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Miramax takes a lot of flak from foreign-film enthusiasts for buying the rights to Asian hits only to re-edit and rescore them in the name of “American tastes.” But Bob and Harvey Weinstein have got nothing on producer Joseph E. Levine and his cronies at Embassy Pictures, who performed a truly heinous hack ’n’ slash job on director Ishirô Honda’s 1954 masterpiece, Gojira. When a retitled Godzilla: King of the Monsters hit American theaters two years later, it had been robbed of 40 minutes as well as a blatant anti-nuke message—though camp-movie aficionados will be quick to note that the American cut did add some unintentionally hilarious dubbing and 20 minutes of newly shot footage featuring future Perry Mason star Raymond Burr. Fifty years later, Honda’s somber cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear proliferation can finally be seen on these shores in a form Elvira wouldn’t recognize. Taking plenty of time to reveal its 150-foot, fire-breathing metaphor for the bomb, the film opens with a string of disappearing boats and a nighttime stomp across the island of Oda. After Honda and co-scripter Takeo Murata have established the threat to humanity posed by the monster, the tone shifts to question the moral implications of eradicating something mankind may have helped create—which everyone wants to do except paleontologist Dr. Yamane (played with quiet dignity by Takashi Shimura, fresh off Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai). Though this new-old version isn’t impervious to those man-in-a-rubber-suit jokes, the combination of Eiji Tsuburaya’s meticulously rendered miniatures and Masao Tamai’s forced perspective and dark, documentarylike cinematography creates a surprisingly convincing illusion of Godzilla destroying Tokyo’s landmarks. And Godzilla is first and foremost a monster movie—albeit one in which not-so-mad scientist Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) worries that his last-hope “oxygen destroyer” could become the world’s next “weapon of horrible destruction.” Of course, Honda might have been a bit naive to believe a sci-fi movie could change anyone’s mind about such weighty matters. But Godzilla remains a powerful anti-bomb statement—even if America has been mishearing it for almost half a century.

—Jason Powell