Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster (Japanese, 1964; American, 1965) – The 5th Godzilla Movie – Directed by Ishiro Honda – Starring Yosuke Natsuki, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Emi Ito, Yumi Ito, and Haruo Nakajima.
GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER is an excellent movie, but it’s the first time in the Godzilla series I wish Ishiro Honda had broken with his strong desire to tell a human-driven story and instead just gone balls out with monster mayhem.
I understand that I’m going rogue on this, that one of the most detestable things a sequel can do is simply over-indulge on the signature moments from an earlier film, but there’s such an awesome set-up here of having Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan team up to take on Ghidorah that I could have forgiven Honda and Toho if they’d simply gone, “F*ck the story, how many cities can we destroy in 90 minutes?”
The plot here is almost irrelevant to the mayhem, yet that is what gives the Honda/Toho films such strength. Even though the human portions of the film aren’t nearly as awesome as the monster portions, they’re actually more compelling. It’s a fascinating approach to storytelling and movie making – the humans are used to tell a gripping story while the monsters are used to deliver the action. Imagine if Die Hard had sent 2/3 of the film telling Holly’s story and then the last 30 minutes showing John McClane and Hans Gruber punch and kick and shoot each other.
But yeah, the real selling point of GHIDORAH is the big battle between four monsters and six heads.
Without question, the single best moment of the film and one of the single greatest scenes you will ever see comes deep into GHIDORAH where the Shobijn (Emi Ito, Yumi Ito) and the humans are watching Mothra (in caterpillar form) try to convince Godzilla and Rodan to stop beating the crud out of each other and team up to defeat Ghidorah. What’s amazing about the scene (beyond the simple awesomeness of watching a camera cut between an upright lizard, a flying dinosaur, and a slug nodding their heads at each other) is that the Shobijn translate the discussion for the humans standing with them.
It’s utterly insane and bizarre and incredibly humanizing to hear the Shobijn translating all of these screeches and grunts into normal conversation: “Mothra is trying to get them to help but Rodan and Godzilla don’t want to. They say humans hate them.”
What? Godzilla has feelings?
The chat goes on forever, too, so the movie wants you to know these aren’t just GODZILLA SMASH styled mindless monsters. They’ve got actual intellects, so even though the Kaiju typically appear in a movie because the humans have unwittingly uncovered them, there’s more going on in their brains than we’ve seen. Even given that the Shobijn are putting the monster talk into human talk (and it’s a further translation given that I watched the English language version because that’s what Netflix streaming defaults to showing), it’s a mindbendingly awesome sequence.
I love the human sidebars, too, where they become increasingly frustrated that Rodan and Godzilla refuse to help. Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) laments, “these monsters are as stupid as human beings!” and that’s the entire film series brilliantly boiled down to a single line. The best line, however, goes to the Shobijn, who during their translating refuse to repeat one of Godzilla’s lines and instead offer up, “Oh Godzilla, what terrible language!”
I haven’t said much about the human plot of GHIDORAH because it’s kinda bland this time around. There is a solid subplot with an escaped Princess (Akiko Wakabayashi) who thinks she’s a Martian and can predict the future but it doesn’t gain a lot of traction with me. I kept thinking that there’s four big monsters coming, let’s get to them quicker for a change and integrate the human plot with the destruction instead of setting up the destruction. This is the fifth movie in the Godzilla series and I wouldn’t have minded if they’d altered the formula.
GHIDORAH is a step down from MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, but it’s still a fine addition to the franchise.