Review 6: Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster – 1964


Ghidorah vs Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra
Toho didn’t waste any time cashing in on the popularity of the latest Godzilla movie, and released two G films in quick succession that same year (the only year to ever see two Godzilla films released). But this time, they went all-out in a throw-in-the-kitchen-sink manner because they were rushed to get the second film out. By this time, they must have realized Godzilla wasn’t just a character, but was the keystone of a growing franchise and one that could link Toho’s other monster films in a way no other films had ever done.

I imagine a scene where all the Toho executives are sitting around a table in a board room for hours on end, trying to come up with a plan for the film to follow Mothra vs Godzilla. And maybe, after a long, fruitless discussion, someone brought out the sake. Pretty soon, everyone at the table was a bit tipsy and the ideas were flowing like water. The conversation might have gone something like this:

“What should we do next? We’ve had Gojira by itself, Gojira with another dinosaur, Gojira with King Kong, Gojira with a flying insect. What’s left? What else can we add to a Gojira movie?”

“Why don’t we add a dragon?”

“A flying dragon!”

“With three heads!”

“And two tails!”

“From outer space!”

“Who arrives in a meteor.”

“Who’s also a king!”

“He’s destroying planets. He already destroyed Mars.”

“And we could have aliens…”

“From Venus.”

“They came to Earth to escape the space dragon.”

“Who destroyed their civilization 5,000 years ago.”

“But they evolved into humans when they arrived.”

“And one of them takes over the body of a princess by telepathy.”

“Who’s visiting from… let’s see… Freedonia? …no?… the Duchy of Grand Fenwick? …no?… how about Selgina?”

“And because of the alien inside her, she becomes a prophet.”

“She’s also the target of assassins.”

“And we need a love interest.”

“We need a volcano.”

“One that hatches a kaiju.”

“Let’s bring in Rodan, the giant pteranodon to fight Gojira!”

“But have them become friends, later.”

“We could bring back Mothra, too….”

“But just as a caterpillar!”

“Baby Mothra!”

“Yeah! But only one of the two from the last film. Keep the audience guessing.”

“And we need the fairy twins!”

“Baby Mothra has to get Godzilla to fight the dragon…”

“Because one larva is too weak by itself…”

“And she’ll need to get Rodan to help, too.”

“They can talk to one another in monster language!”

“We could have all three fighting the space dragon together.”

“And that makes Gojira the defender of humans, not our enemy.”

“This is all crazy. I think it could work!”

Which is basically the plot of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. A space dragon, aliens, more kaiju, assassins, guys in rubber suits stomping on model sets, and a big, climactic battle at the end. Whew. At the same time, Toho was starting to tighten and trim its budgets, and making it difficult for the filmmakers to accomplish to sort of spectacle they envisioned. Movie audience numbers were dropping as more people turned to TV for their entertainment. So they threw in science fiction, a James-Bond-like subplot, lots of action, and the biggest monster bash seen to date. After all, if the audience loved two kaiju, then three, why not give ’em four?

Godzilla and RodanThe film also signalled Godzilla’s shift from enemy to, if not exactly a friend yet, at least a benefactor in times of need. Plus it shifted the original G as metaphor for the A-bomb to G as an entertainment icon. The previous satires on corporate greed and ineffective bureaucrats were gone, too. Godzilla was evolving.

Like Mothra, Rodan has been the star of its own eponymous film, released in 1956, before appearing with Godzilla. And this was the first time in which G was shown defending the planet, not simply ravaging it (well, only after G and Rodan did a lot of rampaging before they tackled Ghidorah). Rodan would return to the franchise in Toho’s Invasion of Astro-Monster, Destroy All Monsters, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, and again in Universal’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

King Ghidorah — Godzilla’s archenemy, aka Monster Zero, and later as Titanus Ghidorah  — would also return to the franchise in Invasion of Astro-Monster, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (where he appears as Mecha-King Ghidorah, whose remains are props in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II), Terror of Mechagodzilla (briefly in stock footage) .and Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. A kaiju based on Ghidorah appeared in Godzilla: Final Wars (named Keiser Ghidorah). In non-Godzilla films, Rebirth of Mothra has a kaiju lookalike called Desghidorah, and in Rebirth of Mothra III, King Ghidorah is blamed for wiping out Earth’s dinosaurs. He was last seen in Universal’s recent Godzilla: King of the Monsters (along with Mothra and Rodan). And now (spoiler alert)

The film opens with a scene of UFO-cultists chastising a skeptical female reporter from Toyo Broadcasting doing a story on them because her lack of belief in UFOs was causing aliens to ignore the believers who are scanning the skies for signals. Bit of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink there. Then a meteor shower is seen. Cut to a police office where a cop (Shindo) and a reporter see it, also. “It’s getting strange out there,” says the reporter as he watches. “The Earth is going mad.” That madness, it seems, is climate change. Headlines tell of a heat wave at 82F in January. This is 1964, mind you.

