Rodan (1956) [DCA]

Class: User
Author: Tim85
Score: (4/5)
February 11, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

My interest in this film sparked around the same time I began to notice Godzilla. The book that forged my obsession with the big guy also covered three non-Godzilla monster movies: Rodan, Mothra (1961), and Varan (1958). Then, one Christmas, I received two out of the three: Rodan and Mothra (1961) (along with Terror of Mechagodzilla [1975]). Rodan became my first non-Godzilla kaiju movie, and to this day, it still fails to disappoint.

Unfortunately for the mining community in Kitamatsu, continued digging increases to a degree that results in massive flooding. The body of a miner, whose wounds appear to support the fact that he was slaughtered, floats by. A man by the name of Goro is blamed for this atrocity, due to a recent brawl in which he had engaged with the late miner. Goro promptly disappears. However, Shigeru and his fiancée Kiyo, Goro's sister, claim his innocence. The bodies of policemen who enter the mine to investigate are also recovered with the same brand of brutal injuries. However, it is determined that these men died from fright, not from their wounds.

That night, a giant insect appears and attacks Kiyo and Shigeru in their home. The police pursue and open fire on the creature, which kills two policemen who venture too close. The monstrosity retreats into the mine. Shigeru and the police enter caves, bent on destroying the Meganulon. Upon finally discovering Goro's body, the insect reappears. Machine guns have no effect on the creature, but in a clever bid, Shigeru rams the mine cars into the creature, effectively killing it. When Shigeru goes to retrieve the body, another Meganulon appears. Shortly following their opening fire, an earthquake strikes and the mine collapses. Shigeru disappears in the midst of the collapse, and a rockslide prevents his rescue. The following expedition leads to the discovery of Shigeru in the epicenter of the earthquakes. Stricken with amnesia, he is unable to recognize even his fiancée Kiyo.

Soon a UFO is spotted by the JSDF, flying at supersonic speeds and making impossible maneuvers. Reports of UFOs flying at supersonic speeds are reported all over the Pacific region, leading people to think that there are, in fact, two of these phenomena.

Meanwhile in Kitamatsu, Kiyo innocently shows Shigeru the eggs that her pet bird has laid. One begins to hatch, and suddenly, a memory returns to him... After the rockslide, Shigeru had found him in a cave full of Meganulon. Also lying in the cave was an enormous egg, which hatched and revealed a giant monster. The newborn snacked on the insects, let out a bellow, and took to the skies. With his mind restored, Shigeru goes mad until Kiyo finally calms him down. With the help of Dr. Kashiwagi, Shigeru identifies the creature as a pteranodon. The two lead an expedition into the cave from Shigeru's memory, which is now empty. They find a fragment of the eggshell, which is dated to an astonishing 20 million years! Kashiwagi meets with the JSDF to announce his findings. It is his contention that the UFO is, in fact, a creature known as Rodan. It has an amazing 500-foot wingspan, and it can fly at supersonic speeds...

The JSDF discovers Rodan's lair: a dormant volcano. Jets shell the mountain, which causes Rodan to emerge and go on the offensive. A second Rodan emerges and joins in the onslaught. The two wing their way into Sasebo and leave the city in ruins and flames. Afterwards, the Rodans return to their lair to hibernate. During their hibernation, the authorities decide the seal the Rodans in the volcano by bombarding it with explosives. Amidst the furious attack, one of the creatures awakens and escapes. The bombardment causes Mount Toya to erupt, which engulfs the second Rodan in lava. As one dies in the molten rock, the other, whom had earlier escaped, dives into the lava, refusing to live on without its mate. The humans watch their victory is silence, perhaps even touched by the affection that is shown by the dying creatures.

The actors in the movie do a great job with their roles. Kenji Sahara plays Shigeru, the miner who witnesses the hatching of Rodan. This role is his first big gig in a long career of acting in the kaiju eiga sector, and audiences should be thankful for this. His reaction to the memory of the cave is terrifying and compelling. Yumi Shirukawa plays Kiyo, Shigeru's fiancée and Goro's sister. Her willingness to stay by Shigeru's side despite the danger of the situation is heartwarming and mirrors the Rodan mates in their refusal to separate, even in death. Kiyo crying on Shigeru's shoulder during the Rodans' deaths adds to the heaviness of the scene. Akihiko Hirata plays Dr. Kashiwagi, who is (you guessed it) a scientist. This time he is a scientist that wishes to study the Meganulon (his attitude being a subtle reference to Godzilla [1954]), and who also reveals the identity of the monster that Shigeru witnessed. However, there is a flub in the timeline his character presents. When the egg is dated, it is revealed that it the anomaly is 20 million years old, which he says is from the Cretaceous age. The Cretaceous age was, in fact, 65 million years ago, not 20 million. However, this also calls back to Godzilla (1954) in a way, when Dr. Yamane mistakenly claimed the Jurassic age was 2 million years ago as opposed to 145 million.

