Monday, August 1, 2022

The Godzilla Series Japanese Film U.S. Theatrical Releases

Godzilla was first introduced to the wider world through the medium of the cinema.  Western theater audiences were exposed to Godzilla and other Japanese sci-fi films on a fairly regular basis during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Godzilla's theatrical releases have garnered particular attention, the series is still going after almost seventy years.  A theatrical release of a foreign film in the US is a particular mark of distinction and prestige, and many people believe it is important to try and preserve these films as close to the way they were exhibited as possible.  The Godzilla franchise is one of the most successful in history but during its films theatrical runs would the greatest number of people see the film at one time.  

Some of Godzilla's theatrical releases are well-known and readily available, but most have fallen into obscurity.  Even in the VHS era when theatrical releases were more available, there was usually something missing or altered such as credits and title screens.  In this blog article I will identify what you would have seen in terms of credits and titles if you saw these films in a US theater during their wide release theatrical runs.  

I will go through each film separately, giving its US Theatrical Title, its Official Toho English Title (if it differs from the Theatrical Release's title), its Release Date, and its Distributor.  Some details may not be fully known about theatrical releases.  I will link in the title to a Google album containing a screenshot of each distinct title or credit, including distributors as well as end credits in the order in which they are displayed during the film.  For films released in the 1980s and thereafter, they generally have lengthy scrolling credits, so for those I will use the beginning of the credit roll as a sample of the credits.  

For the images I have stuck to original sources, even if the pictorial quality of the images is less than great.  I have also reformatted them to eliminate unnecessary letterboxing, whether horizontally or vertically and in many instances I have had to squeeze images to restore their anamorphic widescreen appearance.  Films which did not get a theatrical release in the US will be discussed in the a following blog entry.

1.  Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Distributor : TransWorld Releasing Corp./Godzilla Releasing Corp. (Western US) & Embassy Pictures Corp. (Eastern US)
Official Toho English Title : Godzilla
Release Date : April 27, 1956

For Godzilla's debut in the US, the Theatrical Release included newly shot sequences with Raymond Burr and other actors.  Through the use of body doubles and camera angles, in many instances it appeared as though Burr was interacting with the Japanese cast.  Japanese scenes were deleted or reedited and Burr's character narrated the story partially as a flashback.  

What audiences saw in 1956 should have displayed the title card shown above.  They may or may or may not have seen the TransWorld logo before the title depending on where in the United States they saw the film.  If they did not see TransWorld's logo (which uses a textless version of Toho's logo as a basis) they would have probably seen a credit for Embassy Pictures.  There would have been no opening credits after the title card in the Theatrical Release but may have been included in 16mm TV prints.  The ending shows the cast and crew credits followed by The End title card.  Cinemas which had converted to widescreen may have cropped off some of the text on the cast and crew credit cards by projecting the film through a hard matte gate.

Except for a superimposed Toho copyright text on The End card, the film as contained on the Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release of Godzilla and the Blu-ray of The Showa Set is as close to what audiences would have seen as is known.  Criterion sourced the film after the title credit from a 35mm fine grain film print and the TransWorld and Godzilla, King of the Monster cards were sourced from a 16mm print.  Previous home video releases of this version used a videotape telecine master provided by Toho and the video quality was dramatically improved by Criterion's scan.  They usually did not include the credits or the TransWorld logo, but there were exceptions (Scimitar's 1998 DVD included the TransWorld logo, Classic Media's 2006 DVD included the cast and crew credits).  

There is an alternate title card which just shows "Godzilla" and was aired on Comet TV.  This is the title card which was present on the 35mm fine grain print used by Criterion.  I have included it in the photo album.  It is also used for Toho's 1957 Japanese release of this version, known as "Kaiju-O Gojira".

2.  Gigantis, the Fire Monster
Official Toho English Title : Godzilla Raids Again
Release Date : May 21, 1959
Distributor : Warner Bros.

The second Godzilla film was originally intended to be released under its official English title but was renamed to Gigantis, the Fire Monster for its US release.  In this dub Godzilla is renamed to Gigantis and was overdubbed with Anguirus' roar in addition to his own.  Keye Luke provided narration that was not present in the Japanese original as well as dubbing the main character like he did in Rodan.  There was an added prologue warning of the dangers of nuclear testing, stock footage inserted during the film and most of the original soundtrack was replaced (also like Rodan).

