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THN’s Godzilla Countdown #5: Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Ghidorah MAINOn 16th May 2014, Toho’s greatest monster will return to the big screen in an American reboot. With just 25 weeks to go, we here at THN are counting down the GODZILLA back catalogue.

Director: Ishiro Honda

Starring: Yosuke Natsuki, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Emo Ito, Yumi Ito, Takashi Shimura, Akihito Hirata, Hisaya Ito

Plot: After a meteorite lands on Earth the world is turned topsy-turvey. Amidst the chaos, the assassination of a princess goes wrong. Monsters begin to arise on Earth, but former enemies may have to join forces in order to prevent the Earth’s destruction.

Godzilla movies were now officially punch-up fests of pure masculine monster adrenaline. The villainous G-man had already taken on Anguirus, King Kong, and Mothra, and as the villain he would either lose or get some kind of comeuppance. So where could Toho go from here? The difficult 5th movie posed many challenges, and there was a simple answer to conquer all – MORE MONSTERS! Toho wasted no time in capitalising on the recent success of MOTHRA VERSUS GODZILLA and GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER was in production and released that very same year. Yes, if you loved kaiju special effects movies, then 1964 was the year for you. Just 8 months separated the two films, and perhaps that’s why Mothra and Godzilla are absent from the title, so as not to deter audiences looking for something a little bit different.

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The film’s plot is highly convoluted at times, with not just the three aforementioned monsters taking part, but also Rodan, a gigantic flying dinosaur who had an awesome solo effort in 1956. This is perhaps why the film opens with a montage of battle shots from later on in the movie. There’s quite a bit of plot to get through, so giving the audience a taster of what the payoff will be was probably a smart decision. Although GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER is certainly never dull, you can at times forget that you’re watching a Toho monster movie. One of the main reasons for this is a strong emphasis on science-fiction, in terms of space and aliens. It may throw some fans at the beginning as Godzilla films have traditionally been about the battle between man and nature, and how our tampering with technology can have dire consequences. Bringing in elements from out of this world makes for a more detached story, but maybe that’s the point.

As any fan of Godzilla can tell you, the franchise went through massive changes, and in some respects GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER was simply the first to say “Let’s have a bit of fun now,” and who can blame them? The messages of previous instalments were clear, so let’s be like kids in a sandbox with a plethora of action figures to experiment with. We’re immediately handed talk of aliens and life from beyond, before talk turns to the protection of a princess (Wakabayashi) from the land of Selgina, a fictional country that further draws attention to the increased fantastical nature. The costumes of the people of Selgina look lavish and once again show that the Godzilla films are stepping away from reality. Detective Shindo (Natsuki) is ordered to guard the princess once she arrives in Japan. Aboard the princess’s plane, the princess suddenly receives telepathic messages warning her of great danger, causing the princess to throw herself from the plane just before a bomb goes off. So far we’ve got aliens, telekinesis, and political assassination attempts. Doesn’t sound too different from the STAR WARS prequels, and yeah, I enjoyed those too.

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If that wasn’t enough excitement, then how about some shooting stars landing on Earth? A scientific extraction team is sent in to retrieve, or at least study the crash landed meteors, but soon find some weird magnetic phenomenon taking place. Meanwhile a strange woman, claiming to be a Venusian, starts spouting warnings and prophecies of incredible destruction. The woman is ridiculed in a display of men’s attitudes to women as she is heckled with requests of a striptease. However, there is one person willing to lend her the time of day, and that’s reporter Naoko Shindo (Hoshi), who just so happens to be the sister of Detective Shindo. Not only that, but she’s also friends (and maybe more) with the lead scientist investigating the crashed meteors, Professor Miura (Koizumi), making for a very convenient streamlined plot in terms of the humans. The Shindos’ sibling relationship is made extra sweet by the fact they both still live with their mother, as well as argue and play fight the way children would. It’s during one such good natured bickering event that the pair watch a TV show in which the twin fairies of Infant Island (Emo & Yumi Ito) sing a song to show a young boy how the one surviving Mothra caterpillar is doing after the events of the last film. If it sounds as though the film is cramming a lot in, that’s because it is.

After talking with his sister, Detective Shindo realises that the crazy Venusian woman is actually the princess he was supposed to protect. We’re treated to a scene of political intrigue as it is made clear that the princess’ own people tried to have her killed. Like many Godzilla films, it is important we are allowed to see and examine the cruelty that man is capable of. It may be a cliché, but we can’t forget that man is also a terrible monster at times. Our conveniently connected trio of detective, reporter, and scientist, make their way to a crater where the Venusian possessed princess warns of Rodan’s return. Sure enough, Rodan rears its ugly head, and soon begins to wreak havoc on Japan. His brutal gusts of wind (from his wings…do grow up) allow the airborne dino to destroy a wonderful array of model buildings. This is Rodan’s first venture into colour, and he works really well as a sky bound challenge for Godzilla.

