Movie Reviews

Number 13 – “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” (1964)

 

 

This is one film that is mostly loved by Godzilla fans that has always left me a bit cold. Part of this is because it was the first daikaiju film by Toho to include more than two of their classic monsters, in this case having Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra as well as introducing the classic King Ghidorah, and doing little with having all four monsters in the same movie. While the scene where all four monsters fight at the end is the highlight of the movie, there is little going on in between that really warrants any attention.

That being said, this is one of the classic Toho monster movies and it still excels at everything a monster movie should, including effects, music, and atmosphere. “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” is by no means a bad movie, but it does feel weaker than some of the other Showa entries that came before and after it.

The film begins with a group of alien enthusiasts observing a meteor shower, taking it as a sign that aliens are trying to communicate with them. When the aliens fail to send them anything, the group blames the reporter that is among them, Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi), for sending negative brain waves up to the aliens that might have blocked the signal. Naturally, her reaction is to call the group a bunch of weridos who think meteorites are how aliens talk to us but it’s a good way to start the movie off with crazy characters.

 

 

At the same time, a plane is flying over Japan, carrying the royal princess of Sergina, Mas Selina Salno (Akiko Wakabayahsi), on her way back to her homeland. What she doesn’t know is that a terrorist planted a bomb on her plane and it will be exploding soon. But just as the bomb is about to go off, one of those meteorites passes by the plane and a voice suddenly tells the princess to get off the plane. So she just opens the hatch in the middle of the flight, without putting on a parachute or anything, and jumps out of the plane right before it blows up. The meteorite then crashes into a nearby valley and is mostly intact.

So we’re not even 10 minutes into the movie and we’ve already had crazy people who think aliens talk to us through meteors and believe negative brain waves and influence that, some alien voice talk to someone in their head, and a princess jump out of an exploding plane to her certain death. To say this movie is weird would be an understatement.

After this, we’re introduced to some of our other main characters, including a detective (Yoshuke Natsuki) who is the brother of the reporter from earlier, and professor Murai (Hiroshi Koizumi), who is dating the reporter and has been assigned to investigate the meteorite that crashed in the valley. The detective was assigned to be the bodyguard of the princess while she was briefly in Japan and is saddened to hear that her plane blew up before she got here. Meanwhile, the reporter is sent to a gathering crowd in a park, where everyone has gathered to hear about the warnings of a woman claiming to be from Venus, who looks exactly like the Sergina princess.

After a hard day’s work, both of the Shindo siblings meet at home to tell each other about their day and watch television with their mother. The program they pick is called “What are they Doing Now?” a show with a bunch of celebrities hosted by a Bob Hope and Buddy Hackett-like duo. They bring out two little boys who say they want to see their favorite celebrity, Mothra. Naturally, the two don’t have access to the giant monster, but surprisingly they do bring out Mothra’s twin fairies.

This always bothered me. Why would the fairies agree to come all the way from Infant Island to Japan just to be on a television show? It’s not like the inhabitants of Infant Island back home are watching them. Did they learn nothing from the last two movies with Mothra and how they shouldn’t trust corporations who want to use them for a profit? My best guess is that they want to establish peaceful relationships with the Japanese people, but why a television show? We find out that they’re leaving for Infant Island pretty quickly after their show is done, so they literally just came for that. Why not just talk to the Prime Minister or have a discussion with the governors of Japan?

In any case, I just chalk that up to the movie being weird once again.

 

 

Anyway, the reporter publishes a story on the crazy Venus woman, which immediately gets the attention of her brother and the assassin who planted that bomb on the plane of the princess. The assassin, Malmess (Hisaya Ito) is told by his superior to head to Japan and make sure this woman claiming to be from Venus isn’t the princess, but if they are the same then he has to finish the job.

The detective does some investigating and through some eye-witness accounts learns that this woman from Venus is the princess and must have suffered some sort of head injury to make her think she’s from another planet. Which begs the question of how the princess survived falling out of a plane with no support at all. Well, the movie decides to give us that answer by going back to the leader of the alien enthusiasts club. His theory is that the explosion of the plane opened up a hole in the fabric of reality that allowed the princess to safely fall to the Earth and land in a lake where she suddenly believed she was from Venus.

You know, the Godzilla films have done some crazy things before but this just might be the most absurd bullshit I’ve ever heard. I’m more willing to believe the origin of Space Godzilla or that Jet Jaguar could program himself to change his size before I believe anything this weirdo has to say about bombs opening up holes in space and time.