And then we learn from the first cop’s boss that Selgina is a tiny country in the Himalayas embroiled in a “domestic dispute” and the heir apparent, a princess (Maas Doulina Salno), is on her way for an official visit to Japan, to escape a plot to assassinate her. The cop is assigned to be her bodyguard (a single cop against assassins…). A couple of cuts and we learn a bomb has been planted on her well-appointed plane. Then an alien takes over her mind and she leaps out of the plane, sans parachute… just as the bomb explodes, killing all the crew and her servants. All very James Bond, so far.

Meanwhile, scientists are hiking in the mountainous wilderness looking for a meteor that landed. Jump to the female reporter Naoko in her office (0:13: 20) being given the task of covering a “prophet” for an upcoming TV show, Mysteries of the 20th Century. And then we see the “prophetess” speaking to a crowd in a public park about the “infinitely expanding universe” and calling on humans to “awaken to their responsibilities as citizens of the universe.” Good luck with that. Didn’t Al Gore try that tactic a few years ago, without any success?

She’s a bit high-brow compared to the soapbox preachers of North America, I thought. So does the crowd, who call on her for a strip show. She confronts the hecklers saying “Earth is on the brink of destruction,” and when asked by Naoko where she is from, she simply points to the sky and says she is from Venus. She warns about “something” happening on Mount Aso. The scene jumps to the volcano, Mount Aso where a scientist debunks her prediction. Nothing to see here; move along…

Another jump: Naoko turns out to be the cop’s sister. Haven’t we seen this brother-sister trope before? The cop and their mother tease her about being seen driving with a man, who turns out to be the professor (Murai) who was out hunting for the meteorite in the wilderness. How and when she hooked up with him or what he found… not explained. But it’s a bit of romantic interest, but nothing as blatant as in the last film.

More kaijuBut then we abruptly go to a live TV show where a couple of children ask to see Mothra.. and are shown the fairies from the last film. And we learn one of the two larvae from that film has passed away (from what?). Then the fairies sing… which introduces the natives on Infant Island worshipping the remaining larva. This brief scene is the first time we’ve seen any hint of kaiju so far. And then we’re watching TV with the cop’s family again. The cop opens the newspaper and sees a photo of the prophetess and recognizes her as the princess he was supposed to protect.

So do the assassins; a couple of thugs wearing what look like 16th-century Elizabethan ruffs discuss the photo in the newspaper. And one gets sent to Japan to find and kill her. Still very James-Bond-ish.

Meanwhile, the TV network has decided to do a show about the princess-prophetess and investigate her predictions (which so far have been very slim and vague). And the cop wants to find her and follow her to see if she is the real princess. Brother and sister hook up looking for her. And they’re joined by Prof. Murai just before the TV announcer tells us the princess appeared at Mount Aso warning visitors to leave.

We’re more than 27 minutes in and so far not even a hint of a whisper of Godzilla, but we’re now watching the prophetess at Mount Aso (an actual volcano) where, at 0:27:58, she warns that Rodan will awaken. A tourist’s hat blows into the crater and another offers to retrieve it for 700…500…200 yen. He climbs down… and as he grabs the hat, Rodan awakens. Panic. Tourists flee. Rodan’s flapping wings destroy buildings.

Meanwhile, the assassins land in Japan (0:30:55) and visitors to the “Japanese Alps” have been warned to leave because the meteorite “may explode.” Well, all go but the brave team investigating it. And the fairies leave for Infant Island, warning Rodan will re-appear… but then the princess appears warning them not to sail. And Naoko takes the princess away (how did she even know where she was?).

Bizarre interlude: the cops finally identify the prophetess as the princess, but the solution of how she survived falling from thousands of metres without a parachute is supplied by the head of the UFO society. Remember them from the first scene? Well, at 0;36:42, the head of the society says she fell “into a gap between dimensions.” Okay, Godzilla films have always had this sort of pseudoscience in them. Still, watching it today it’s difficult not to be gobsmacked by the twaddle.

Princess and reporter end up in a hotel, coincidentally the same one the assassins are staying in, and, of course, they recognize her. More James Bondisnness. But the fairies turn up in their room, too. And at 0:39:30 we cut to the ship the fairies were supposed to have been on (the one the prophetess warned not to sail). The water thrashes. And who should finally arrive on the scene with his own theme music? Godzilla! Big roar, atomic breath, and the ship burst into flames. Oops. People die. Not graphically, mind you; we no longer see that in the films. But the ship had passengers and crew, so we know there were causalties.

Some critics have complained about the length of time the filmmakers took to reveal Godzilla;p about a third of the way into the movie.

Back in the Japanese “Alps,” the meteorite is throbbing and growing. Back at the hotel, the assassins break into the princess’ room while the reporter is out. The cop brother arrives. Shoot out. But the assassins flee without their hostage.

