The Godzilla 28 Movie Challenge: Number 11 - Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Godzilla loses and eye and literally rips his opponent’s balls out in revenge! The death toll is higher than any other Godzilla film so far and we get animated cartoon segments – it can only be Godzilla Vs Hedorah (aka 'Godzilla Vs The Smog Monster')…

The first ‘proper’ Godzilla film after the high budget monster mash-up Destroy All Monsters; this was director Yoshimitsu Banno’s first feature film and was shot in little over a month on a tiny budget, special effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya had died the previous year and no Toho veteran actors make an appearance. Everything seems stacked against the 11th film in the series and this is certainly a flawed movie, but it also contains the most deadly of Kaiju foes yet!

This is the first Godzilla film to contain a strong political message since the original Gojira. Sure, there have since been hints at moralistic undertones with the likes of King Kong Vs. Godzilla having a dig at corporate greed, and Mothra is ultimately the guardian of mother nature, but this is the first time (since Godzilla himself) that a monster has been created as a direct result of mankind’s destructive tendencies. There are frequent references to pollution and dirty water, we get shots of chimneys and smoggy atmospheres, sometimes these are contrasted against nature to really heighten the effect. You are left in no doubt that Hedorah is a by-product of our own disrespect for our environment.

The film opens with dirty water, bubbling away and looking pretty uninviting – and a creature with red eyes peers out from the sludgy mess. It’s a quick introduction for Hedorah, the film wastes no time in showing us either the main foe, or the pollution responsible for it. This leads into a James Bond-esque style opening musical sequence intercut with scenes of pollution, including this morbid looking broken mannequin floating amongst the litter ridden waters.

In All Monsters Attack, the film existed outside of the alter-reality in which the rest of the Godzilla films are set – and although we see a young boy playing with Godzilla action figures in this film (there’s even a King Ghidorah in the background) that’s because Kaiju are now a part of life. As the films have progressed, Godzilla has become a heroic figure so it seems natural for young children to be excited by the idea of Godzilla and have Kaiju toys where they can recreate their own favourite battles.

Meanwhile, in Suruga Bay there’s something fishy going on, or rather something fishy *not* going on, and that’s the problem, the amount of fish being caught is getting worse every day, and now strange, giant tadpole-like creatures are being found. The TV news is showing footage of a giant sea creature destroying two ships, I suppose that giant sea-dwelling creatures aren’t such a strange phenomenon now though. As I already mentioned, Hedorah is quickly introduced in this film, within the first ten minutes we’ve seen it exist in several different forms. Hedorah is possibly the most interesting Kaiju of the lot so far. A monster who requires pollution to survive and can exist as smaller entities who join together to form a larger unit. The experiments where we see too tiny Hedorahs combine to become a slightly larger one is actually quite fascinating and shows how intricate a creature Hedorah is.

We get some classic Godzilla pseudo-science – within seconds of looking at the micro-Hedorahs, it’s concluded that Hedorah could get bigger than Godzilla, there’s also a eureka moment for Dr. Yano who (based on supposition rather than evidence) realises that Hedorah originates from space, before going on to detail its biological features and nerve structure. The explanations for Hedorah’s corrosive and poisonous trail are more plausible however- it’s a result of the sulphuric acid which Hedorah releases as a waste product after chomping on all of that tasty pollution.

It’s not long before Godzilla arrives on the scene, there’s a fight but it’s clear early on that Hedorah is a formidable bad-ass. His body is soft and sludgy, so Godzilla’s punches have no effect, he is poisonous and shoots sludge projectiles, he’s the baddie that just refuses to die! Straightaway we know that Hedorah is no pushover. It strikes first, landing on Godzilla’s head and forcing him to the ground, this is a tough beast! The fight turns nasty as Godzilla is forced to push his hands through the body of Hedorah to escape before swinging it round and flinging it shot-put style, killing innocent men in the process who are killed by the slime smashing through their window.

Now, you’d expect there to be a lot of death in Kaiju-stomped areas of Japan, but it’s rarely mentioned. In this film however there are dead bodies and specific references to illness and the number of lives lost. This is a dark film and certain elements really help to push the idea that Hedorah really is a horrific best and that the world is under serious threat. We see burns, corpses and even skeletal remains.