The English Version contained on the Classic Media 2006 DVD represents what audiences would have seen in 1959 with the exception of the title card.  By the early 1990s, Toho had this film reissued with a video-generated "Godzilla Raids Again" title card but nothing else was altered.  This Gigantis title card was probably taken from the Video Treasures VHS release even though the tape's box used the Godzilla Raids Again title.  There may be another Warner Bros. distribution credit which would have been attached to 16mm TV prints.

It is highly probable that few, if any American theaters projected Gigantis in full screen.  By 1959 theaters had fully converted to widescreen.  The credits are placed in the center of the film frame, which would protect them from being cropped even when projected on a 1.85:1 screen.  

Release Date : June 26, 1963
Distributor : Universal International

The third Godzilla film was altered more significantly from its Japanese original than either of its two predecessors.  Japanese scenes were edited and deleted and American actors comment on the action in new scenes shot for the US version, but unlike Godzilla, King of the Monsters! no attempt is made to have them interact with the Japanese cast or action.  The musical score is almost completely replaced by pieces from the Universal stock film library.

The US Theatrical Release is easy to find because Universal's deal with Toho allowed it to distribute the US Theatrical Release in perpetuity.  Universal's release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray as well as the main feature on the Criterion Showa Set are good sources for the US Theatrical Release.

Toho produced an International Version of the film with its own English dubbing, possibly from William Ross' Frontier Enterprises, which was based in Japan.  This version has not been seen in decades and may have been lost.

Official Toho English Title : Mothra vs Godzilla
Release Date : November 25, 1964
Distributor : American International Pictures

American International Pictures (AIP) made very few changes to the fourth Godzilla film, but they renamed Mothra as "the thing" throughout the dub in a haphazard manner to coincide with their version's title and marketing campaign emphasizing the mystery of "the thing".  The most significant change was the addition of the Frontier Missile attack on Godzilla, which had been deleted from the Japanese version of the film.  

The dub for AIP's version was done by Titra Sound Studios and is the only English dub of the film.  When United Productions of America (UPA) acquired the rights to this film in the 1980s a new video-generated title card "Godzilla vs. Mothra" was created for TV and home video releases.  It also eliminated the AIP logo and the Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson credit and replaced them with a UPA credit.  The film with AIP's title card was released by Scimitar on VHS and DVD in 1998 and Classic Media in 2006.  Scimitar has its version in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is what the original film would have been presented in, but the DVD predates the usage of anamorphic widescreen.  Classic Media used a print which had been cropped to 1.78:1 but is anamorphically enhanced for improved resolution.  

There are a few frames and effects shots missing from the Scimitar and Classic Media DVDs in the Frontier Missile sequence, which I have identified in this video.  The German 2019 DVD of Godzilla und die Urweltraupen from Anolis contains the most complete version of this scene but not the opening US Theatrical Release credits.  The US Theatrical Release of the Frontier Missile scene includes some enhanced explosion sound effects lacking in the European releases of the film which include this scene, namely the German and Italian versions.  Some of the tank guns and bombs also have been enhanced for the US Theatrical Release.

There is no The End card, theatrical prints ended with "An American International Picture".  I have included the two titles made for the full screen home video version from UPA in the album.  I have also added the English newspapers shown in the Theatrical Release.

Official Toho English Title : Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster
Release Date : September 13, 1965
Distributor : Continental/Walter Reade Organization, Inc.

Walter Reade-Sterling released Ghidrah under its Continental label for theatrical release.  Its version replaced much of the original music with library stock cues and shuffled around scenes and sometimes even shots.  Some small story changes were made, such as relocating the Princess' possessed self from Venus to Mars.

Walter Reade's dub is the only English dub available for this film.  The only authentic copies of the US theatrical release were on VHS, as the film was most often released by public domain VHS companies. I attribute this to a lack of a copyright notice on Continental's prints.  Classic Media 2006 DVD is a reconstruction based off the Japanese original.  The opening credits are authentic (from a video master that was not panned and scanned) except for the lack of the Walter Reade Organization logo, that would have been shown over the opening saxophone notes of Ifukube's title theme, not a Toho Scope logo.  The fades that were in the Walter Reade version but had to be added back into this reconstruction are unnaturally digital instead of optical.

