Weird Old Sci-Fi: “Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster”
By Kyle Anderson on May 23, 2013
With Pacific Rim coming out this summer, I thought I’d take a look at a Kaiju film from the days of yore. When Godzilla was released in 1954, it immediately became a cultural phenomenon, spawning a dubbed American version and a number of sequels, off-shoots, and copycats. By 1964, Toho had made four Godzilla movies, two Mothra movies, and one Rodan movie – so why not put them all together for the tenth anniversary? Because it’s silly is why, but they did it anyway. If you ever wondered what the monster-saturation level is, it’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.
The first Godzilla film was a surprisingly dark movie. Literally: Most of the monster’s exploits take place at night, using the shadows to cover up the fact that it’s just a guy in a suit. It supposes that this horrible creature has been created via atomic radiation, and all his marauding is due to imbalances in the atmosphere. Despite him trashing most of the Japanese countryside, audiences were sad when he was destroyed at the end of the film. So, just a year later, he was back, destroying more things. Rodan, the giant pteranodon, first appeared in 1956 in a film of his own, emerging from a volcano in the last 15 minutes of the 75 minute film and laying waste to a scale model of a seaside town. Mothra, the enormous, squeaky moth, only attacked Japan in Mothra (1961), when her eggs and tiny twin human girls (just go with it) were removed from the remote island on which she lived. Mothra eventually was called in to fight Godzilla in the aptly named Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Later that year, all hell broke loose.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, directed by Ishiro Honda, the man behind all of the films up to this point, was basically The Avengers of its time. There had been several lead-up films all building toward the massive, multi-monster pileup where three huge beasts had to team up to fight a fourth beast with three heads. This is where the series shifted from being fantastical allegories to real-life problems using sophisticated camera techniques in order to make the somewhat dodgy rubber suits and puppets their most effective to being utter ridiculousness. With this one, they basically just set up a soundstage to look like a vacant hillside and set the men in suits against each other to perform what’s basically a hypnotic dance of punches, kicks, and other odd gyrations. If it seems I’ve been ignoring the plot, that’s because it doesn’t make much difference either way. Still, in order to paint the proper picture, I’ll go into it now.
A strange meteorite strikes the ground in the Japanese mountains and a number of scientists go to investigate. At the same time, a princess from some far-off-but-still-Japanese land arrives and immediately proclaims herself actually coming from Mars. People laugh, but she begins making odd, prophetic claims about the arrival of a horrible creature from Venus, known as “King Ghidorah,” evidently the ruler of somewhere. Elsewhere, the Peanuts (aka, the Fairies), twin doll-sized women from Mothra’s homeland of Infant Island, are in town performing their massive hit, “Theme from Mothra.” In that movie, the twins were kidnapped and didn’t want to be put on stage, but here they’re more than happy to do so. Even elser-where, a bunch of stereotypical gangsters want to kidnap the clearly insane princess, and a local police detective has to protect her.
The princess predicts Rodan, thought dormant permanently after the events of his movie, will rise from his gravelly grave, only to have him actually rise moments later. Out at sea, not to be outdone, Godzilla rises, attacks an ocean freighter for no reason, and makes for land to do some good ol’ stomping. Very soon, Godzilla and Rodan begin to fight in a place totally secluded from the rest of civilization. However, from the meteorite hatches King Ghidorah, who begins zapping Japan with the electricity it emits from its three dangly heads. The scientists (I want to repeat that, SCIENTISTS) and the military (MILITARY) decide that the only course of action to stop Ghidorah would be Mothra, who successfully defeated Godzilla only a few months prior. They implore the Fairies to call Mothra, but they fear that, in her larva form, which she’s in every so often for no reason, she’d be no match for Ghidorah. However, if Mothra could somehow convince Godzilla and Rodan to fight with her, they could save the world.
Look, I know that whole sentence is silly. Everyone who read the script must have thought the same thing. It doesn’t mean they didn’t make the movie. Caterpillar Mothra, hearing the creepy singing of the Wonder Twins, sails across the ocean and begins her campaign to get Godzilla and Rodan to help defeat Ghidorah. For a good portion of this scene, there are no words at all. Literally, it’s just Mothra watching Godzilla and Rodan throwing boulders at each other. She sprays both combatants with silk and makes her plea. Lucky for us and the 17 human characters watching all this, the Peanuts are there to translate. Seems the other guys don’t care if the humans get killed, since they’ve never been particularly nice anyway. Mothra, defeated, goes to fight Ghidorah herself. However, I guess Godzilla and Rodan have a change of heart because they come to help and for ten minutes they battle.
This film marks a change in the kaiju cycle, as it officially changes Godzilla and Rodan from villains to heroes and, like the Avengers, the world stops caring if their cities get smashed as long as it’s from some monsters trying to save it from other monsters. It is hilarious how few people care about the citizens killed by Godzilla and Rodan’s pissing contest, but Ghidorah, he’s the real problem. The initial Toho set of films continued for another ten years and then, in the ’80s, was picked up and begun again with even more ridiculous mixtures of monsters. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is about as silly as a movie can get, but it makes me laugh, as I’m sure it will you.
Here’s the Japanese trailer, just for fun. You see a lot more of the spy/yakuza storyline in this one: