Review: COZZILLA (1977)

This was written on a library computer in less than an hour. Here’s to waiting for SHIN GODZILLA.

The context when reviewing 1977’s COZZILLA is this: one of the many signs of an internationally successful cultural icon is the reiteration of that story by different cultures. There are a couple to note for sure, such as the German dub for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS and the American cut itself. To add to that list is an Indian Bollywood film, GOGOLA (which might be grasping at straws) and the lost Phillipino film TOKYO 1960. Italy’s iteration of the mythos does have a couple of things to offer the original narrative, mostly in the realm of the modus operandi and not necessarily the substance. That is not to detract from COZZILLA.

The oddest quality of COZZILLA is that it is a re-editing of a film that lacks cinemtatographic expressionism. Ishiro Honda’s style of filmmaking is closer to impressionism – a style on the rise in post-war Italy. The use of real war-time B-Roll footage (footage as new as shots from the Vietnam War and possibly as old as World War One) doesn’t cut into the film easier because of this quality. Over the whole film is the infamous coloring technique used on the film. Though reported to have been applied frame by frame, noticing patterns in the colors and the duration of these patterns say otherwise.

Director Luigi Cozzi was at a disadvantage when he was creating his professional fan edit of GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS when Toho only supplied him with the American edit. It might not have been totally advantageous for this grand aesthetic experiment. Many of the nuclear references in the film come from a purely Japanese source, there was a chance that the added footage would have aided this original theme in being sympathized with audiences who didn’t sympathize with the themes of the original film (people who don’t see the bomb more positively than a “necessary evil” and/or sadly put more emphasis on the “necessary” part of that phrase).

The color could have been something which was more interesting.
Cozzi must have known the limitations of his Spectorama 70 technique. Not being able to be as intricate with the color gels as others would become a scant five years later with KING KONG, this would release the filmmaker from a responsibility to be realistic with the use of color. More expressionistic, as if the CABINET OF DR. CALAGARI was able to first be filmed in color. The aesthetic could have been taken past the Hollywood gems of old or films like 1946’s STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.

What expectations are filled and what revelations does COZZILLA make light of aesthetically? The use of color cannot be read into at all. It is a poor attempt to update the film simply for audience quantity sake. It’s unbridled craziness throughout. There is no use really in talking about it any longer.

What is interesting is the added footage. The film is bookended by footage of nuclear bombs going off. The beginning of the film deals with the bombing of Hiroshima. As unfittingly surrealistic the coloring is, the footage does do a good job at creating with documentary footage without any particular aesthetic imposed onto it an expressionistic linear, a dramatic and hyper-real look at the bombing. Subjecting war-time footage to slow motion effects is a great motif. Expressionism which is usually used to help stimulate an audience into believing the current emotion on the screen is happening to them is doubled by the fact that it is documentary footage that we are seeing. There is even a couple of stills that are zoomed out of blended in with the footage. With the colors added, it is hard to tell some of these shots, an effecting tool of blending at this point.

The end of the film is not specific as far as that particular nuclear disaster. In using a cut of the film that omits Dr. Yamane’s theory of more Godzilla awakenings, there is a partial restoration of this theme. The structure is similar how a similar thought ended GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH, with one main difference: Cozzi doesn’t necessarily show that it would be another Godzilla that mankind would be faced with in the advent of further nuclear testing. These events do inform the drama, but do little else to move the story along – it’s just to establish the feeling of the real right before the metaphor is presented. These bookends are the only places within the film that any of the new music composed for this version of the film is used. The cold but rhythmic synth music not only reminds one of Goblin’s music for Gallo horror films from the time (Argento’s TENEBRE comes to mind), but it beneficially separates these sequences from the rest of the film, where the audience should have their attention. The theme’s particular melodies are only played on this second scene.