Continental used a The End card with a similar stylized font to its title card, but that was replaced on releases since the 1980s with a generic The End card and a copyright credit for Toho.  The Classic Media DVD uses the generic The End card stretched for its reconstruction which had been added to the film by Alan Enterprises which distributed the film during the 1970s and 1980s.  I have added this to the album.

Release Date : May 28, 1969
Distributor : American International Pictures

We must skip over the next three films in the historical production order of the Godzilla films because the films were either not released theatrically in order (Monster Zero) or not theatrically in the US (Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla).  Destroy All Monsters was AIP's second Godzilla film, and they released it without significant changes.  The most significant change involves the shifting of the cast and crew credits from the beginning, just after the SY-3 launch, to the end of the film.  AIP cut the footage over which the credits were displayed and displays the credits over a black background.

Toho made an English-language International Version of this film dubbed by Frontier Enterprises.  AIP did not use this dub, instead employing Titan Sound (as Titra Studios had been renamed) to redub the film.  AIP's version of the film has never been released on home video.  The International Version's release by ADV Films on VHS and DVD in 1998 was the first English-language home video release of the film outside of Japan.  The Media Blasters 2012 Blu-ray with special features synced up the AIP dub to the Japanese original, but that disc had to be recalled due to a rights dispute with Toho over its extras.  A reissue bare-bones release only has the International and Japanese language dubs.  

Official Toho English Title : Invasion of Astro-Monster
Release Date : Summer 1970
Distributor : United Productions of America, Maron Films

This film with its English-language dub was first released in the spring of 1970 as "Invasion of the Astros" to US military bases, but for general theatrical release that summer, it was titled as "Monster Zero."  The film was originally going to be called the more grammatically and numerically correct "Invasion of the Astro-Monsters" but that never came to pass.  

Almost nothing of significance was changed from the Japanese version apart that the Controller's occasional utterances of the Planet X language were silenced.  

There is only one English dub of the film which was done at Glen Glen Sound for UPA, and this dub employs Nick Adams' real voice.  In the 1980s UPA replaced the Monster Zero title with "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero" for home video and TV airings.  The US Theatrical Release with the Monster Zero title was released in 1998 by Scimitar on VHS and DVD in non-anamorphic widescreen.  Classic Media's 2006 DVD used a print which had been cropped to 1.78:1 for the opening credits and some other instances where written English is called for.  Otherwise it uses the Japanese original for visual elements.  The Criterion Showa Set has this dub track more-or-less synced to the Japanese original as an option.  "A Maron Films Release" title would have played before or after the start of the film in theaters, but no existing home video release includes that title.

I have included the eleven titles made for the full screen home video version from UPA in the album.  I have also added all English text added to the Theatrical Release.  Namikawa's letter is illegible on the Simitar widescreen DVD, and while it mostly tracks the dubbing there are a few differences.  It reads as follows (deletions from the dub are bold, additions are in [brackets) : 

"Dear Glenn, 
When you receive this letter, I shall have been eliminated for disobeying the directives of our computers.  But I have no regrets.  With you I have found a love beyond all computation.  You were right, mankind cannot live as machines.  Because man's soul . . . his love . . .  is immortal.  A material machine can be destroyed.  We machines of Planet X can be destroyed - by of all things - a certain [simple] sound.
Farewell, Glenn

Official Toho English Title : All Monsters Attack
Release Date : August, 1971
Distributor : United Productions of America, Maron Films

This film was originally shown in some theaters in the Northeastern US under the title "Minya, Son of Godzilla", but for general release across the country was retitled as "Godzilla's Revenge" and always released on home video with the  "Godzilla's Revenge" title.

