Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) [Continental Version]

Class: Staff
Author: Miles Imhoff
Score: (3/5)
February 22, 2005 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

        To critique a movie like Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a challenge. The fact is that it is a paradox. Terrible acting, relatively average special effects, and severe campiness make Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster a failure on paper. On screen, however, it's pure magic! This movie is, without a doubt, among the most influential Godzilla movies of all time. Not only does it present the first diverse multi-monster brawl, but it also introduces a very humanized Godzilla and Rodan... and starts the two monsters down the path to virtual heroism. The influence is buried under a movie that lacks cinematic potency, but luckily, the movie is enjoyable enough to prove charming and entertaining, despite its flaws.

        Within a short period of time after Godzilla's defeat at the hands of the Mothra larvae, a strange meteor shower produces an anomalous meteorite that falls in a remote, mountainous region. Professor Muria heads an investigation to the site and is astounded by magnetism, heat, and abnormal growth in the mysterious object.

        Meanwhile, Detective Shindo is relieved of his duty to protect a foreign dignitary, Princess Mas Selina Salno of Sergina, as she is believed to have died in a mid-air explosion. Oddly enough, someone looking very similar appears in the clothes of a fisherman and warns of a catastrophe in the Mt. Aso region. She claims to predict the future, and reveals that she is from Mars. Detective Shino's sister, Nakao Shindo, is among a few reporters who take interest in the story. Unfortunately, the warnings are not heeded. Soon, at Mt. Aso, Rodan breaches the igneous crust! It frees itself and flies toward the sea!

        Soon thereafter, the woman claiming to be a Martian attempts to stop a ship from sailing. Aboard that ship are the Shobijin, the twin fairies of Infant Island, who are visiting Japan. The ship's captain scoffs at the warnings, but the Shobijin escape the vessel and slip away with Nakao Shindo, who brings the "Martian" with her to a motel for an interview. There, Nakao's brother arrives, having already concluded that the "Martian" is indeed Princess Mas Selina Salno. Unfortunately, they meet with a band of assassins who had caused the explosion of the princess's plane. In the ensuing chaos, the conspirators escape, leaving the princess, the Shobijin, Detective Shindo, and Nakao Shindo unharmed.

        While all this occurs, the ship from which the fairies escaped is destroyed by Godzilla's breath. Godzilla emerges, and his eyes catch Rodan, the mammoth pterosaur that glides eerily aloft. Godzilla follows Rodan onto the coast and ravages civilization in its path. If two monsters aren't enough, the meteorite in the mountains suddenly explodes and materializes into King Ghidorah, whom is revealed by princess to be the creature that destroyed life on Mars.

        With all three monsters now attacking Japan, the military is at a loss for what to do. The Shobijin are consulted and are asked to summon Mothra for help. Mothra quickly leaves Infant Island and arrives on the scene of a most terrible battle between Godzilla and Rodan. Mothra tries to convince the two that they must combine their efforts to stop King Ghidorah. Godzilla and Rodan disagree, and Mothra tries to fight the three-headed terror alone.

        Meanwhile, the conspirators continue to pursue the princess, and they manage to wound her. Her thoughts of being a Martian escape her, and she returns to normal. Detective Shindo tries to protect her to the end, but luckily a rogue gravity beam manages to send a rockslide that defeats the head assassin of the conspiracy.

        Back at the scene of the battle, King Ghidorah throws Mothra around like a toy. Luckily, Godzilla and Rodan finally realize the necessity of defeating this new creature. All three of Earth monsters enter the fray against King Ghidorah. Mothra crawls onto Rodan, who soars in circles around the tyrannical, three-headed creature. From this vantage point, Mothra is easily able to spray silk at the aggressor. Behind Ghidorah, Godzilla takes hold of his two squirming tails. Spinning the monster into a centrifugal throw, the silk-wound dragon is thrown to the ground, where a barrage of boulders follows. King Ghidorah, having had enough, accepts defeat and flies into space. It disappears into the sky, for now.