The version of the film I am reviewing is missing two particular scenes. The first meeting in the diet where we are introduced to Dr. Yamane, and the first half of Yamane’s study of Godzilla’s path on Odo Island being seeing the monster for the first time. This edited down, split into two segments version of the film is what I have, complete with everything except the rest of the end credits.
Of the added footage, all of Godzilla’s attacks are enhanced in some way. The least of these is the Hillside appearance. Lighting, storms, aerial shots is what we have when Shinkichi’s death scene plays. It’s a funny dynamic. These are aerial shots. Being that Godzilla is a large animal, it enhances Honda’s intention of not explicitly showing that it was a living creature causing this destruction in the first place. Really adds suspense if you are into it. Lighting striking across Burr’s face while peering out into the storm from the tent is a good image.

The depth bomb scene’s visual motif of tricking the audience that they were watching a real-time occurrence instead of something on television is enhanced here, though the shots of the boats Cozzi utilizes bear no semblance to the shits Honda had at hand. Cozzi tries to show it as a procedural. These bigger ships shoot off some rounds, then these smaller ships place the depth bombs in the hope of killing Godzilla.

Godzilla’s first couple of appearances in Tokyo Bay and the railroad station is notable. With the use of slow motion, a savoring of terrified faces to out of synch sound is achieved which entices this film goer. Along with that, Cozzi positioned the JSDF to be prepared for an armed resistance of the monster first sight of him in Tokyo Bay. Interesting stuff when it’s not just gratuitous.

Of all these added scenes, Godzilla’s main attack on Tokyo is what really wows. There is the expected re-using of shots which just played less than a minute ago, but Cozzi is a little more careful about this in the main attack scene. The natural and expected lack of sufficient lighting for the monster, along with the colors and the further degradation of the (closest to) original elements, Godzilla is not unlike a surrealist Picaso creation. Sight and sound being out of synch is used effectively, as well as a micro-scene structure of a shot showing a cause being edited into three different shots by effect shots being placed within this cause shot (which is probably slowed down).

It is unclear whether or not, like in every other version of GODZILLA to utilize Honda’s film as a base, the JSDF scares Godzilla away with air missiles or not. If anything, Godzilla comes back onto land. He is aggravated with these missiles. Godzilla’s most threatening like this was GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK. It is during this portion, this questionable Godzilla coming back onto land to finish the job right when he was going to go back to the ocean where the film might be pure metaphor at this juncture. In a strike of operatic grandeur, the Prayer for Peace is played over Godzilla continuing his attack on Tokyo, with intercut footage that – unlike a lot of the other added war-time footage into the film – is too obviously Vietnam. Only footage missing is the infamous shot of the naked girl with napalm burns covering her body. If Godzilla is a physical representation of the bomb, and if the story is supposed to show the horrors of war via man’s interaction with Godzilla, then this is the metaphor used in it’s most abstract in the history of the franchise. Does it work? If it is your cup of tea, yes. The scene beautifully fades from Godzilla attacking admist the Prayer for Peace to the hospital scene. The hospital music/oxygen destroyer music makes for a great non-vocal tail end to the Prayer for Peace.

One of the motifs that show that Luigi did keep in mind a kind of structure when it came to his additions is the lack of any alterations to scene involving the use of the oxygen destroyer, save for it’s actual use against Godzilla (the tragedy of Godzilla’s death is amped up by the over-kill of navy ships shooting at Godzilla while he’s, for lack of a better term, melting). This adding of a relative subtlety to the depiction of the Oxygen Destroyer really makes the weapon come off that much more profound. The oxygen destroyer is a reality still waiting to be unleashed, whereas the bomb via Godzilla has already been let loose into the world.

When watching COZZILLA, it is easy to become bored. The new synth music, the use of color and all of the added war stock footage really makes you think you’re going to see something that is a thrill a minute in the most, maybe artificially aesthetic way. But it is something that if you can get over that you’re watching KING OF THE MONSTERS plain with weird color (As if an old television set had a magnet dragged over it), you may be able to truly appreciate it when these added elements with Honda’s and Tsuburaya’s footage. It’s the most expressionistic Godzilla film, even out doing GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH, and unlike Hedorah, it isn’t trendy pop culture influencing the film.