Tuesday, April 22, 2014

GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER (1964): 30 Days of Godzilla



aka. Three Giant Monsters: Earth's Greatest Battle
aka. Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster

Aside from introducing one of Godzilla's classic enemies, Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster is held up alongside Mothra vs. Godzilla as one of the best kaiju movies of the Showa series. At the same time, it is decried by many adult Godzilla fans. You see, Ghidorah heralded a monumental and culture-shifting transformation that many Godzilla purists are still not happy about. For 30 years following Ghidorah, Godzilla would be firmly and unequivocally depicted not as monster but as a kid-friendly hero. And it all started right here.

That's right! Say goodbye to Godzilla as a metaphor for nuclear destruction. Say "sayōnarao" to the Godzilla who once reminded us "how nature points up the folly of man," as Blue Oyster Cult put it. Instead, say hello to Godzilla the hero. Godzilla the savior of the world. Godzilla the kid-friendly merchandising icon. Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster takes the unique step toward humanizing its roster of monsters -- Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra -- with campy slapstick performances and healthy doses of comedy.

Even in black and white, this is bad ass.
The heart of the story is thus: after a meteorite unleashes the three-headed space beast King Ghidorah upon Tokyo, Mothra (in caterpillar form) tries to unite with the squabbling Godzilla and Rodan and convince them to battle together against the extraterrestrial threat. At the same time, there's a human plot about a detective (Yosuke Natsuki) assigned to protect a princess (Akiko Wakabayashi) who turns out to be possessed by a Venusian (or Martian in the American cut). With her new powers, she's capable of predicting the monster attacks before they occur. They must elude an assassination attempt orchestrated by the princess's uncle while keeping out of the way of the epic monster smashup waging around them.

Three times the terror!
While the human sci-fi plot is muddled and a painfully slow, the special effects monster sequences in Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster are certainly some of the best! Finishing production just mere months after Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah continues to exploit the monster smashup device that made King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra vs. Godzilla so profitable. The film brings together Toho's Rodan, Godzilla, and Mothra to take on a new three-headed gold monster with wings and electric fire: King Ghidorah. It's a spectacular series of fights, but they are remarkably sillier than even the goofy fights in King Kong vs. Godzilla. In Ghidorah, Godzilla and Rodan squabble like petulant children with Mothra interceding to literally talk some sense into them. Far from the frightening and tragic beasts they were in their introductory films, Godzilla and Rodan are presented in very human and comedic terms. There's literally a sequence in which the monsters have a conference to discuss a pact to take on Ghidorah, which Mothra's fairy twins translate for us. It's surreal!  In the end, Godzilla and Rodan are convinced by Mothra's courage and selflessness to join her in defending the earth from King Ghidorah, which shows a lot more intelligence and empathy than other movies ever gave the monsters credit for. Some fans may not like that the monsters can talk, roll their eyes, and fight like wrestlers instead of animals. Some fans even hate it. While there's no denying the camp of it all, it was exactly this softening of Godzilla for the youth of Japan and North America that catapulted Godzilla into international stardom.

Lean on me
Had director Ishiro Hondo had his way and scrubbed the film clean of its funny monster moments, Godzilla may have remained a strictly Japanese phenomena and then faded into history. We can be thankful that didn't happen. Since most kids in North America came to love this cuddlier, softer, and friendlier version of Godzilla that they saw in movies or on cable TV, why fault the silliness? There's a very unique and joyously goofy quality to Ghidorah and the following generation of Godzilla films that turned young monster fans like this writer into the hardcore dedicated kaiju appreciators they we are today. So let the monsters act like stooges if they must. It doesn't detract from the craftsmanship and imaginative artwork on display in Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster. If anything, it enhances it.


Looks like the world isn't big enough for all these monsters. With Rodan and King Ghidorah now an established and popular part of the Godzilla universe, it was time to take the battle to a bigger arena: the stars. Strap on your retro space helmets. Engines are on and we're commencing countdown for Godzilla's first intergalactic adventure: INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. Join us tomorrow as 30 Days of Godzilla continues.

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