The film is littered with strange animations too which look like those creepy public information broadcasts.

Those animations along with news programmes which not only show the destruction but discuss Hedorah and hypothesise how it will present itself next, demonstrate the level of public panic.

The visual effects might not be quite the best we’ve had so far, but some scenes really are spectacular. Initially you may be a little reserved in your judgement as much of the sequences requiring models, etc are night time scenes and you can’t see much detail. I sceptically assumed that was to help hide the low budget and quick turnaround of the film and to be honest – I think there’s some truth in that, however some effort has been spent at times to ensure we get some fantastic visual delights. A scene where an industrial plant explodes looks as impressive as Tsuburaya’s work, the pyrotechnics are a little uniformly spread but it still manages to make an impression.

There are some fab scenes of Hedorah’s sludge moving over various surfaces, the most memorable being when it travels downstairs looking wonderfully gruesome as the slime glistens and seems to ooze out of the main ‘body’. When it retracts back up the stairs it reveals that a poor cat has been covered in the stuff!

There’s certainly some artistic directing at work here, at some points the film looks more like a musical with several (prolonged) scenes of performed music set to fairly psychedelic visuals. At once stage the main human character even hallucinates, he sees a nightclub full of revellers with fish heads! They guy is clearly off his face on something…

…Which is possibly why, when confronted with the end of the world, he decides (along with his peers) to hold a party on Mt. Fuji, artistically filmed in black and white to start with!

The audio lets the film down and although I’ve read comments about the soundtrack being brave and a move in the right direction, I have to disagree. Any tension is destroyed by Godzilla’s silly comedy music whenever he appears. The serious themes of death are let down by something which sounds like ‘generic sixties/seventies music’ which undermines that bleak narrative I mentioned before.

Right, let’s have a look at the monsters then. Firstly, Hedorah.

Hedorah has a laser-beam weapon and leaves a trail of poisonous gas in his wake, he dissolves metal and burns people. He really is a unique creature and completely different to any so far, easily the most deadly. It might not be as cool as King Ghidorah, but surely he is Godzilla’s greatest foe so far when you consider how difficult it is for Godzilla to punch something which isn’t solid! We literally see Hedorah grow as he/she/it feeds on pollution. This crazy-ass mofo can fly, swim and walk. Initially we see it swimming where it appears as a blob-like mass with glowing eyes.

It quickly moves to land though where it seems to jump through the air before walking in bipedal fashion. It’s when walking on land that the Hedorah suit looks most poor, it’s too obviously a guy in a suit with a head attached.

It looks much better when it’s more ‘shapeless’ on land.

As a sea creature it was a nuisance, as a land dwelling creature it was incredibly destructive, as a flying creature it is a threat to humanity. It actually looks pretty cool as a flying monster although I don’t like his jets, - I like my Kaiju organic. But the manta-ray look works well!

If we look at Godzilla now, the suit is essentially the same as it was in the last 2 films. By the next film it would literally be falling to bits but it holds up well here and looks great in most scenes. However there is a scene where Godzilla jumps into the water where the neck seemed to come away from the rest of the suit. The screenshot below doesn’t really capture it well but when watching the film it is quite obvious.

Godzilla takes a beating in this film which I’ll focus on in just a moment, but the suit really absorbs some abuse due to various falls which must take their toll on the exterior of the suit. I’m a fan of this suit as it looks excellent in profile. The dorsal spikes are fat and mean, the shoulders and arms don’t look bolted on but appear natural, the legs are muscular and the tail curves up off the floor in a visually appealing way.

The neck looks to be bulging a bit, perhaps it’s where the suit has lost some of its strength now, but it’s clearly where a human head is and sometimes looks a little long as it comes straight up from the shoulders rather than widening out at the base.

The face looks, well, quite serious! The mean Godzilla look would be over in just 2 movies time so don’t get too used to it!

The tendency towards more humanlike gestures continues in this film as Godzilla is seen scratching his chin and clawing blindly at Hedorah as if he’s trying to figure out what he is while simultaneously conveying an element of confusion!