        Meanwhile, the princess, having reverted to a normal state, returns to her homeland as the Shobijin return to their island. The future is uncertain, but at least for now, the day is safe.

        Truly, one of the main downfalls in this film is acting. Even while masked by an atrocious dub, it is quite obvious that everyone is simply overacting. Yuriko Hoshi's over exaggerated moods really cause her character to come across as insincere and over-the-top. To a lesser extent, the same is true with Yosuke Natsuki's character. In fact, many of the background characters also suffered from these similar flaws. As a "Martian", Akiko Wakabayashi is stunted as a character requiring a very monotone and very stoic demeanor. Despite this fact, it is clear that she has a very rich grasp of her role. Similarly, she is able to flawlessly switch to the role of a princess. Hisaya Ito, who played the head assassin, has a very cold and stoic demeanor, but unfortunately turns out to be a very stereotypical villain. Toru Ibuki, Susumu Kurobi, and Kazuo Suzuki are also very stereotypical, and their combined performance reminds one much of the mob-like roles presented by the villains in Mothra (1961). In fact, Hiroshi Koizumi's acting finally comes across as refreshing in this movie. Unlike the previous movie, where he was stunted by his "solemn scientist" role, this time it actually makes him stand out as one of the better actors in the movie.

        As far as how well the Shobijin are presented as a whole, it is a little different from the previous film. The costumes they wear in this film are actually more reminiscent of those they wore in Mothra (1961) than of those in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Of course, this could easily be a mild hint about the heat wave, mentioned earlier in the film. Aside from costumes, their characteristic of being able to talk in synch seems to have been altered a bit. It appears at times as though there is an audible delay in their voices this time around, both with the dub and apparently without the dub. Much of the time they do speak simultaneously, but the times when they do not pose as a slight distraction. The handling of the special effects, in order to make it appear as though the Shobijin are small, is done well in this movie. Luckily, the occasional use of dolls, an unfortunate special effect flaw, hasn't been reused since Mothra (1961).

        There are other characters that have a hand in the plot. An interesting note about this movie is that it is the first movie to mention aliens in the Godzilla series, which would be a repeated aspect in several movies. These aliens are handled quite differently, and they pose a much more behind-the-scenes influence. The most intriguing aspect of their nature is just how benign they are. The aliens in future Godzilla movies never again pose such a helpful position in the plot.

        As far as the physical presentation of the monsters goes, it is done with an average amount of success. The suit material looks nicer than it does in upcoming years, but there are a wide number of downfalls. The heads on all of the costumes, save King Ghidorah, are very cute, for lack of a better word. There is little real ferocity in any of the faces. In some ways, this does help to humanize and decrease the viciousness of the monsters. The puppet-like eyes and the facial animatronics are another step in that direction. Also, a rather infamous scene (that would unfortunately be repeated in the future) occurs when Godzilla sits down like a human. This, of course, also helps to give a very human-like air to the star monster.

        In fact, this physical presentation, which creates a more personified kaiju cast, seems to be a major turning point in the Godzilla series. Mothra's persuasive discussion with Godzilla and Rodan is rather unprecedented, and almost turns Mothra into a kaiju psychiatrist, putting into focus Godzilla and Rodan's resentment for humankind. It really is the first time that Godzilla and Rodan have gone from savage creatures to tragic figures. In fact, when Mothra goes to fight King Ghidorah alone, one can see a true sense of honor and pity in the eyes of Godzilla and Rodan, and their upcoming assistance becomes such an influential change in demeanor for these monsters, that their destructive nature is never quite the same.