Meanwhile, the professor has made it to the meteorite and his crew immediately find that it has strange magnetic properties that it turns on and off, as it messes with their compass and sucks in all their mining equipment. At the same time, the princess still fully believes she is from Venus and says that the whole world is in terrible danger and it will start to fall apart in the crater of Mt. Aso.

Surprisingly, most of Japan believes the crazy ramblings of this woman and a large amount of people head to the supposedly active volcano to see what might happen. The scientists at the volcano say there hasn’t been any sign of activity in months, but the true horror lies within the volcano. Out of the rocks and crater of the mountain, Rodan rises up and flies away to continue causing destruction across Japan.

For what its worth, this is a great reveal. After “Rodan,” it was thought that the two Rodans were killed in the fires of Mt. Aso. While the curtain is being pulled to reveal Rodan, the film takes its time to build up the mystery, making us doubt if the princess is telling the truth. But soon the rock walls of the volcano give way to giant claws and a beak. It may have taken the movie a while to get to this point, but it was worth it for that moment.

With Rodan being let loose on Japan, Mothra’s twin fairies decide to head back to Infant Island…by boat. They have a giant monster at their disposal and they take a boat back home. This leads into more weirdness when the princess shows up at their formal goodbye to say no one should be getting on this boat, because another tragedy awaits at sea. The reporter Shindo is there and decides to take the princess in, mostly so she can conduct a full interview who somehow knew that Rodan was hiding in Mt. Aso.

The reporter ends up calling her brother in for help, who takes it upon himself to serve as the bodyguard for the princess. Though he does so just in time, as the assassin shows up in Japan and starts tracking down the princess. While in a hotel room that the reporter bought, she and the princess find out that Mothra’s twin fairies listened to her words and didn’t get on that boat and have been following them since then.

The princess repeats her words about the terrible danger that awaits that boat and we see exactly what she was talking about – Godzilla rises out of the ocean and destroys the boat. Like with Rodan’s reveal, this one takes its time as we first see a large school of whales that Godzilla is chasing, only for the camera to pan way to the right and show Godzilla slowly coming up.

Anyway, the assassin kidnaps the amnesiac princess who is saved by the twin fairies and the detective. They ask the princess how she managed to escape from the assassin and responds with “I’m from Venus.” This film already has more face-palm moments than every other Godzilla film put together.

The Shindos’ start working together on finding a way to get the princess back to normal and head out to a brain doctor out in the country, but not before Godzilla reaches the mainland and destroys a good portion of the city. Interestingly enough, Rodan shows up in the middle of Godzilla’s attack and Godzilla seems to head in the direction of Rodan.

 

 

The princess, Mothra’s fairies and the Shindos’ make it to the doctor (played by the always stellar Takashi Shimura), where the doctor can get some information out of the princess. She believes that she is from another planet, or at least a direct descendant from a Venusian. She tells everyone that Venus was once a world not unlike our own but was made into the terrible uninhabitable planet it is now by the all-powerful King Ghidorah three thousand years ago. She has come to Earth now because King Ghidorah has made it to our planet and intends to destroy everything.

As if right on queue, the meteorite in the valley starts to go crazy and explodes into a giant ball of fire, which forms into the giant three-headed golden space dragon, King Ghidorah. Ghidorah’s design is classic, stylish yet grandiose. Outside of Godzilla and Mothra, King Ghidorah has the most iconic design of any Toho monster and certainly the most imposing with its three massive heads and wings bigger than the rest of its body.

Which brings me to a small grievance I have with the interpretation of King Ghidorah. People always like to call him Godzilla’s greatest foe and his arch enemy, even though the two never have a one-on-one fight until the Heisei series. Anytime Godzilla and King Ghidorah fight in the Showa series, one or the other has another monster on their side. Therefore, I feel that King Ghidorah is the greatest foe to all Earth monsters in general. Anytime Ghidorah comes back to conquer Earth, the kaiju have to try their hardest to bring down the space dragon. No one Earth monster can take down King Ghidorah on their own, meaning these animals of fury and terror have to work together as we’re about to see.

The Japanese government holds a special meeting to discuss what they’re going to do about Godzilla, Rodan and King Ghidorah and it really shows just how screwed they are in the face of all three monsters. Especially when King Ghidorah shows up at a nearby city and wipes out the downtown area with ease.