I can’t comment on Godzilla in this film without referencing the bizarre and frankly stupid moment at the end when he flies. He actually flies. After blasting his atomic breath directly at the ground and curling up like a king prawn, he lifts himself into the air and chases after Hedorah. It’s a lamentable moment which makes his victory dance in Monster Zero look like a serious piece of cinema.

I briefly mentioned the fighting, well, there’s quite a few tumbles and Godzilla ends up on his back a few times, he even gets buried at one stage! Fighting is mainly restricted to Godzilla swinging and throwing Hedorah (causing a few deaths in the process) and them both trading their ‘special weapons’. 

Godzilla’s atomic breath looks almost green now and Hedorah has a couple of interesting weapons in his arsenal (I can’t help but snigger at that sentence). Firstly, in addition to having a toxic body (which dissolves the skin from Godzilla’s hand) Hedorah can shoot blobs of toxic sludge which burn his assailant. This is used to great effect when he burns one of Godzilla’s eyes out with his nasty ejaculate!

Secondly, the sludgy nasty can shoot a laser beam from his eye! Perfect for downing aeroplanes and helicopters!

There’s lots of scrapping in this film but most of it takes place during night time so the details are lost in the darkness, you really do feel as though Godzilla is struggling though and ultimately the battle is won by a collaboration of Godzilla’s abilities and Human technology. 

The battle is brutal though, as I mention above, Godzilla loses an eye and takes serious damage to his hand, you even hear him scream in pain at once stage but it’s an-eye-for-an-eye when Hedorah loses one too, and towards the end of the battle, Godzilla rips Hedorah’s balls out!

The final battle, as with other scenes in this film seem a little drawn out. At one stage it appears to end but copies a similar series of moments to what immediately preceded them. Repetition is a theme here, with plenty of drawn out scenes, I felt like I’d seen the trucks flashing their headlights about a thousand times! Godzilla’s body slams of Hedorah go on for too long. Even the climactic electrode scene happens twice! Sequences are definitely re-used (like the scenes of pollution) to pad out a film which probably could have been edited down by twenty minutes.

With a bit more time to develop it further, this could have been one of the top Godzilla movies. It doesn’t even really need better sets or vastly improved visual effects, the film just needs tweaks to the parts which let it down. Developing the human story further rather than having people exist as onlookers with only minor purpose would have engaged the audience more, music more in keeping with the visual tone would have heightened the drama, and the suit for Hedorah’s bi-pedal ‘final form’ could have looked less like a man in suit and reinforced the idea of this being a super-creature capable of massive destruction. We see people cheering for Godzilla, he’s clearly a goodie and his connection to mankind is strong in the young boy who has a strange ability to sense when Godzilla is near (he feels a great disturbance in The Force).

A clear anti-pollution agenda is established right from the beginning, the young boy even says that Godzilla would be angry at the way we’ve polluted our oceans and would want to do something about it. The main message isn’t that Hedorah needs destroying, Hedorah is only a symptom of a bigger underlying problem. Our own disregard for our planet is the biggest threat. That anti-pollution message starts strongly but slowly sinks beneath Hedorah’s sludge as serious plot threads are diluted by the padding and daft moments.


Cult Kingdom rating:  3.5 / 5 

At times a well-directed film with interesting shots making use of reflections, and cuts between scenes to show how disaster is building while people get on with their lives. All this helps to build tension as you know something big is coming and you also know that the people nearby are completely unaware. There’s a sophistication to this film which is overshadowed by the clumsy reusing of sequencies and sluggish pacing. This film gets a lot right, but (and I’m assuming the rushed production is to blame here) it hits short of the mark too many times to make it one of the very best films. Wasted potential and the environmental message gets a little lost, the scenes of pollution and the callous attitude towards our own planet should have been the most horrifying aspect, with Hedorah being the dramatic culmination of years of disregard for our planet resulting in our own indifference coming back to haunt us – just like Gojira. When the film ends, instead of a lasting environmental message, you’re left thinking how dumb Godzilla looks when he flies.

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