With the fifth film in the Godzilla franchise, the series begins to take a noticeable step in the direction of camp. While not incredibly, overtly goofy, there’s certainly enough of it to get the ball rolling. Some call it quits around here because they don’t dig that direction (this movie establishes Godzilla as “misunderstood”, moving him away from “bad guy” status), but my favorite installments are from the latter half of the Showa era. Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster, despite its more light-hearted moments, is actually one of very best sequels in the Showa series, and I’d recommend it even if you’re a sour-pussed stick in the mud. Why? Because Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is all about excess: More subplots, more characters, more monsters and more action.
After surviving an assassination attempt, Princess Salno of Sergina (Akiko Wakabayashi) becomes convinced that she is the last survivor of the planet Venus and has come to Earth to warn its inhabitants of a great threat coming their way. Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) is only concerned with protecting the Princess from her assassins, while his sister, Naoko (Yuriko Hoshi), wants to use her for a story at the paper she works for. While this is going on, the Princess’ prophecies prove true, as a giant meteorite unleashes a three-headed beast called King Ghidorah (Shoichi Hirose). Earth’s only hope now lies with these characters, the Twin Fairies (Emi and Yumi Ito) and Mothra (Katsumi Tezuka), who has the unenviable task of trying to convince Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) and Rodan (Masashi Shinohara) to join forces against King Ghidorah.
Good luck with that.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster has what may very well be the most complicated plotline of any film in the Showa series. You’ve got the Princess, who is possessed by a Venutian and the target of some political conspiracy back in her homeland. You’ve got Detective Shindo and his sister, who want the Princess for their own personal reasons. Takashi Shimura (who played Professor Yamane in the original Godzilla) also shows up halfway through as a doctor who dedicates himself to helping the Princess overcome her psychosis. Then there’s the Twin Fairies, Mothra, Godzilla and Rodan, who all have their own individual motivations and backgrounds (movies that need to be summarized). All this AND the threat of King Ghidorah looming overhead. There’s so much going on you might have a rough time keeping score.
One of the things that impressed me so much about Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is the careful attention it pays to the continuity of past films. Several references are made to Mothra vs. Godzilla, from the absence of the second Mothra larva to the Twin Fairies becoming respected ambassadors of Infant Island (no longer the targets of unscrupulous showmen). Rodan awakens from the same volcano he became trapped in at the climax of Rodan (I use “he”, though there really isn’t any way to tell if it was the male or female Rodan that survived the end of their movie). Then there’s Godzilla, whose just kind of chilling out there in the ocean.
The audience is treated to all-out monster madness for the first time in the Showa series. While we’ve all seen Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan before, the newcomer, King Ghidorah, blows them all out of the water. He’s always been one of my favorite monsters due to his rich back story and amazing design. King Ghidorah is a very imposing villain and from what I understand, a real pain in the ass to operate. In order to make him work, they had to have separate wires for all three heads, both wings, both tails and a guy inside the suit, working the legs and torso. And while Eiji Tsubaraya and Ishiro Honda were working on that headache, there still remained all the wire-work and suit-acting required for the other three monsters. Just looking at the movie from a technical perspective, it’s amazing they pulled it off.
As mentioned in the initial paragraph, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster edges the series into a more campy and kid-oriented direction. While not as plentiful or in-your-face as in future installments in the Showa series, the monster humor is quite noticeable. From Godzilla rubbing his butt after getting blasted there by King Ghidorah’s lightning, to him and Rodan playing volleyball with boulders (something that will occur quite frequently in these movies), you can tell that there’s a distinctly light-hearted touch to the monster battles.
My favorite moment involves Mothra, Rodan and Godzilla having a “civilized” discussion about their feelings and the fate of the Earth. Via translations from the Twin Fairies, you get some insight into Godzilla’s personality, as he claims to be the victim of humans “bullying” him and isn’t entirely malicious. Also, Godzilla and Rodan don’t want to work together because of a misunderstanding. Here’s a snippet of their conversation:
This soulful revelation firmly puts Godzilla on the fast track to becoming the “hero” character that he’ll graduate into with the next few films. Whether you like it or not, his days as a mindless killing machine are squarely behind him (well, until the Heisei series, anyway).
With a very engaging and well-conceived plot, some truly impressive effects, one of the most epic monster battles of the Showa series this side of Destroy All Monsters and some entertaining touches of humor, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster ranks as one of the best Godzilla films ever.
You can pick up Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster for only $6.78 from Amazon.