When most Americans think of Godzilla, they think of the movies that filled Sunday-afternoon voids on basic cable. That Godzilla was rarely menacing, and in some series installments he was actually heroic, helping puny humans battle the likes of equally phony looking beasties like Rodan and Baragon. Silly sequels, bad dubbing, re-editing and generally misguided Americanizing did nothing to help the giant lizard’s image.

Considering how he was presented to U.S. audiences, it’s no surprise that Godzilla has been hard to take seriously. That might finally change now that the original and uncut Japanese version of ‘Godzilla’ (or ‘Gojira’ as it was called) is coming back to a handful of U.S. theaters on April 12.

Moviegoers who aren't familiar with the 1954 black-and-white Japanese version (which received a limited theatrical release once before in 2004) are in for a surprise, especially if they've seen only the sliced-to-ribbons domestic cut, which inserted new scenes featuring Raymond Burr as an American reporter in Tokyo.

In both versions, Godzilla is far more menacing than he’d ever be again. Even the watered-down U.S. version is pretty bleak and serious compared to subsequent outings. But the differences between the two cuts reveal two completely different movies with different stories, different characters, different motivations and, perhaps most important of all, different subtext.

In the U.S., the first Godzilla was a simple monster movie import to stand alongside other cheesy atomic-age sci-fi movies. But in Japan it was a cautionary tale and an allegory -- a terrifying visceral reaction from a country still shaken from the A-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki nine years earlier. It might, in fact, be the world’s first notable anti-nukes movie, reflecting the fears of a population still unsure of what to expect in the wake of atomic weaponry.

Whether intentional or not (and one has to be careful about assigning too much thoughtfulness to opportunistic American distributors), ‘Gojira’'s political and environmental message was stripped away during its metamorphosis into ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters.’ With it went a lot of drama and intensity. For example, a tormented eye-patch-wearing Japanese scientist -- a darkly heroic major player in ‘Gojira’ – is sidelined for most of the U.S. version to accommodate Burr’s newly filmed scenes.

With this new remastered and uncut Japanese version hitting big screens again just one month before the release of a highly anticipated re-imagined ‘Godzilla,’ a new generation could be introduced to Big G just in time, and in the best way possible. Here's a complete list of cities where the original 'Godzilla' will screen. You can watch the re-release trailer above.

‘Gojira’ did get “special edition” DVD treatment in 2004 and a Criterion Collection Blu-ray in 2012, so if the newly mastered cut doesn't make it to your neighborhood, you still have an opportunity to soak it up before the remake levels your local mall’s multiplex.

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