The Godzilla 28 Movie Challenge: Number 5 - Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)

It’s winter but there’s a heatwave, UFOs, and a series of meteor showers lighting up the sky. Strange things are afoot, for a start there’s a nation of folk who seem to dress like they’re off to a William Shakespeare convention….

Mere months after Mothra Vs Godzilla was released, “Ghidorah, The Three-headed Monster” hit the cinemas. Again, an already established Toho monster was used (Rodan) along with Mothra (and of course, Godzilla). The title character was a new creation and quickly became a favourite Kaiju foe – it’s a three-headed, golden dragon who shoots lighting, it was always going to be fan favourite.

The film starts with the rumour that a visiting Princess from Selgina is at the risk of assignation, it’s a fear not without foundation. While flying to Japan a strange voice in her head tells her to jump from the aeroplane, much to her servant’s distress she does just that. Moments later the plane is blown to bits by a hidden explosive device. Sometimes those voices in your head turn out to be right! She reappears in Japan a little while later claiming to be from Venus and prophesising the end of the word starting with a disaster at Mt. Aso. It turns out she’s right – a monster emerges from the ground there – Rodan!!

There are soon references to parallel dimensions, couple that with strange meteor showers and the appearance of a space monster (King Ghidorah) and you can see how the Godzilla film series has firmly moved from Kaiju Fantasy into Sci-Fi. The Toho tendency to establish a zany idea and everyone accept it as fact occurs once again. It is stated that we exist in one of many dimensions and the princess who fell from the plane probably fell between dimensions on her way to the sea. The explosion will have split the dimension gap open (obviously!) which enabled her to survive the fall.

Toho started popping out Godzilla films at quite a rate in the ‘60s and as a result I feel this title suffered somewhat. Although the plot is not that much more bonkers than the last film, the story lacks the narrative strength and so sometimes the film lumbers from scene to scene and you could miss a chunk and it wouldn’t make much difference to your understanding of events. The film is not only famous for introducing King Ghidorah, but also for establishing Godzilla as a hero figure. Up to now he had been a symbol of destruction, a threat to humanity but after a word from Mothra he switches allegiances, becoming a pseudo-ally and an easier character to market at the younger audience.

This is a more relaxed Godzilla film, even with Godzilla and Rodan scrapping out in the wilderness. We get to see domestic life and more ‘60s styles than before. We get to see what the folk at home are watching on TV and it’s through television that we realise that the faeries from Mothra V Godzilla enjoy celebrity status now, we see them on stage being interviewed. 

It’s while on TV that they drop the bombshell that one of Mothra’s offspring is dead, but that the other is thriving and keeping peace on the island.

It’s while on TV that they drop the bombshell that one of Mothra’s offspring is dead, but that the other is thriving and keeping peace on the island. This film is a clear direct sequel to Mothra V Godzilla and it’s nice to see that level of continuity. Calmness falters once the Princess/Venus-girl tells how her planet was once a cultured and thriving world until King Ghidorah left it a dead planet, and that the very same beast is now here on Earth. Thankfully we have our own earth-dwelling beasts – if only an entity fluent in “monster” could persuade them all to team up and kick King Ghidorah’s heads in.

King Ghidorah is established as an uber-powerful beast, and if the suit failed to convince then the film would have suffered massively. Thankfully KG looks fantastic, he’s so much larger than any other Kaiju we’ve seen and even his entry is pretty fab as he forms from floating plasma:

The three heads and the golden colour help him to stand out. His metallic scales look like effective armour against other powerful titans and his electric attack streams from all three heads. 

Ghidorah *had* to appear intimidating and Toho nailed it, the design deserves the high-regard in which fans hold this beautiful monster.

King Ghidorah is certainly the more convincing of the upright Kaiju here. Godzilla isn't consistent, sometimes (especially in propfile) he looks as great (it’s the same basic suit  from the previous film with a few modifications) but whether director Ishiro Honda was pushed for time, or whether having 4 Kaiju on screen was too much to choreograph – Godzilla doesn’t move as naturally as before. His jaw seems a little mechanical at times and he lacks character, the moving eyes add a new element of realism but the body looks restricted and he spends most of the time waving his head from side to side as though his neck isn’t quite strong enough to support it. 

