“The earth doesn’t belong to humans alone. It’s ours too, and we should defend it.” —Mothra
GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER is Godzilla movie #5, released in 1964, 8 months after MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA. Like numbers 1,3, and 4 it’s directed by Ishiro Honda. And by now he’s getting cocky, so he uses cool freeze frame credits of Godzilla and his co-stars Rodan and Mothra #2 (one of the two larva of the previous Mothra. Godzilla killed the original Mothra and the other larva died of unknown causes between installments.)
The movie opens on the roof of a clock tower where a gathering of the UFO Society (who wear lab coats like legit scientists – they’re not kooks) try to receive a transmission from space. When they fail they blame the attendance of skeptical TV reporter Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi, KILL!). “They sensed your mistrust through your brain waves.”
They’re desperate for help from beyond, because shit is getting crazy. We hear about a heat wave in January, constant sirens, an encephalitis outbreak. “Everything has gone haywire,” we’re told, and “It’s getting strange out there. The Earth has gone mad.” Yeah, I know the feeling. I’ve lived through some times that feel like that. Also, “Strange things have been happening beyond our galaxy too,” whatever that means. There are meteor showers happening all around the world.
Naoko’s brother is a cop, Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki, YOJIMBO), who gets assigned to guard Princess Maas Doulina Salno (Akiko Wakabayashi, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) of Selgina, “that tiny country embroiled in domestic dispute,” on an unofficial visit to Japan. She’s headed over on a fancy jet with curtains, not knowing that her uncle’s henchman Malmess (Hisaya Ito, THE THREE TREASURES) put a bomb on it. Luckily a light in the sky hypnotizes her and makes her jump out right before it blows up. (I like when Shindo asks his boss when the princess arrives and he casually says, “Forget that. Her plane exploded en route.” Was he planning on telling him?)
Then Naoko gets a hot tip that “a prophet has appeared” over in Ueno Park – a potential subject for her show Mysteries of the 20th Century. A huge crowd has gathered to watch this lady preach about “the infinitely expanding universe” and how “the time has come for all earthlings to awaken to their responsibilities as citizens of the universe” (i.e. stay woke). I like this scene because although I’ve never seen this many people gather to watch a random weirdo it’s pretty accurate to things I’ve seen, the way the crowd smiles, sometimes heckles, asks questions playing along with her.
When Naoko asks the prophet she first just points up. When she clarifies that she’s from Venus we finally see her from the front, verifying that she’s Princess Salno in a baggy coat and hat she got from a fisherman who found her adrift after her jet exploded. She predicts that “something strange will happen on Mount Aso.” Later she goes there to specify that “volcanic gas beneath the earth will reawaken Rodan,” which sure enough happens like a minute later.
The puppet they use for his first shot is funny – I thought it was a baby Rodan at first. This is his first time in the Godzilla universe, having previously appeared in his own movie in 1956.
Meanwhile, Shindo and Malmess are separately searching for “The Venusian,” having recognized her as the Princess in newspaper photos. The former wants to protect her from the latter, who still wants to kill her.
A funny touch is that the Shindo family watch a TV show called Where Are They Now? where two five year old boys want to meet Mothra, so the hosts introduce them to Mothra’s associates, the twins of Infant Island (The Peanuts). Naoko and other journalists are there later when the twins are about to depart for home, and the Venusian appears to tell them not to get on the boat. Naoko brings the Venusian to a hotel only to discover that the twins heeded the warning and stowed away in her purse. Sure enough, Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS) emerges and sets the boat on fire with his atomic breath. Does that mean he was trying to assassinate the twins just like Malmess was trying to assassinate the Princess? That would be fucked up. He already killed their best friend.
Of course we’ve got to have some scientists in here too. Teito Technical Insittute associate professor Murai (Hiroshi Koizumi, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS) leads an expedition to Mount Kurodake, where a large meteor landed in an area only accessible by foot. Their compasses get all screwy and their metal tools fly and stick to the thing because “it exerts a strange force, like magnetism or gravity, but different.” Then it starts glowing and growing and they’re afraid it will explode.
Finally the Venusian warns that “King Ghidora will turn the Earth into a tomb” and explains that King Ghidora is the motherfucker who destroyed her civilization on Venus. So now we know she’s kind of like GHOSTS OF MARS, the spirit of a dead Venusian, but going around warning other planets about this golden three-headed prick.
There’s a pretty funny part where Godzilla is approaching the city and sees Rodan flying over. He looks up like “What the fuck?” They both head for Mount Fuji and get into a scrap. Nearby the meteor finally cracks open, sprays sparks and fireballs and forms a cool animated flamebird in the sky that becomes King Ghidora, the most mobile monster we’ve seen in the series so far, with his flapping wings, wiggling feet, and wriggling tails and necks. Shoichi Hirose (LADY SNOWBLOOD) is credited as playing Ghidorah, but I don’t know when or how there’s a person inside that thing.
