5. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster
San Daikaiju: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen /
Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster
By 1964, Toho was in the kaiju business. “Mothra vs. Godzilla” had two of the studio’s most famous monsters facing off. Perhaps following the model set by Universal’s classic monster movies, Toho decided to elevate things even further with their next installment. Godzilla and Mothra would be back. Though he hadn’t been seen since 1956, Toho realized the flying Rodan was able to stand among their greatest creations. More-so then, say, Varan or Maguma anyway. Three popular monsters together wasn’t even enough. It was decided to cook up an even more elaborate kaiju, a villain powerful and dangerous enough that it would require three monsters to take him down. Thus, “Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster” was born.
“Ghidorah’s” ambitions didn’t end there either. The film doesn’t just mash up monsters but genres. The hard sci-fi horror of Godzilla blended well enough with Mothra’s light-fantasy. “Ghidorah” brings in more solid science fiction. Flying saucers, aliens from Venus, spiritual possession and prophecies were added to the mix. James Bond-style espionage was popular at the time and that too was tossed in. With all of these plot elements and monsters, the film still needed to make room for the human characters and their own plot lines. That double-stuffed nature is “Ghidorah’s” biggest problem. There’s so much going on
The film does its best to balance all these competing elements. The story starts with the Shindo siblings, Naoko and her brother. Naoko is a reporter for a supernatural mystery-based television series, interviewing a club of flying saucer devotees. Her brother, meanwhile, is a police detective tasked with protecting the imperiled princess of a near-by nation. The two plot lines collide when the princess disappears off of her airplane right before it explodes. She reappears a few days later, claiming to be a Venusian and predicting monster-related disaster for the world. The princess’ reappearance gets the interest of her assassins, who pursue her throughout the city.
Mt. Aso, showing strange magnetic properties. Professor Miura, Naoko’s would-be suitor, is sent to investigate the meteor. In time, the meteor grows like an egg, its magnetism coming and going. Finally, the rock explodes, the mighty King Ghidorah coming forth.
The plot lines taken on their own aren’t problematic. Naoko, as played by Yuriko Hoshi, makes an especially likable lead. She has great chemistry with Yosuke Natsuki as her brother. The two’s good-natured competition powers the film’s most human moments. My favorite is when the two are at home, fighting over what to watch on the TV with their mother, playfully taunting one another. The male Shindo is immediately smitten with the princess’ picture. When he has an opportunity to meet her, his sister ends up blocking the meeting, an especially cute moment. Once the monsters and assassination plot take center stage, these endearing moments completely disappear, leaving the movie without a human heart.
The espionage part of the plot winds up being the least interesting. The assassins are generic bad guys, wearing sunglasses and fedoras. Their attempts to murder the princess feel out of place with the film. There’s little tension behind the attacks, the princess’ life never seeming in true peril. When the gangsters start messing with the electro-shock therapy machine, the plot line almost turns comical. The shooting and fighting that eventually arise are decent executed, as out of place as they seem. As is typical with these films by know, the monsters swoop in during the last act to kill off the human bad guys.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the monsters yet. The first half-hour of the film is focused on setting up all the sprawling plot lines. Pass the twenty minute mark, Rodan shuffles out of the ashes of Mt. Aso. Soon after, Godzilla lumbers out of the sea, igniting a cruise ship. Rodan puts in some token destruction, sweeping up some buildings with his mach-speed wings. Godzilla mostly stomps around the countryside, not getting a scene of city destruction to himself. The main attraction isn’t the solo acts. Instead, like immortals, giant monsters are inevitably drawn to each other, ready to fight. Despite never crossing paths before, Godzilla and Rodan duel like long-time rivals. The fighting is exaggerated and borderline comical. Rodan peaks at Godzilla’s head, knocking him to the ground with back blows. Godzilla whacks Rodan’s head with his tail or tosses him over his shoulder. Easily, the coolest moment in the fight is when Rodan lifts Godzilla into the sky, dropping him down on a series of electric lines. Even if Rodan’s design is still a little stiff and awkward, the fight is a good time for monster kids.
Like all comic book crossovers, the fights precede a team-up. The anthropomorphizing of Godzilla and co. is completed by this point. Mothra scuttles up to the top of a cliff and tries to reason with the battling beasts. The kaiju don’t flat-out talk, the fairies translating, but they do everything but. Godzilla and Mothra roll their eyes, lulling their heads aside. They reveal a long standing resentment at humanity, an unwillingness to help save the world. Mothra has always been magical but Godzilla and Rodan’s conversation prove a little silly. There are other ridiculous elements. During the battle, Godzilla’s belly rumbles from energy attacks. Both the monsters openly laugh at each other’s misfortune. Godzilla’s not quite a superhero yet, still established as Chaotic Neutral after blowing up a boat. However, the series turn towards kid’s fantasy has irreversibly progressed. Later sequels would solidify this transition but the effect here is tonally uneven.
As impressive as King Ghidorah is, he still falls short of his legacy. The four way battle between the heroic monsters and the deadly dragon has some great moment. Seeing Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra gang up on Ghidorah is a good time. Mothra crawling onto Rodan’s back, the two combining into a flying silk blaster, is especially memorable. Godzilla yanking on the monster’s tails is another amusing image. Ultimately though, for such an abominable, destructive force, Ghidorah proves awfully easy to defeat. He gets his heads cocooned, gets tossed over a cliff, and gets a few rocks thrown at him. This proves enough to dispel the mighty King Ghidorah. After all that build-up, it’s a bit of a let-down. The kaiju was naturally too memorable a threat to kill off forever but it certainly leaves the film without a strong climax.
Akira Ifukube once again provides his trademark score. Godzilla and Mothra get their respective themes, both used effectively. Ghidorah’s theme is a low brass note, not unlike King Kong’s theme in the third film. The Peanuts return again as the Shojibin, wondering around on miniature sets and talking in unison. Notably, they even testify in front of the Japanese congress. Once again, the two tiny singers sing an original number, this one about Mothra’s happiness or something. It’s definitely one of the Peanuts’ more sappy numbers and is inexplicably played twice throughout the film.
“Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster” is ultimately an overstuffed affair. The monster action, though a little silly at times, is still lots of fun. Doubling down on the monsters was a good decision and King Ghidorah remains one of the most iconic kaiju. However, the creature feature is almost forced out by the abundance of story lines, forcing a speedy, unsatisfying wrap-up. Future Toho monster mashes would be better balanced. There’s bound to be some bumps in the road. [Grade: B-]