The fifth film in Toho’s Godzilla series, and the second film to feature Godzilla in 1964, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster happens to be the first to hit us with some hard science fiction ideas, namely UFOs, aliens from Venus, and genetic memory. After the harsh realities of their ever-changing world (monsters attacking every other day and apparent global warming) the people of Japan were looking to the stars for answers. The film begins with a bunch of students/professors looking for UFOs, when a meteor shower falls into the atmosphere. One of the meteors lands by a nearby mountain. It’s a strange thing that throws off compasses and other metallic objects by its on and off magnetism.
We are also thrown into the story of a princess early on in the film. She is traveling by plane when she is told by a voice in her head (presumably) that she needs to “run,” so she jumps from the cockpit before the plane explodes. There is an assassination bounty on her head, and throughout the film the protagonists continue to narrowly avoid escape. After the princess has jumped, she no longer remembers who she was, but that she now is a Venusian. “I’m from Venus,” she tells us and everyone she meets about twenty times. We get it – but still, it surprises me that people actually believed her. They often called her a prophet and would follow her around listening to her portents and wisdom. She heralded the return of King Ghidorah as an alien who destroyed all life on Venus and will now do the same into earth.
Another first for the series, this film marked the beginning of Godzilla as a force for good. The first Kaiju (monster) to show up was Mothra, who was sadly trivialized to the point where he in his larval state was called to appear in a Japanese TV gameshow. The second was Rodan. Not his first movie appearance – he had a solo film in 1956, but this was his first appearance in a Godzilla film. And then Godzilla showed up. All this before the egg/meteorite hatched the newly birthed King Ghidorah, a winged three headed lightning-shooting dragon made of gold. With some coaxing by Mothra, Godzilla and Rodan (who had been brawling, go figure) become allies in the face of the terrorizing beast, clearly stronger than any two of them. Three monsters vs three heads essentially. The film was overcrowded, but I never felt any Kaiju was particularly underdeveloped story-wise.
I mean to say that I wouldn’t call this is a Godzilla film just as I wouldn’t call the Avengers an Iron Man film, even though the character is in it. The interesting thing I’ve come to learn about the Toho co. films is that they had their own tight-knit universe, with many different franchises and characters merging on screen or making cameo appearances in subsequent movies, just as today Marvel has their cinematic universe. As this is a team-up film it’s hard not to notice the parallels.
As nearly always, the human storyline was the most drawn out and excessive plot device used, but somewhere around 3/4s of the way through the film’s length they give up on their storylines so that we can see the main attraction – rubber suits and miniaturized sets. It was very corny seeing Mothra attempting and succeeding at communicating with Godzilla and Rodan. Even more corny seeing the strange stretches and movements made by Godzilla. At one point he appears to be crouching in laughter. All in all though, the film gets a B from me. Very fun watch. Always a joy to listen to tiny females singing the Mothra song. And ultimately a great addition to the series.