        Setting aside the issue of the personification of the protagonist monsters, King Ghidorah comes across as the real demon in this movie, taking Godzilla's traditional place as the super-powerful antagonist. With a gravity beam shooting out far more frequently than Godzilla ever managed to muster a good breath, this jittery, organic monstrosity truly takes the cake as a very original, and very powerful monster. As far as the physical attributes of the suit and prop are concerned, the wing movements aren't that superb, but they are handled better than they would be in future movies. The necks flow nicely, and the heads have a powerful, traditional dragon appearance. Creating a three-necked, two tailed, golden, winged, hydra is truly a cinematic risk, but one that proves to pay off in the end. Since this first appearance, King Ghidorah has appeared in several movies, a television show, and his appearance is even popular enough that his stock footage or personage shows up occasionally in modern media.

        Some of the special effects are pretty mediocre. One can only assume that since this movie came out within the same year as its predecessor, that time constraints could easily be a major factor. The first problem is Godzilla's breath. When Godzilla first appears in the movie, his breath is a greenish-blue animation. From there, it becomes a mist. While it does bring up some nostalgia from the very first Godzilla movies, it does look very dated. Another special effect flaw is the matting shots. The inserted footage of monsters in the distance looks slightly old and faded, and is done with much more sophistication in the movie that follows. The boulder battle is another unfortunate addition, and makes Godzilla look ever less like a reptile. It's not as though it isn't done well, but the question worth posing is: given more time and money, could they have substituted this with at least a few more beam fights? The boulders aren't handled much better on the human level. With Hisaya Ito's character having a boulder fall on him, one would not expect a noticeable delay between catching the boulder and falling with it. Another special effect lapse has to do with the heads of the costumes, which are relatively stiff and cartoonish. Finally, editing was another problem (albeit a minor problem) in this movie. Some of the scene changes were very abrupt, and made for very quick and clumsy pacing at times.

        There are special effects triumphs in the movies, and the miniatures deserve the most recognition. They are very detailed and help assist the size illusion of the monsters. The pyrotechnics in having these models explode is also done with sophistication, especially when the gravity beams are firing. In fact, the gravity beams are also an excellent special effect. With these yellow, electrical beams firing every few seconds at times, it's easy to see where the money to render Godzilla's breath may have disappeared. Finally, Mothra's silk effects are very consistent in sophistication to the prior movie, so there are no complaints there.

        The music is a plus in this movie, however it is somewhat an unrefined version of Akira Ifukube's classics. Mixed together are the elements of both Godzilla and Rodan's themes, each a little stressful and annoying. Godzilla's theme is not as superb in quality as it is in the previous movie. Mothra's short, orchestral theme also makes an appearance once again. It is somewhat unfitting for Mothra's character, but luckily the haunting, yet beautiful songs of the Shobijin easily make up for this. King Ghidorah's theme is a new one that appears in this movie, and it is certainly a classic. It is the most interesting theme in the movie, clearly fitting the dark and chaotic nature of this monster perfectly. It is not as refined as it would come to be in the 1991 classic, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, but it is still very powerful in this early version. The song, "Call Happiness", is very haunting and pretty, but not as pleasant as the song that they are about to sing before the scene changes. Other minor themes, like the one that played during Professor Miura's trek through the mountains, are done with suspenseful sophistication. Overall, the music is a bit of a mixed bag, but luckily on the good side.