Also, the shape of Godzilla’s head seems to be different in some scenes which I assume is due to the differences between the suit and model (puppet work) for close-up head shots.

Rodan is even worse, his wings barely move and it’s most noticeable in the scene where he is flapping his wings to generate gusts of dust in Godzilla’s face. We saw Mothra do something very similar in the previous film and it looked amazing, so we know it’s possible to make this type of shot look good, but this time it looks shabby.

The fighting is lacklustre, other than a scene where Rodan picks up Godzilla and drops him from the sky – most of the battle is spent head wobbling,  or kicking/throwing stones.

Often the fighting is from a distance and involves rocks being flung between the two. There is a brilliant comedy moment though where Godzilla and Rodan start volleying a rock between them in a weird game of Kaiju ping-pong. There’s actually a few humorous moments in the film such as Godzilla getting zapped by King Ghidorah in the arse and Mothra (in larval form) hitching a lift on Rodan’s back. The truth is; Godzilla looks like a man in a rubber suit and Rodan looks like a stiff action figure. 

At one stage, when Mothra is “talking to them” they sit trancelike and Godzilla is at such a weird and uncomfortable angle it almost looks like Nakajima has vacated the suit and left it propped up with a stick.

The finale should have been a spectacle, it’s definitely the best fight of the film but when Ghidorah does fly away it doesn’t seem like a convincing victory. You half expect him to circle back round and have another go.

This is the first time that Tsuburaya’s minatures sometimes look like miniatures. I don't wish to be overly critical, they still look incredible, but one or two action shots aren’t as realistic and give the impression of a model village being knocked over, a prime example being when a bridge is destroyed and it just looks like a toy bridge being toppled. 

Overall it looks okay but whereas in previous films I could believe that landscapes and cities were being destroyed, you are frequently conscious of the action being a special effect. 

I think they lack the low level detail and textures we’ve come to enjoy. It doesn’t look bad, it’s just that the benchmark has been set terribly high – one moment I particularly loved though was seeing cars driving away in one of the model scenes, it really gave the sense of an actual populated cityscape rather than an empty set-piece. There is a fantastic moment though where a car is caught in a landslide and the modelwork to live action transition is perfect. Absolutely seamless.

I'll note here too that there are some scenes seem to have the ocean in the background at a rather odd angle!:

The moralistic element of Godzilla had been in decline since the initial film which was very much a mouthpiece for ethical questions around atomic weapons, the atomic weapon debate is quickly revisited here but if there’s any real finger-pointing in this film then it’s aimed at humankind and the way we treat the environment. It’s a throwaway moment but links in with the idea of Mothra being a protector of nature, the Kaiju reluctance to help man is only quashed by the realisation that we aren’t the only organism on the planet and that if King Ghidorah wipes out life – it’s not only man who will suffer.

All-in-all, this film is more remembered for introducing King Ghidorah than anything else. It’s not the worse Godzilla film but it’s certainly not the best and the drop in quality is more obvious given the short span of time between this and the excellent Mothra Vs Godzilla. There are no stand out scenes in this film other than for being a bit silly, it’s fun at times but not particularly engaging. It’s an important film because of Godzilla’s transition from baddie to good-guy but doesn’t offer much more, though it is interesting to see Godzilla buddy team up with and make a Kaiju-friend.


Cult Kingdom rating:  3/5 

Godzilla's greatest foe makes his debut in a film which feels rushed so that it could be released as quickly after Mothra V Godzilla as possible. This would get 2.5 stars from me but Ghidora saves the film. He truly is an iconic monster and the the rest of the kaiju ensemble look a little wooden in comparison. The main failing of this film is lack of thematic glue, the feature doesn't hold together well and the final moments are quite anti-climactic.

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