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Godzilla finally shows up 40 minutes in. Unlike Mothra, Rodan, or Ghidorah, he isn’t given much fanfare or reason. I guess he just sort of shows up whenever any other monsters are near. Godzilla and Rodan get into a number of ruckuses and bring down a number of buildings. There are plenty more identifiable wrestling moves here, which go a long way to personifying these creatures, but not to the extent of what is to come. While Godzilla and Rodan provide some unbeatable action, Ghidorah hatches from his meteorite egg and begins on his own path of destruction. Ghidorah is a beautifully designed creature with three heads and no arms. I don’t think they ever show him eating, and I wonder if he uses his surplus heads as hands. Ghidorah, unlike previous monsters, has no relation to Earth. He is just a symbol of unknown destruction, and at the time of the space-race and Cold War, I suppose anything was possible. It may also have been that the threat of nuclear destruction was just too real and our monsters now provided a fun escape. It is revealed that Ghidorah has pretty much destroyed life on Venus, and he will do the same here, if only somebody could stop him.

Mothra is called to intermediate between human and monster kind, and also remains in the caterpillar form, probably because it’s getting a bit crowded in the sky with Rodan and Ghidorah. Mothra is then left to negotiate a peace treaty between Rodan and Godzilla, as well as begging for their help in stopping Ghidorah. It’s a rather bizarre scene that will delight and deter viewers in equal measure. Apparently all monsters speak the same language, are capable of reasonable discussion, and can be translated by the twin fairies. Saying it out loud just sounds ridiculous, and it’s not that it doesn’t work; it just removes the animalistic nature of the kaiju. Knowing where the franchise goes from here does justify the monster dialogue a bit, but it will certainly make some laugh incredulously. There are no words for how I felt when Godzilla states he is “bullied” by humans. It suddenly turned him into a bit of a softie, and as he became a hero from here on (until later reboots) the lovers of villainous Godzilla had a while to wait.

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Eventually, the monsters join up and take on Ghidorah, with each of them having their own moment to shine. Meanwhile, the princess’ would-be assassins are quickly dealt with through a series of monster related mishaps. The final battle certainly shows off the brilliant effect work, with sky battles, atomic breath, and Ghidorah’s lightning shocks adding to the increasing power elements of certain beasts. Ghidorah eventually flies into the distance, leaving Godzilla and Rodan to wave goodbye to Mothra as she sails home. The ending raises more questions than it answers. Are Godzilla and Rodan just going to hang around peacefully now? There is a message of how man and nature need to work together, which is probably why Ghidorah is not of Earth. It signifies a huge change in the series to more family orientated fun, and although it doesn’t come close to the original and is lesser than other efforts, it still manages to be a hell of a lot of fun. It announces the beginning of the big monster smack-down, which would only become bigger and more destructive in later films.

I must be honest though, I always watch films in chronological order, which means every time I watch GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER it comes as a bit of a shock after the serious tone of previous films. Sure, KING KONG VERSUS GODZILLA had the most outright humour, but the comedy was mostly kept to the humans. Here, the monsters get in on the action, complete with Godzilla getting an electric shock up the bum, to which his reaction is very cartoonish. It’s changed its audience and its purpose, and in all honesty it’s probably one of the better films of its ilk. Watched separately, or perhaps even after some of the similar themed entries, it is probably a lot more palatable.

Dub-Misstep: Again, this was a fairly faithful dub. There are some changes which are minimal, such as changing Mas Selina Salno’s planet of origin to Mars, as this was the planet that most western audiences associated with aliens. Other than that, and the ridiculous omission of Akira Ifukube’s score for library music, you could do a lot worse than this translation. However, the talking translation of Mothra’s song’s lyrics was a bit of a silly move.

Monsters: Godzilla and Mothra return, with Mothra remaining in caterpillar form throughout. Rodan also joins the team for the first time since his 1956 solo effort. The entry into the series though is Ghidorah. Stealing the title away from Godzilla and becoming an icon in the process, the three headed space beast offered something new to the franchise by providing a monster with no ties to humanity.

Notes For GODZILLA (2014): No need to make it this complicated, or bring in this many monsters at once. We can save that for a sequel. At this time, all the monsters needed equal exposure, but there should be no doubt that Godzilla is our star for the upcoming release. Also, let’s not add any alien/space talk just yet.

G-RATING:

3 G

View all the articles in our countdown right here!

GODZILLA will be released 16th May 2014. It stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Akira Takarada, and David Strathairn.

Luke likes many things, films and penguins being among them. He's loved films since the age of 9, when STARGATE and BATMAN FOREVER changed the landscape of modern cinema as we know it. His love of film extends to all aspects of his life, with trips abroad being planned around film locations and only buying products featured in Will Smith movies. His favourite films include SEVEN SAMURAI, PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, IN BRUGES, LONE STAR, GODZILLA, and a thousand others.