        This is perhaps the first really campy movie of the 1960s, so there are a lot of eye-roll moments in the film worth mentioning and analyzing. There is Senkichi Omura's character who, for 200 yen, braved the poisonous gasses of an active volcano to retrieve a hat. Two hundred yen in 1964 was about equal to $1.80 American. While one may think that this is an absurdly low amount for which to brave an active volcano, one must be reminded that a dollar isn't worth as much as it once did. but nevertheless it is an absurdly low amount in any year of the recent century. Shortly thereafter, there is another slightly odd moment where a reporter asks the Shobijin about Rodan and Godzilla. despite the fact that there is no prior information in the movie whatsoever from the prophetess or anyone for that matter about the reappearance of Godzilla. It seems as though the plot gets ahead of itself. Another eye-roll moment is Somesho Matsumoto's character's explanation for the princess being safe: she fell into a dimensional gap opened by the force of the plane's explosion. His character seems to make general relativity out to be so simple, that perhaps the general unification theory can easily be sought through the careful use of firecrackers. Sarcasm aside, it is a very unnecessary explanation in the story, and it can easily be perceived as over-explanation. Finally, there are the "nick-of time" moments. For example, in one scene, the princess is about to undergo mild shock treatment to resurface buried memories. Unfortunately, the assassins are wise to this and they lift the voltage to a point that will kill her. Luckily, at that moment, Godzilla falls onto nearby power lines and the electricity is cut. Another example is the scene where Malmess, the chief assassin, is about to finish Detective Shindo and the princess. Suddenly, a rogue gravity beam fires onto the hill, above which Malmess is standing. The rockslide quickly disposes of him. While these moments do help to build suspense in the plot, one cannot help snicker at how these happened just in the "nick-of-time".

        Possibly the worst eye-roll moments deserve a category of their own: dubbing. This movie presents positively awful dubbing. The mouths and the words are barely even close to each other. There are two cases, however, of dubbing problems that just makes one want to burst out in laughter. The use of the word "andalay" in a Godzilla movie is one; a man who cries "ooh eee aah" after a head injury is another. Mr. Tako's "oooh, no more" moment in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) is far less embarrassing. Truly, this is one of the first really bad dubs in the series.

        Another item worth mentioning is how King Ghidorah is referred to in this film. In fact, not only is the "King" non-existent, but "Ghidorah" is spelled and pronounced "Ghidrah". Of course, it makes sense (concerning the origin of the name and phonetic translation), but it would gradually change in future movies, ultimately becoming "King Ghidorah".

        Comedy is another addition to this movie that causes a few groans from the audience. Unlike King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the comedy in this movie isn't quite as good. There are a few moments that pull the mouth into a smile. One moment includes a section of dialogue where Detective Shindo comments about the monsters pig-headedness, "These monster's are as stupid as human beings." Another slight grin-moment manages to sneak its way in the film when the Shobijin comment, "Godzilla! What terrible language!" One thing is certain; the dialogue isn't without its charm.

        Continuity is another interesting, yet perplexing aspect of this film. First, it's obvious that this film works as a direct sequel to Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964); however, only one Mothra larva is shown in this movie. The consensus is that the other Mothra larva died from its wounds while fighting Godzilla, but the fact remains that the second larva isn't even mentioned in this film. This movie also seems to tie in with Rodan (1956), but there is again no mention of the second Rodan. In this case, it is a bit less confusing, as it appeared as though the Rodans had actually died in the 1956 movie, which could easily explain the death of one of them. This is quite unlike Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), where both larvae appeared alive and healthy in the end. Of course, all of this can easily be chalked up to poetic license; however, it is still thought provoking.

        Continuity doesn't end simply with the monsters. Emi and Yumi Ito reprise their roles as the mysterious twin fairies of Infant Island, the Shobijin, and help to show that Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a direct sequel to Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Hiroshi Koizumi also appears to reprise his role as Professor Muria, but Yuriko Hoshi's character makes this assumption all the less clear. She plays two separate main-characters in two directly connected films, with each character holding a similar occupation. Unfortunately for continuity, her name is different. Again, poetic license takes its traditional place among kaiju films.

        What Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster may lack in acting and special effects, it easily makes up for in presenting the first spectacular monster variety show! Including three monster favorites and presenting a to-be-favorite newcomer, this movie certainly inspires several of its successors. The unprecedented style and magnitude of this movie is a model for several Godzilla movies, from Destroy All Monsters (1968) to Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), and it is a fact worth pondering whether or not these films would even exist if it weren't for this first brave new step. This movie also signaled the first step toward Godzilla's eventual heroism, which is an aspect of the series that some fans disdain and other fans adore. It may not be the best, but it certainly is an influential classic.