Sally Jane Black Sabbath’s review published on Letterboxd:
The war was won, but the United States needed to stake their claim on Japan. Instead of letting the Soviet's declaration of war with the imperialist country force Japan into surrender, the U.S. unleashed the most destructive weapon the world had ever seen up until that time. It wasn't a deterrent to more war, but a message to the Chinese, the Soviets, the Japanese, and the rest of the world: the U.S. bourgeois class would take what they wanted with the most powerful weapon they could find.
Since then, the threat of radioactive armageddon has kept the human race close to extinction. Japan, being the only country to experience the devastation and mass murder of an atomic bomb, has built a special relationship with this fear over the last 80 years. Many films have tackled the subject, and in the wake of more recent nuclear disasters, these narratives have taken on deeper urgency, to say nothing of the U.S. war-mongering against the DPRK that places the workers of many nations at risk.
According to Kat, the version of this film we watched had some subtitles issues, leaving out a few spots more critical of the U.S., but the spirit of the anti-occupation, anti-nuclear message is still deeply embedded in this film. Knowing the context of the occupation of Japan makes it evident even if it's buried. Knowing that at the time, the nuclear tests in the area were in part handled by the United States adds another layer to this (imagine the gall...). Today, Japan is said to be a country that could be a nuclear power if it wanted to be, meaning that the struggle there to keep the Japanese capitalist class from wielding the horrors once used against them (or its descendants) is fragile.
But that struggle is evident in decades of films like this. Godzilla is a parable, a heavy-handed message film, but one made in the wake of a horror, made with sincerity. The craft of the film clearly has founds its place in the hearts of many cinema fans, despite or even because of the moments where the models can be seen, where it's clear it's a man in a weird suit. The themes, the performances, and the legacy all blend together here to create something much more. This is the start of a classic series, and at least to those of us not entrenched in the genre, the germ of the kaiju films in general. That can't be ignored as you watch.
What struck me was the deep shadows this film is cast in. The destruction is often wrought at night, and it's eerie. Knowing the context of nuclear trauma, the scenes of flame and chaos have a resonance of deep dread that comes with visions of apocalypse. And the absurd moments of weird science or exposition add to the feeling of watching something unique, something all its own, something legendary, because those are well known parts of the genre.