The English language dub of this film, done for UPA by Ryder Sound, is the only existing English language dub of the film.  "A Maron Films Release" title would have played before or after the start of the film in theaters, but no existing home video release includes that title.  The Theatrical Release was released in widescreen by Scimitar on VHS and DVD in 1998.  Classic Media's 2006 DVD reconstructed the film using the Japanese original as a basis.  The beginning titles are taken from another source and are a little more cropped compared to Scimitar's but The End card was too large relative to the frame.  

Official Toho English Title : Godzilla vs Hedorah
Release Date : February 1972
Distributor : American International Pictures

AIP's last Godzilla release changed very little but is notable for having a new song, "Save the Earth", composed for its version and sung during the title credits.  

AIP's version was released on VHS and Laserdisc by Orion Home Video, but both were in pan and scan.  There was an International Version produced with a Hong Kong dub, that version is the basis for the Sony/TriStar 2004 DVD and 2014 Kraken Blu-ray Release.  There are also VHS copies, such as from Scimitar, which derive from a 16mm source that does not have the English inserts found in the 35mm print source Orion used.

Release Date : 1976
Distributor : Cinema Shares International Distribution Corp.

Again we must skip over the next film Toho made in the Godzilla series because that film, Godzilla on Monster Island, was released in the US after the next two films produced in the Godzilla series.

Cinema Shares release of Godzilla vs. Megalon was based on the International Version and used its Hong-Kong dub.  Its title card appears to be a copy of the International Version's red title card, but the two are not the same.  Cinema Shares eliminated the opening credits for cast and crew and only added a Toho credit.  There is no The End card.  The theatrical prints were edited to eliminate violence and blood to obtain or retain a G rating from the MPAA.  Cinema Shares always used the International Versions' dubs and did not make their own.

This version was released numerous times on VHS by public domain companies and doubtless a few times on DVD, all unauthorized.  The first official release of this film on home video would be the Tokyo Shock DVD and Blu-ray, which uses the Japanese original with an optional International dub track.  The Criterion Showa Set also has the International Version's English dub as an alternate track to the Japanese original.

Official Toho English Title : Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Release Date : 1977
Distributor : Cinema Shares International Distribution Corp.

Cinema Shares originally released this film as "Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster" but recalled the prints and the posters and renamed the film to Godzilla vs the Cosmic Monster because Universal threatened legal action as "the Bionic Monster" in the title sounded a little too close to their TV series "The Bionic Woman."

There have been two title cards with "The Cosmic Monster" for this film.  Cinema Shares card uses a red background with the film's title on the left side and an image of the film's poster on the right side.  At some point during the 1990s the Sci-Fi channel aired a version of the film with "Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster" being displayed like the International Version's credits.

Like with Megalon, Cinema Shares removed the cast and credits but did have a "The End" card.  The International Version's Hong Kong dub was used.  Blood and language were cut to obtain or retain a G rating from the MPAA.  This version was released at least once or twice with the theatrical release by public domain companies on VHS, but the uncut International Version was also released on VHS in an authorized form and later on DVD by Sony/TriStar in 2004.  The Showa Set Blu-ray has the International Version's dub as an alternate track option to to the Japanese original.

Official Toho English Title : Godzilla vs. Gigan
Release Date : 1977
Distributor : Cinema Shares International Distribution Corp.

Cinema Shares based its version off the International Version, which was titled "Godzilla vs. Gigan" and retitled it as "Godzilla on Monster Island".  It uses the dub from the International Version and the only edits were made to blood and language obtain or retain a G rating.  This time it did include some cast and crew credits in the opening sequence, but it used a different font than the International Version.  Its "The End" card was not taken from the International Version.  

This version was released once on VHS, but otherwise all releases have been of the International Version, including the 2004 Sony/TriStar DVD and the 2014 Kraken Blu-ray.

Official Toho English Title : Terror of Mechagodzilla
Release Date : 1978
Distributor : Bob Conn Enterprises

Although the distributor was different, Bob Conn's release of The Terror of Godzilla follows in the same vein as Cinema Shares' releases.  The International Version's dub is used, edits for violence were made to obtain or retain a G rating and the cast and crew credits were fairly few.  The edits to this version are more extreme than prior films, they imply that Katsura and possibly Dr. Mafune survived their wounds even though the International Version, the TV Version and the Japanese original unambiguously show both of them die. 