Harkening back to Godzilla (1954) in other ways, human suffering is shown in Rodan, but it is nothing compared to that witnessed in the aforementioned film. After the mutilated bodies from the mine are revealed, the viewer knows this is not going to be a lighthearted flick, but instead a serious horror movie. The bloodied helmet of the jet pilot, following the attacked by the "UFO", also has a very disturbing feel to it. Finally the newlywed couple being devoured by Rodan adds to the seriousness of the film, and in retrospect, is one of the few times that humans are eaten by monsters in kaiju films. This will be one of the last kaiju movies to show this kind of human tragedy for a long time.

Special effects wise, Eiji Tsuburaya does it again. The monsters are believable. The wind effects from the Rodans' attack on Sasebo are very convincing, almost making the viewer think that it's really happening. The matte shots of the humans and the Rodans are almost seamless, as well. It was as if the creatures were really there with the actors. On a level of cinematography, the use of shadows in the mine add terror to those already tense scenes.

Of course, what's a kaiju movie without the kaiju? The best way to start is with the title monster Rodan, played by the legend suit actor himself: Haruo Nakajima. Rodan is very terrifying in this film. The design and the red color are downright menacing. The hatchling Rodan is, ironically, both cute and horrifying a the same time. The flying effects are realistic, unlike later kaiju films that are haunted by unrealistic illusions. When Rodan is trying to get airborne, it actually flaps its wings until it has a steady speed going, easing into a glide. The visual of the speedy supersonic flight is also fantastic. Some viewers may not catch this, but Rodan has a breath weapon in this movie: the ability to blow a concentrated blast of air. It is only seen once, when it is used to damage the building that houses the military leaders. The deaths of the two Rodans in the end are touching and sad, yet another nod to Godzilla (1954). Unfortunately, Rodan's first movie is also a last for many things for a long while. When the monster makes the transition to the Godzilla series, it loses its red color and ferocious look. This does not return until Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993). The depiction of supersonic flight is never done justice until almost 50 years later in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). The other monster to talk about in this film is the Meganulon. The insect looks scary and the noise it makes just adds to the effect. However, this monster creates the most visual special effects flubs in the movie. One example occurs during the scene where the police open fire on the creature. When the monster tosses the bodies of the policemen down the side of the hill, both the monster and the bodies look like dolls. Luckily this scene goes by quick enough not to distract from the viewing experience.

When you're talking about music in a kaiju movie, and you're talking about Maestro Ifukube; there is only one word to describe his work: wonderful. All his themes are great. A slightly different version of Rodan's theme comes to play when the Rodans show up in the movie. The theme in the end of the movie adds to the sadness of the Rodans' death scene. Other places that stand out are places that don't have any music at all, but silence instead. This adds to the tension of an already terrifying scene.

Of course, this movie is more monster-on-the-loose than the message-filled Godzilla (1954). While atomic bombs are mentioned in the film, it's not as intense a theme as it plays out to be in Godzilla (1954). While atomic testing is responsible for the awakening of both Godzilla and Rodan, it doesn't mutate Rodan; it just serves as a catalyst to awaken the monster. A message could be derived out the fact that Rodan was found near a mine, which could pan out to be a warning against the continual exhaustion of our natural resources. As we search for others, we could be dealing with something with which humans really don't wish to deal.

As I am reviewing the dubbed version, I will point out some of the major differences in the versions (although I have not had the opportunity yet to view the Japanese version). Overall, with some changes, the movie is faithful to the original. First of all, the dubbing, like in all early movies, is tolerable. The lip sync is decent and the voices don't sound too cartoony. The narration done by Shigeru in the beginning and the end is wonderful in setting the mood for the movie and the scenes. However, the narration during the search for the cave where Rodan hatched does sort of distract from the tension of the scene. Also the name of the insect, Meganulon, is never mentioned in the dub. Another difference in this version is the opening. The movie opens with shot of atomic testing and a narration of what the testings are doing to "Mother Earth". The scene mentions that nuclear tests are awakening monsters, but it really is unnecessary. The final change is the city that gets destroyed. In this version, it's Sasebo; while in the original, it's Fukuoka. The reason this was done was because Sasebo was more recognizable to Americans at the time of the release, and perhaps due to the fact that a certain undesirable word might accidentally make its way into the track if the dubbing wasn't done properly.

Overall, Rodan is a very good, very scary movie. The year 2006 marks the 50th anniversary of the movie and the monster. Rodan is one of the few fortunate kaiju that is even recognized outside the fandom. I would highly recommend seeing this film, and if you can, try for the Japanese version. If you can't, this version will definitely do. And with the recent release of the movie on DVD from Classic Media and the occasional showing on AMC, this is a movie that is not to be missed by fans of kaiju eiga or for fans of the star monster for that matter.