Direction: Yoshimitsu Banno|
Screenplay: Yoshimitsu Banno and Kaoru Mabuchi (a.k.a. Takeshi Kimura)
Music: Riichiro Manabe
Special Effects: Teruyoshi Nakano
Executive Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
You'll believe a kaiju can fly! Or maybe not.
Yes, this is the infamous Big G movie in which Godzilla flies. But does the movie fly, or does it crash and burn?
Apologists for Godzilla vs. Hedorah (oldsters will remember it as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster) hail the film as an important commentary on environmental pollution; disbelievers decry the film as a disaster with poor production values and a disrespectful treatment of the Big Guy. Which is it? A little of both, but more the latter than the former.
Still, no matter what opinion you hold of Godzilla's first 1970s movie, you've got to admit it's a pretty strange bird. So strange, in fact, that executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka is said to have hated it, banning director/co-writer Yoshimitsu Banno from making another Big G film.
The storyline involves Hedorah, a monster created from and powered by industrial pollution. The monster quickly moves from sinking oil tankers to inhaling inland smokestacks to satisfy its insatiable desire for sludge. Enter Godzilla, whose first battle against this new kaiju interloper proves inconclusive.
Hedorah next causes havoc and widespread death and injury in Japan. What can be done?
Dry Hedorah out, of course, as Ken, the precocious son of a Hedorah-injured scientist, suggests. No sooner can you slap your thigh and say, "Dang it, why didn't I think of that?" than, at the behest of Ken's scientist Daddy, the military erects two huge electrodes. Once Hedorah is lured between them, WHAMMO! The resulting current will dry Hedorah out quicker than convoy of sun lamps.
Of course, Godzilla and Hedorah begin to battle nearby and destroy some of the power lines fueling the electrodes. Not to worry. Godzilla, who apparently attended one of the scientist's lectures, uses his ray to power the electrodes, which subsequently fry Hedorah to a burnt-bacon crisp.
But what's this? Hedorah revives and attempts to make an airborne getaway – and that's when the Big G makes for the friendly skies without benefit of wings, jet engine, or Rodan airlift. The in-flight Godzilla plops the reluctant Hedorah back between the electrodes, and the smog monster gets fried yet again, this time fatally.
As Godzilla turns his back and makes for the sea, Ken waves to the do-gooding kaiju and yells "Sayonara!" Odd how Ken seems more interested in Godzilla than the fact that his older brother died before his very eyes not half an hour earlier.
But then, Godzilla vs. Hedorahis very odd. It mixes traditional Godzilla monster stuff (city miniatures, the military, kaiju battles) with so-called "youth elements" (rock music, psychedelic discothèques), weird cartoon-animated inserts, and raucous multi-screen images. The film's tone shifts from the bleak to the juvenile to the presumably comedic with little rhyme or reason. No wonder Tomoyuki Tanaka was taken aback.
Sometimes the grim and the giddy are mixed in the same sequence. For example, during one of their nocturnal battles, Godzilla swings Hedorah by its tail in comically speeded-up swerves; pieces of the Smog Monster fly hither-thither as Hedorah spins round and round. One of those pieces crashes into a room in which a group of men are innocently playing a parlor game – when we see the men again, they are unmoving corpses framed in a grim, sludge-stained tableau.
In fact, we see plenty of people get wiped out. Hedorah's acidic mist literally eats the flesh from those over whom it flies. We watch the monster's toxic gas kill dozens of teenagers, including Ken's older brother. But at the same time, Godzilla clowns about as he seems to be daring Hedorah to take him on.
And then there's that flying scene. One of the special effects men said the scene was included to lighten the tone. Really.
Arms held out straight in an apparent imitation of a toddler pretending to be an airplane, Godzilla spins around, then uses his atomic breath to somehow propel himself into the air. Godzilla's musical "flying theme" sounds like a high school marching band's rendition of the football team's fight song. And speaking of musical cues, there's composer Riichiro Manabe's hideous inebriated-horn theme for the Big G. Like one of H. P. Lovecraft's Old Ones, its horror defies adequate description.
Much more agreeable, if admittedly silly, is the film's opening song. Fans of the AIP dub of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster will well remember "Save the Earth!" Sad that, except for copies of the long out-of-print VHS video, this song remains untranslated in its currently available international dub.
Equally sad is the near-total capitulation of Godzilla's character to juvenilia. Now I know some (many?) fans find Godzilla's 1970's antics amusing, even exhilarating. But what was the point of making a movie – Godzilla vs. Hedorah – that featured a Big G meant to appeal to small fry, death scenes and pollution tableaus meant to appeal to adults, and bad rock music and pseudo-counterculture trappings meant to appeal to teenagers? Why not decide which audience you're going after and speak to them?
Part of the answer may simply be that Toho wasn't sure where to take Godzilla after the 1960s. (The Big G's box office heyday was most assuredly over – the ticket sales of 1969's Godzilla's Revenge made that clear enough.) In this context, Godzilla vs. Hedorah could be looked upon as a bold but failed experiment.
It does make a sincere albeit heavy-handed plea against industrial pollution, but the "answers" it offers are simplistic at best. Ken's brother leads a group of his supposedly environmentally aware peers to Mount Fuji, where they burn bonfires, play loud rock music, and dance until sundown. So how does this help to "save the earth"?
Now there's some stuff here for almost any Godzilla fan, yours truly included. But the movie's schizophrenic underpinnings ultimately hijack its potential. You have to imagine what this film would have been like if the Big G had been played straight, the preachiness had been toned down, and the message had been displayed as starkly (and subtly) as that in the original 1954 Godzilla. Such a movie might have become a kaiju eiga classic.
Instead, we're left with a confused Godzilla non-epic that doesn't seem to be sure just who it was made for in the first place. Godzilla may fly, but this movie sure doesn't.