The special effects might be a bit dated, but Gojira still holds up with a simple story with smart additions, tragedy, and good performances in this revolutionary, and surprisingly thought provoking, monster movie.
Recent scholarship suggests that figure may be low, but the point is obvious. It would've been even more obvious to a 1950s, Tokyo audience, and Honda consciously showcases the horrific results of Godzilla's rampages as much as the artistic mores of his time allow. Much of the film involves characters jawing over the initial mystery, and eventual ramifications, of Godzilla's existence, but Honda's direction shines in the second half once everyone shuts up and film's real star arrives. Here we see Kurosawa's friend and disciple shine, his eye capturing some genuinely arresting imagery. I think it's safe to call this Honda's artistic high water mark, unless we count his second unit work on Kagemusha or Ran. Never again would so deft a hand turn to giant monster movie making, and we are all sorrier for it.
Certain Tsuburaya effects conspire to make us sorrier-still, particularly if we're trying to explain all of the above to friends who keep shouting, "Toy boat! Toy boat!" Godzilla's realized through a combination of two suits (inhabited by stuntman Haruo Nakajima, who'd go on to play Godzilla in twelve more films) and several rod puppets, none of which look particularly like each other, a sure sign of a rushed special effects house. The toy firetrucks, tanks, planes and (yes) boats date the film as much, if not more, as this. But their scenes are gratefully brief and most come at such brooding moments (right before their alleged occupant's deaths in most cases) that their presence does not sour the film's overall effect.
Human characters are the film's real weakest link, never rising above the level of animating stand-ins. They are as archetypal as the monster they oppose, and just as one-dimensional. The actors are not to be faulted, and all fulfill their roles with a dignity and grace absent other daikaiju pictures. Their reactions to Godzilla are appropriately, believably horrified. Their reactions to each other are constrained by screen time and the cultural gulf that now stretches across time further than it ever stretched across oceans. Shadows in a lost world, they are nevertheless to be commended for deft handling of what must've been a damned strange experience.
A great film? Perhaps to some of us. Historic? God yes. A Godzilla film for all ages and all times, eternally bound to its own time and place. Gojira remains the undisputed King of the genre. Without it, your education is incomplete. Without it, I would not be here today.