The first of the Johnson remakes, the original keeps the story intact, but also expands on the story, such as Godzilla's motives and the Cold War tensions of the time.
When a Japanese fishing boat is attacked by a flash of light near Odo Island, another ship is sent to investigate only to meet the same fate, with only a few surviving. On Odo Island, a village elder blames their poor fishing on a sea monster known as "Godzilla" and recalls that in earlier times native girls were sacrificed to appease the giant sea monster. Word gets out and a helicopter arrives on the island with curious, but skeptical, reporters. Frightened natives perform a night-time ceremony to keep the monster away. However, that night, while the natives sleep, a storm arrives and something else comes with it, bringing death and destruction. And a boy sees the cause during the midst of the destruction.
The next day, witnesses arrive in Tokyo. Archeologist Kyohei Yamane suggests that investigators be sent to the island. On arrival, Yamane finds giant radioactive footprints, and a trilobite. When an alarm sounds, the villagers arm themselves with sticks and various weapons and run to the hills, only to be confronted by Godzilla, who is revealed to be an enormous reptilian creature. After a quick skirmish, the villagers run for safety and Godzilla heads to the ocean.
Meanwhile, news reels show that the Soviets are blaming the United States for unleashing a new terror on the world. The United States counters that no one knew that the monster was there. Tensions rise, and nuclear war seems more likely.
Dr. Yamane returns to Tokyo to present his findings and concludes that Godzilla was unleashed by a nuclear explosion. Some want to conceal that fact, fearing international repercussions. Others say the truth must be revealed. They prevail and Godzilla's origins are announced to the public. Ships are sent with depth charges to kill the monster. When it that fails, Godzilla appears again, frightening patrons on a party boat, and causing nationwide panic. Officials appeal to Dr. Yamane for some way to kill the monster, but Yamane wants him kept alive and studied.
Meanwhile, Emiko, Yamane's daughter, decides to break off her arranged engagement to Yamane's colleague, Daisuke Serizawa, because of her love for Hideto Ogata, a salvage ship captain. Before she can do that, Serizawa tells her about his secret experiment. He gives a small demonstration, using a fish tank in the lab. Shocked, Emiko is sworn to secrecy and never gets a chance to break off the engagement. That night Godzilla climbs from Tokyo Bay and attacks the city. Though the attack is over quickly due to Godzilla only scouting the area for a larger raid, there is much death and destruction. The next morning, the army constructs a line of 40-meter electrical towers along the coast of Tokyo that will send 50,000 volts of electricity through Godzilla, should he appear again. Civilians are evacuated from the city and put into bomb shelters. As night falls, Godzilla does indeed attack again. He easily breaks through the electric fence, melting the wires with his atomic breath. A bombardment of shells from the army tanks has no effect, which leads the army general to call Godzilla "unstoppable". Godzilla continues his rampage until much of the city is destroyed and thousands of civilians are dead or wounded. Godzilla descends unscathed into Tokyo Bay, despite a squadron of fighter jets' last-ditch attack.
The next morning finds Tokyo in ruins. Hospitals overflow with victims, including some with radiation poisoning and others mutilated beyond indentification. Emiko witnesses the devastation and tells Ogata about Serizawa's secret Oxygen Destroyer, a device that disintegrates oxygen atoms and organisms die of asphixiation. Thus, a new energy source he accidentally created. She hopes together they can persuade Serizawa to use it to stop Godzilla. When Serizawa realizes Emiko betrays his secret, he refuses, and Ogata and Serizawa fight and Ogata receives a minor head wound. As Emiko treats Ogata's wound, Serizawa apologizes, but he refuses to use the weapon on Godzilla, citing the public bedlam his weapon could cause. Then a newscast shows the devastation Godzilla has caused. Choirs of children are shown singing a hymn. Finally realizing this, Serizawa decides he will use the weapon only one time and then its secret must be destroyed for the good of humanity. He then burns all his papers and research. Emiko breaks down and cries when she sees this, as she understands that Serizawa is sacrificing his life's work and himself to stop Godzilla.
A navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. They don diving gear and descend into the water, where they find Godzilla at rest. Ogata returns to the surface as Serizawa activates the device. Serizawa watches as Godzilla dies then tells Ogata to be with Emiko. He then cuts his own oxygen cord, sacrificing himself so his knowledge of the device cannot be used to harm mankind. A dying Godzilla surfaces, lets out a final roar, and sinks to the bottom, disintegrating until he is nothing but bones.
Although the monster is gone, those aboard ship are still grim. They do not know if the death of Godzilla is the end or the beginning of an apocolyptic era. Godzilla's death has come at a terrible price and Dr. Yamane believes that if mankind continues to test nuclear weapons, another monster may appear.
Differences from Original
- All footage re-used from the original is colorized and digitally restored to match up with the newly shot footage
- Most footage of Godzilla is reshot, with Tim Johnson (who was 12 at the time, explaining Godzilla's stoutness in the remake) in the suit
- The superheated vapor that Godzilla shoots is replaced by a new CGI effect showing a light blue Atomic Breath
- All Japanese dialogue was retained, but subtitled
- Several of Godzilla's roars were replaced by the Squeaky Variant of the 60s and 70s
- Akira Ifukube's score was digitally enhanced
- Godzilla is changed from brown to the traditional charcoal grey
- Godzilla is a much more mobile, articulate monster; in addition to setting buildings aflame and tearing down certain structures, Godzilla also punches, kicks, tail-whips, uppercuts, hammerfists, drop kicks, and uses his Atomic Breath more
- Elements of the American release were integrated, namely Steve Martin, who was renamed Tom Stevenson (played by himself; Stevenson is the longest-running WBC (Western Broadcasting Company) anchor, having been with the network since its inception on October 11, 1968). Here, Tom works for CBS, rather than a fictional news organization. To play the role, Tom watched every episode of Perry Mason to create a dead-on impersonation of Raymond Burr.