So things really are haywire. Three monsters going wild in the streets/mountains. The Japanese military wants to form an international coalition and does not want to use atomic weapons. They let the Infant Island twins speak at a hearing (why not?) and they say they don’t think even Mothra can defeat King Ghidora – the only hope is “for Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra to join forces.” They’ll talk to Mothra about it, “But if Godzilla and Rodan refuse, it’s all over.”
There’s some good fighting. I especially love when Rodan carries Godzilla into the sky and then drops him dick-first onto an electric tower. Godzilla body slams Rodan, turns around and hammers his head with his tail; Rodan bites his tail and chews on it like a dog toy. When Mothra shows up she finds Godzilla kicking rocks into Rodan, and they start hitting them back and forth like volleyballs. Mothra is like “Fuck this” and sprays webbing onto Godzilla’s face. Rodan laughs about it until he gets the same treatment.
This whole movie is fun, but it becomes great when the three monsters have their peace summit. The twins translate what Mothra says to them for human observers: “Let’s stop fighting each other. Let’s join forces and protect the Earth from King Ghidorah.”
“Do Godzilla and Rodan agree?” somebody asks.
“No, they say they don’t care.”
Godzilla and Rodan agree that they have no reason to help humans, because humans are always bullying them. A shared experience for the two to bond over. Mothra apparently uses the phrase “let bygones be bygones.” I don’t know if that’s something they really use in that culture or if the twins are just really good at translating idioms. Being such stubborn jerks, Godzilla and Rodan demand that each other apologize. I love that the onlookers call them “those bastards” and “those idiots,” though they recognize that this reflects their own behavior.
Eventually Mothra says her famous quote, “The earth doesn’t belong to humans alone. It’s ours too, and we should defend it,” then goes into battle alone, immediately getting knocked around by Ghidorah’s lightning breath… the legendary act of bravery that finally convinced Godzilla and Rodan to join. Gozilla throws rocks at his heads, etc. He gets shot with lightning in the ass and in the dick. I really don’t know how he can still have babies after this movie.
A good bit of teamwork is when Godzilla holds Ghidorah’s tails while Mothra rides on Rodan’s back and shoots webbing on him, proving the twins’ and Mothra’s contention that combining their forces was the key to stopping this motherfucker.
The Venusian (now in a different outfit) stands on the mountain with her hands in the air and prays to the “almighty creator of the universe” to protect Earth from Ghidorah. It’s interesting to still call to an unseen creator when you have beings like this right in front of you. Not to stereotype but those Venusians can be pretty religious.
Malmess aims from across the ridge and shoots her, and she falls off a ledge. Shindo finds her and tries to bring her to safety, and suddenly she’s the Princess again. (The bullet grazed her head, and I guess we’re following Flintstones rules.) Malmess keeps shooting at her but there’s a kaiju-related rockslide above him. He looks up and seems to dodge, it but then catches a pillow-sized boulder and loses his balance. Good shit.
Our guys end up covering Ghidorah in so much webbing that he gets embarrassed and flies away. To where? I don’t know. The happy ending is that the Princess doesn’t remember anything about her time as a Venusian prophet except all the times Shindo saved her life.
Uh… get her number, dude.
And then what’s really cute is Godzilla and Rodan stand on a cliff and watch Mothra swim away with the twins. Au revoir, kaiju!
Other movies released in 1964 include DR. STRANGELOVE, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE KILLERS, MARY POPPINS, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, THE NAKED KISS, and the TV special CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS. Three days after GHIDORAH was released in Japan, Eddie Vedder was born in Evanston, Illinois. Really makes you think.
Seriously though, 1964 was a pivotal year here in the United States. There’s a book about it called The Last Innocent Year: 1964, by Jon Margolis. According to a Next Avenue article about an American Experience episode based on the book, “Margolis chose 1964 because that was the year that the fractures and fault lines on display in American society started to become visible. It was a year of remarkable transition that prefigured 50 years of tumultuous change.” It was the year after the JFK assassination and the March on Washington, the year of LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act, but also increasing the American military presence in Vietnam.
GHIDORAH was made in a different context, of course, but still seems like a timely message of impending worldwide catastrophe and people (or monsters) who consider themselves outside of it all having to set aside their differences to do something about it. Thanks for trying to lead the way, Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. I’m sorry we haven’t lived up to your example.
March 7th, 2023 at 8:44 am
One of the last times I saw live music, at the end of January/beginning of February 2020, was a show by a jazz group called Ghidorah that had three tenor saxophonists. They were killer (JD Allen, in particular, is one of my favorite living jazz musicians; his whole catalog is worth checking out).
L-R: Stacy Dillard, Marcus Strickland, JD Allen The lineage of jazz tenor saxophone, from the 1920s to the present day, represents a legacy that living musicians must grapple with, night after nigh…