At 0:46:46, G arrives on the mainland wading into the harbour at night. At this point in the film, he’s still the rampaging monster. On seeing Rodan flying overhead, goes into a rage of destruction through the city in pursuit toward Mount Fuji.

Suddenly, it’s day and we’re back with the princess, cop, and reporter, taking the princess for a brain scan in a lab. At 0:50:46 she warns everyone King Ghidorah “will turn this planet into a tomb” as he did a far more advanced civilization on Venus. “The Earth’s end is imminent” because KG is already here.

At 0:52:15, Rodan and G start to fight. Like the adult Mothra, R can create typhoon-like wind by flapping its wings to batter G. At 0:53:20, the egg containing Ghidorah starts to hatch, coming out in full by 0:54:22. As kaiju go, Ghidorah was a superbly-designed kaiju, even if you can sometimes see the wires moving his heads. KG is seen flying near a city and there’s panic in the streets. Actually, it’s quite interesting to see the small shops and the street scenes.

So now we have three kaiju on a rampage. In the parliament, the Defence Minister says his forces are “closely monitoring” their movements and are in close contact with international forces to “destroy the monsters as quickly as possible.” Which, given the ineffectiveness of traditional military effort in previous films, is risible. He asks if anyone would use atomic weapons against them, but no one will agree to do so. The battle between R and G continues, somewhat comically, with wind and head pecks.

Remember those assassins? We’ve seen glimpses of them in various scenes since they fled, but now they are watching TV and hear the fairies tell the parliament the princess is in the lab near Mt. Fuji, so they rush off to kill her. The parliament asks the fairies to get Mothra to help fight Ghidorah and the rest. Mothra, of course, has already been recognized as a defender of humans. The fairies doubt Mothra alone can win, but there is hope if she joins forces with Godzilla and Rodan.

Like Mothra and Rodan, Ghidorah’s wings create windstorms that spread destruction, but also its heads shoot electricity from the three mouths, destroying huge swaths of Tokyo. A lot of really nicely made models get smashed in this scene. And a monster-created landslide smashes the assassins’ car and only one survives.

The fairies call Mothra for help and the larva responds, heading out to the ocean and Japan. Back in the lab, the princess explains how she had survived the 5,000 years since she fled her home planet, Venus (in ethereal form). And then the gangsters arrived, followed closely by Godzilla and Rodan. At 01:08:32 Rodan overpowers G and lifts him into the air, carrying him to drop him over the power lines. There’s a gunfight with the gangsters, who again flee. More kaiju wrestling and pecking (why doesn’t G use his atomic breath?), which is even more like TV wrestling than in the last film, with lots of posturing and taunting, tossing rocks back and forth.

At 01:12:58 the Mothra larva appears. She squirms to where the two kaiju and fighting and tries talking to them in monster-squeak language. That fails, so she squirts them both with her sticky web, then lectures them in squeak, as the fairies translate. But R and G aren’t interested in helping. Not their fight, because, ‘”Humans are always bullying us,” so the larva goes off to battle on its own. Playing the victim card is in the playbook of every modern conservative. This further pushes the anthropomorphic nature of the kaiju; they can talk, gesture, and argue like politicians.

While this is going on, KG is destroying everything in his path. Mothra tries but fails to defeat KG, but at 01:20:22, Godzilla and Rodan join the fight after all. More spectacular mayhem. Mothra latches onto G’s tail and gets dragged into the melee. G throws rocks at KG. The princess appears on a cliff, one remaining assassin shoots at her, misses, then a shot grazes her head. She falls and the cop climbs down to rescue her. The shock of the fall restores her memory. The assassin continues to fire, hitting the cop in the arm, but gets caught in a landslide created by the battling kaiju. Deus ex machina, eh?

Ghidorah CriterionBack in the ring, the battle royale continues, three-against-one. KG loses, and, covered in webbing, flies away. The princess is introduced to the media and she and the wounded cop reunite for a touching moment, then she departs. G and R stand on the shore while Mothra and the fairies head back to the island. The end.

It’s an ambiguous ending. What happened to the planet-killer? Where did it go? Will it come back? And what about Mothra? Will the larva ever grow up? Will Rodan and Godzilla remain friends? Stay tuned…  One thing is for sure: Godzilla had become camp.

It’s harder to overlook the inconsistencies and loose ends in subsequent viewings, and the twisty storyline doesn’t quite come together. Like the previous film, some of the scene jumps are abrupt and jarring. It has been criticized for taking so long to bring the kaiju into the frame and it’s not always clear what they’re doing in Japan or what brought them there. Still, it has great kaiju battles that are fun to watch.

The Americanized (some voices dubbed rather poorly, I thought) version didn’t make too many changes, shuffled a couple of scenes, removed a song, screwed around with the soundtrack, and cut the film down by a few minutes. Also, they have the alien inside the princess come from Mars, not Venus (why?). Otherwise, it’s quite watchable (although the transfer isn’t as crisp as the Blu-Ray).

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