla as Nature Unbalanced due to man's poor shepherding of the world, and Godzilla as virtual innocent, yet again, made by man -- one begins to understand the deep appeal of the 1954 film, and indeed, the entire franchise.
When that move fails to stop the beast’s progress, a second defense gambit is devised. It involves the construction of an electric fence along the coast to ensnare Godzilla.
He knows if he uses it, however, he must also die with Godzilla, so the oxygen destroyer will never be used again by mankind…
"If my device can serve a good purpose, I would announce it to everyone in the world. But in its current form, it's just a weapon of horrible destruction."
One facet of the film that remains so effective in 2014 is the almost whirlwind, documentary approach to the narrative. Early on, Dr. Yamane delivers a briefing about Godzilla’s possible origins and nature, and it’s like we’re students sitting in on a university lecture.
These and other similar moments make the audience feel like it is eavesdropping on real conferences and legislatures. It’s quite unique how the film “moves” from one plot point to another via these meetings, briefings and other formal moments.
The characters, though very interesting (particularly in the love triangle of Ogata/Emiko/Serizawa) don’t dictate the flow of the story in any meaningful way until the final act.
That’s important, because this fact plays into the epic feel of the drama. These men and women -- and all of Japan indeed -- are swept into a story beyond their control.
For instance, at one point there is a long, deliberate pan across a ruined, twisted, formerly-urban landscape. The scene is one of total desolation, a testament to the searing power of nuclear weapons (or Godzilla’s fire breath, as the case may be).
The mother tells her daughter (bleakly…) that they are going to join the girl’s father in Heaven. The inference is that he died at Nagasaki or Hiroshima. Another unspoken implication is that the family's experience will not be an isolated event. A new age of man has begun because of the opening of Pandora's technological box. More families will die in this fashion.
Pretty plainly, he is a surrogate for J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who worked at the Manhattan Project and is known, historically as “The Father of the Atomic Bomb.”
According to interviews, Oppenheimer once remarked, after witnessing a test atomic bomb detonation that he had “become death” and a “destroyer of worlds.” In a sense, Godzilla is Oppenheimer’s child, then.
His Oxygen-Destroyer is more destructive, more monstrous even than the H-Bomb, and Serizawa knows that it very rapidly would become the object of a new international arms race. He makes a moral, individual decision, however, and decides that knowledge of the weapon should die with him (after he has burned his notes). A second, post-nuclear arms race is thus averted through his individual sense of right and wrong, and his willingness to sacrifice himself.
Even though Serizawa has created something of monstrous destructive potential, he nonetheless possesses the moral barometer to see his work destroyed, not unloosed on the world.