The Terror of Godzilla was never released on home video with that title, it has always been released under its International and TV Version title "Terror of Mechagodzilla"  The Theatrical Release's G-rated edits and credits were retained in all home video releases of the film until the 2006's Classic Media DVD release. That DVD release will be discussed when I get to the TV version of the film in the next blog entry.  The Criterion Showa Set also has the International Version's English dub as an alternate track to the Japanese original.

Official Toho English Title : The Return of Godzilla
Release Date : August 23, 1985
Distributor : New World Pictures

New World's release of what Toho called "The Return of Godzilla" as "Godzilla 1985" brought back Raymond Burr as Steve Martin and shot new footage of him and Pentagon officials commenting on the action in Japan.  Through editing and re-subtitling, the Soviets are made more aggressive and certain scenes or parts thereof of the Japanese original were cut.  Additional music cues from another New World movie, Def Con 4, were added in places but most of the original soundtrack survived.

New World did not use the International dub for the Japanese actors, they commissioned a new dub through Ryder Sound.  They also added Marv Newland's 1969 Animated Short, "Bambi Meets Godzilla"  that plays before the film begins.  With some minor differences (such as Godzilla's roar being heard over the second New World Pictures logo), the New World Theatrical Release was released on Laserdisc and on VHS several times until 1997.  

Kraken's 2016 "Godzilla 1984 / The Return of Godzilla" DVD and Blu-ray was the next official release of any version of this film.  It only included the Japanese original with the Hong Kong-based International dub as an alternate audio track.  It is believed that a lack of rights to the Def Con 4 music has prevented Godzilla 1985 from being re-released officially.  

I have added all the English supers and a subtitle sample from each scene which employs them from the Theatrical Release, taken from a 35mm film scan.  I have also added two samples of how the text looked on home video, taken from the LaserDisc of the film released by Image Entertainment.  

Official Toho English Title : Godzilla 2000
Release Date : August 18, 2000
Distributor : Sony/TriStar Pictures

Sony's release of Godzilla 2000 elected to include a new dub rather than use Toho's Hong Kong-based International dub.  It also trimmed some scenes to quicken the pacing and added some music cues to supplement the Japanese sound track.  The main title was created to reflect the title of the Theatrical Release.  All English text for the International Version has not been found.

Sony's VHS, DVD and later Blu-ray releases of the film have one minor difference from the Theatrical Release.  In the Theatrical Release, there was a "THE?END" card displayed in a very "cartoony" typeface.  This was deemed too cheesy and was removed from almost every release of Sony's version of the film, including the English-language VHS, DVD and Blu-ray.  It somehow slipped by when Sony released the Spanish-subtitled VHS tape.  The VHS logo is resized to fit better into a 4:3 frame and I included it in the album.  

16.  Shin Godzilla
Release Date : October 11, 2016
Distributor : Funimation Films

Originally, this film was going to be released as "Godzilla Resurgence" but Toho decided to use the original title "Shin Godzilla" for overseas as well as domestic distribution.  This would make this film only the fourth theatrically released film where the Official Toho English Title is used as the English title without alteration.  Although this film only had a limited theatrical release, it was widely publicized on the Internet and had showings in enough theaters (440 in US and Canada) throughout the month of October that if someone wanted to make the effort to see it in the theater, they could have.  I had to travel to the next state to find a theater showing it during its release month.  It gets put on the list of Theatrical Releases

The version that Funimation showed in the theaters did not diverge from the Japanese version beyond using using English titles in place of Japanese ones and subtitles for dialogue.  Even the title card is in Japanese as are the end credits.  This film has a lot of titles for people, places and Japanese text as well as speech.  The Funimation DVD and Blu-ray differ from the US Theatrical Release only in improvement of two special effects shots and in the provision of an alternate English dub if one preferred that to subtitles and the Japanese language.  There are no Japanese titles on this print, which would be a less-than-subtle discouragement to Japanese buyers hoping to save money by importing the Funimation release instead of buying Toho's domestic release.

Special Thanks

A special thanks is definitely in order to the YouTubers The H-Man and SpaceHunterM, without whose dedication to tracking down obscure snippets of video from a variety of sources this blog article would not be possible.

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