But help comes in the form of Mothra’s twin fairies, who arrive at the meeting to say they have a plan. They will contact Mothra and tell her to convince Godzilla and Rodan to work together with her and fight King Ghidorah. With no other options, the Japanese government pleas with the fairies to call for Mothra before Japan is destroyed…leading into a three-minute song that we had previously heard during the television show sequence.

 

 

This contributes to my biggest problem with the movie – the budget. If they had to do a three-minute scene twice in the same movie, clearly they had budget problems. To make the first daikaiju film with four classic monsters feel appropriately grand, they budget needed to be much bigger than it was. This leads to a few cheap sequences where Godzilla looks like a hand puppet and his atomic breath looks like mist instead of a solid beam. The film does fine with the budget it has, especially with minimal effects work on the introductions for Rodan and Godzilla, and going big once on King Ghidorah’s attack on the city, but little things like the hand puppet and reused sequences show that the budget was either improperly used or too small.

How great would it have been if we got a full military sequence against Godzilla, only for Rodan to show up halfway through to really show how screwed the military is? Instead, I don’t think we ever see a single air force plane, tank or missile in this movie. The military is a non-factor in a film with four monsters. This isn’t necessarily bad, since we still get some great monster scenes throughout the movie, but it is disappointing to see this movie not live up to its full potential.

Anyway, the assassin finds out where the princess is being kept and heads out into the country to find her even though it is near to Godzilla and Rodan fighting. This sequence is entertaining in how different it feels from any other kaiju fight up to that point, focusing more on comedy and monsters’ reactions. One of my favorite bits is when Rodan gets a hold of Godzilla’s tail and the look on Godzilla’s face is like he just got kicked in the nuts.

After a convoluted sequence of events, including Rodan dropping Godzilla onto an electrical line, Shindo and the professor save the princess from the assassin and everyone in the doctor’s office evacuates as Mothra shows up. The Shindos’, princess, professor, Mothra’s fairies and Takashi Shimura all pile out of the car to witness the first ever council of Earth monsters. Mothra stops the fight between Godzilla and Rodan and the three converse in monster talk, with Mothra pleading with the others to drop their petty squabble and work together in stopping King Ghidorah, while Godzilla and Rodan are being stubborn and don’t want to help save mankind from the space dragon.

This scene is just the icing on the absurdity cake that is “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster.” We have Mothra’s fairies translating everything the three monsters say while our human characters make snide comments about how childish Godzilla and Rodan are being. On top of an alien enthusiast saying explosions can open holes to other dimensions, a princess being possessed by someone from another planet who has been dead for three-thousand years, and Mothra’s fairies going on a television show, I have no problem calling this one of the strangest Godzilla movies. Not that I have a problem with that, since it clearly embraces that odd nature.

After Mothra is unable to convince Godzilla and Rodan to work together, she goes off to fight King Ghidorah on her own…and gets her tail end handed to her just by a couple of Ghidorah’s gravity bolts. Luckily, Godzilla and Rodan have a change of heart and decide to help Mothra in their combined fight against the space monster.

 

 

This leads to a sequence that never gets old, as we see just how each monster fights King Ghidorah, with Godzilla going for brute force and head-on attacks, Mothra using her intelligence to subdue Ghidorah, and Rodan using speed and sneaky tactics by hiding behind a mountain from the gravity bolts. This culminates in a great ending where all three work together and wrap Ghidorah up in Mothra’s silk string before he retreats back into outer space.

The human plot ends with the princess running off in the middle of the final battle while Shindo gives chase. The two are confronted by the assassin one last time, who manages to graze her head with a bullet and bring her out of her amnesiac state. She recognizes the assassin as a traitor from her country, who also killed her father many years ago, before the assassin is killed by falling debris from the monsters’ nearby fight.

“Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” is a busy movie. It has a lot that it wants to get done, including the introduction of an extremely powerful monster, reintroducing three classic monsters, juggling multiple plotlines about detectives, reporters, scientific research, assassination attempts and royalty. And that’s not even including all the points about one of its characters being possessed by an alien or all the other absurd things that happen in this movie. The story is all over the map, trying to conver each story adequately enough and I admire this movie for doing that.

For all of its quirks and budget problems, this movie is still a blast. The monster scenes are unique and memorable, the music by Akira Ifukube adds a greater emotional punch to many scenes and the acting is solid all around, especially from Akiko Wakabayashi as Princess Selina Salno. Even if it is odd and more absurd than I remember it being, that gives is a unique charm that I appreciate even more.

 

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