Direction: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music: Akira Ifubuke
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
"Bad as I wanna be!” That could easily be Ghidrah’s motto. For in his first film,
he reigns as villain supreme while Godzilla and Rodan are reduced to protectors
of the earth and part-time cut-ups.
(Note for purists: I’m going to use the spelling
“Ghidrah” throughout this review since that’s how the English title spells the
Each of the film’s four monsters -- yes, four! -- enjoys an impressive entrance.
Rodan literally pecks his way out of Mount Aso, frightening tourists as he takes to
the skies. At night, Godzilla emerges from the ocean and obliterates a
luckless ocean liner with a blast of his atomic breath. But Ghidrah’s debut is
perhaps the highlight of the entire movie. A wonderful combination of
pyrotechnics and optical effects, Ghidrah’s birth from the huge orange-red
fireball that erupts from the meteor proves spectacular, the extraterrestrial
terror gradually morphing from a flaming conflagration into a solid,
bat-winged, three-headed dragon; this sequence displays Toho special effects
director Eiji Tsuburaya at his best.
Oh, have I forgotten Mothra? The colossal caterpillar appears before any of the
other monsters as its two tiny fairies sing on a Japanese TV show. Mothra is
seen to be bobbing slowly in the background while island natives (who look the
same as in Godzilla vs. The Thing) genuflect to the laid-back larva.
This proves to be a fairly convincing scene, and it is entirely appropriate to
introduce Mothra, the “good” monster, in this serene manner.
The film’s human plotline basically serves to bridge the monster scenes, which is
usually the case. It does offer the interesting notion of a princess of
Salgina surviving an assassination attempt by stepping out of an airborne plane
(!) at the behest of a strange voice and an even stranger (and unexplained)
bright light. Later, she turns up in Japan claiming to be a Martian. Her prophecies reveal that
although Mars enjoyed an advanced civilization centuries earlier, Ghidrah
appeared in the Martian skies and quickly reduced Red Planet society to a mass
of molten rubble. (In the Japanese version, the prophetess claims that she is
from Venus instead of Mars.)
Monsterwise, Godzilla and Rodan meet in Yokohoma and begin sparring across the Japanese
countryside. Ghidrah, meanwhile, proves to be a threat not only to Japan, but
perhaps to the entire world. Desperate Japanese authorities implore Mothra’s
fairies to help, so the two tiny twins summon the lumbering larva from Mothra Island.
Of course, Mothra realizes she has no chance against Ghidrah – this would be a
little like an earthworm taking on a Gila monster. So the mighty larva finds
the still-battling Godzilla and Rodan and, showing herself to be a sort of kaiju
Henry Kissinger, holds a monster summit on the slopes of Mount Fuji.
How? By talking to Godzilla and Rodan, who naturally talk back – all in
monsterese, of course. But fear not – the twin fairies are on hand to
translate. As Mothra presses her argument, Godzilla resorts to creature
cussing, causing the fairies to exclaim, “Oh, Godzilla! What terrible
Feeling a little like Ralph Nader after another failed election attempt, Mothra decides
to confront Ghidrah on her own. But as soon as she crawls into sight, Ghidrah
begins blasting the plucky caterpillar with its electrical ray discharges. But
wait! Like the U.S. cavalry (or should that be the JSDF?), Godzilla and
Rodan arrive on the scene, and soon it’s three monsters against one as The
Greatest Battle On Earth commences.
Many of the fight scenes between Godzilla and Rodan in the middle portion of the
movie are quite good. And there are some great matte shows featuring rural
Japanese fleeing in the foreground while the King of the Monsters and the
Flying Monster wage combat behind them. One particularly keen moment occurs
when Rodan airlifts Godzilla, eventually dropping him atop some nearby power
Unfortunately, some of the battle tactics prove ridiculous. For example, the two titans’
round of “monster volleyboulder” reeks. It’s likewise silly when, as each kaiju
lobs a big rock back and forth, we see Mothra looking from monster to monster as
though witnessing a tennis match.
A bit of “monster humor” also taints the big battle against Ghidrah. Godzilla
waddles forward like a toddler and falls on his face, receives a backside blast
from Ghidrah, and sometimes acts as though he’s auditioning for a bout of
championship wrestling. But most of the fight against Ghidrah works well
enough -- especially the mid-air collision between the space monster and Rodan.
Still, in general, the contest could have been more dynamically staged.
Nevertheless, all that said, the majority of monster stuff in Ghidrah is top-rank. The
golden dragon’s incarnation is truly inspired. Formidable in appearance,
Ghidrah’s huge wings, twin tails, and snaking heads remain well-articulated
throughout. And Ghidrah’s weird, electronic vibrato offers an otherworldly
Ghidrah’s city devastation is also impressive, featuring detailed urban miniatures blown
to smithereens by the space monster’s crackling electrical rays. This ranks as
one of the most enjoyable examples of “city razing” that the Showa series
offers. Godzilla and Rodan get to indulge in some minor damage, but nothing as
extensive as Ghidrah’s rampage.
Technically, most of Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects compare favorably with his best work
from the fifties and early sixties. Likewise, Akira Ifubuke’s music soars at
its “monster maestro” best. (It’s a shame that the Americanization dropped
some of Ifubuke’s best cues, especially when Godzilla and Rodan appear in
night-time Yokohoma.) And Ishiro Honda’s direction keeps things moving at a
fast pace. Despite its flaws, Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster remains
one of Toho’s most entertaining monster movies from the sixties.
Still, Ghidrah marks the bridge between Toho’s “serious” monster movies and its
more juvenile 1970’s creature films. The first two-thirds of Ghidrah
are handled well enough, but the final third finds not only the advent of
unwelcome monster humor, but the very roles of Godzilla and Rodan in
transition. Soon The Big G would basically become a kiddie superhero. But,
fortunately, that was still a few movies away.