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Weird Old Sci-Fi: “Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYwbxZN11Fs&w=615&h=461]

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwRZvICZAkg&w=615&h=346]

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4 comments

  • Gojira…my first Kaiju. He was and is one of the best…although Varan the Unbelievable was cool as well…I can never get enough of these films…my favorite film marathon to run is ‘Men in Giant Rubber Suits’ (and not “those” kinds of rubber suits…sick)…but Gojira (Godzilla for the US fans), King Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra and of course Ultraman (in all of his incarnations). Best film marathon ever…and Pacific Rim will be Nerd-vana for most of us….can’t wait!

  • A select few Kaiju Films that remain genre gems for me are –

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    Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) – Released in Japan as “Frankenstein versus Subterranean Monster Baragon” (that’s right, giant-sized Frankenstein Monsters that actually look more like Neanderthals) , this is a co-production between Toho from Japan and Henry G. Saperstein’s UPA from America (released theatrically in the United States by American International Pictures (AIP). Locate that Tokyo Shock 2007 DVD release for its 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen delivering three cuts of the film – Japanese, International (with Giant Octopus ending), and US.

    it’s sequel (because it was a 2 picture deal)

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-FyRRXgEEwto/T5po5IQbOQI/AAAAAAAAi8E/DB4gDU09jnU/s1600/WAR+OF+THE+GARGANTUAS.jpg

    War of the Gargantuas (1966) – released in Japan as “Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira” (because now you have a nice Brown Neanderthal called Sanda vs an angry Green Neanderthal called Gaira),. You know these co-productions guarantee a few American actors (to help sell the film overseas), even if the english dialog dubbed in remains lol worthy (aren’t they all by the late 60’s?). US producer Henry G. Saperstein really wanted a 3rd Film where either Sanda, or Gaira, would fight against Godzilla (working title “Godzilla vs. the Gargantuas”) and you’ll learn more by watching the Classic Media 2008 DVD there are Two English versions (1st Toho Picture’s International version that’s a straight dub of the Japanese version with new English titles. vs 2nd is the American version redubbed by Glen Glenn Sound where all dialog by actor Russ Tamblyn required him to loop himself) along with the Japanese print in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.

    the awe isn’t he cute

    http://dailygrindhouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Son-of-Godzilla.jpg

    Son of Godzilla (1967) – released in Japan as “Monster Island’s Decisive Battle: Godzilla’s Son” (Island settings were cheaper to film vs City destruction and introducing Godzilla’s Son – Manilla – meant Toho was ready to cash in on the cinema filled with kids). Isn’t it fun to watch Godzilla and his Son battle a Giant Spider Kumonga, a Giant Praying Mantis, then get frozen into hibernation (waiting for global warming to thaw them out later)? Toho had Son of Godzilla dubbed in english (International version) that corresponds directly to the uncut Japanese version vs the United States’s distributed directly to television (via the Walter Reade Organization) re-dubbed by Titan Productions, Inc in New York (with different english dialog then the International version) that cut out almost all of the pre-credit sequence / opening credits (fear not, Tri-Star Home Video under Sony, released the International version on DVD in 2008, that’s 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and restores everything we hadn’t seen in North America before).

    and then there’s

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    Destroy All Monsters (1968) – released in Japan as “Charge of the Monsters” (because it features an all-star Kaiju cast of 11 Monsters battling it out on – where else? – Monster Island!) celebrating Toho’s 20th Kaiju Film, this was supposed to be the final Godzilla film (wisely set in the future, in case the Studio changed its mind – which it obviously did), American International Pictures (AIP) distributed this genre gem in North American cinemas. Count how many World Capitals get destroyed via Media Blasters / Tokyo Shock’s 2011 DVD (which features both the International version from Toho vs the AIP North American version that moved the Opening Credits to the end of the film in 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)

    which of course brings us to

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    All Monsters Attack (1969) – released in Japan as “Godzilla, Minilla, Gabara: All Monsters Attack” was released theatrically in the United States by Maron Films 1st as “Godzilla’s Revenge”. Just because this film is specifically geared towards children doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy it (Godzilla’s Son Manilla gains a latch-key Tokyo kid named Ichiro as a friend). Enjoy the Japanese version (with english subtitles), the International version (japanese-speaking dialogue dubbed via english-speaking voice actors) and the North American version (replaces the girlie sounding Minilla with a male cartoon voice) via Classic Media’s Toho Master Collection Boxset from 2007 (or the 2008 separate disc version) in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen.

    http://www.1000misspenthours.com/posters/posterse-g/godzillasrevenge.jpg

    Toho Co., Ltd / Toho Pictures has an extensive Film / Television Series / Anime Library dating back to the 1930’s (check ‘em out) – http://www.tohoeiga.jp/eng/index.html

  • I’m a tremendous kaiju fan, and I’ve always loved this movie.
    My favorite scene is at the climax, as Mothra charges into battle alone, unable to convince Godzilla and Rodan to help. Ghidorah kicks Mothra’s ass, which finally results in Godzilla being all “Hey motherfucker, pick on someone your own size” and joins the fray.
    At least, that’s how I interpreted the scene as a child.