Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster
|Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster|
|Hepburn||San Daikaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessen|
|Directed by||Ishirō Honda|
|Screenplay by||Shinichi Sekizawa|
|Produced by||Tomoyuki Tanaka|
|Edited by||Ryohei Fujii|
|Music by||Akira Ifukube|
|Box office||$2.3 million |
(Japan & US rentals)
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦, San Daikaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessen, lit. Three Giant Monsters: Earth's Greatest Battle) is a 1964 Japanese kaiju film directed by Ishirō Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced and distributed by Toho Co., Ltd, it is the fifth film in the Godzilla franchise, and was the second Godzilla film produced that year, after Mothra vs. Godzilla. The film stars Yosuke Natsuki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, with Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla, Masanori Shinohara as Rodan, and Shoichi Hirose as King Ghidorah. In the film, an extraterrestrial from Venus, possessing the body of a princess, warns humanity of the arrival of King Ghidorah, with Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra being their last hope for survival.
The film was rushed into production in order to replace Red Beard, which fell behind schedule, in Toho's New Year's holiday slate. The Godzilla suit and Mothra larva prop were recycled from the previous film, with modifications added, while new suits were produced for Rodan and Ghidorah. Principal photography began and ended in 1964 in Mount Aso, Yokohama, Gotenba, and Ueno Park. New suits were produced for Rodan and Ghidorah, however, the Godzilla suit and Mothra prop were recycled from past films. Scenes involving Ghidorah took longer to film due to the wires attached to the heads and tails getting tangled or reflecting the studio lights.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was theatrically released in Japan on December 20, 1964, followed by a theatrical release in the United States on September 29, 1965 by Continental Distributing as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. It earned ¥375 million (over $1 million) at the Japanese box office and $1.3 million at the American box office. The film received generally positive reviews from early and contemporary American critics.
Reporter Naoko Shindo attends a communications session with the UFO society for her television program. After deeming the session a failure due to Naoko's skepticism, a meteor shower descends on Japan, with the largest crashing in Mount Kurodake. Shindo, a police detective and Naoko's brother, is assigned to guard Princess Salno of Selgina from a political assassination during an unannounced visit to Japan. En route to Japan, an alien entity leads Salno to jump from her plane before it explodes. Professor Miura leads a research team to Mt. Kurodake to investigate the large meteor, where they discover it randomly emits magnetic waves. Naoko is sent to investigate a prophetess claiming to be from Venus, who predicts that Rodan will emerge from Mount Aso.
The Prophetess catches the attention of both Shindo and Salno's uncle, both who believed her to be dead. Responsible for the assassination plot, Salno's uncle sends the assassin, Malmess, to kill her and arrives in Japan after Rodan awakens. After participating in a TV program, the Shobijin, Mothra's twin fairies, prepare to depart for home but are warned by the Prophetess to not sail. Naoko takes the Prophetess to a hotel to interview her, and discover that the Shobijin had followed them, heeding the Prophetess' warning before Godzilla sunk their ship. After confirming that the Prophetess is Salno, Shindo finds her at the hotel and saves her from Malmess. They evacuate after Godzilla and Rodan converge on the city and battle throughout the countryside.
After Dr. Tsukamoto, a psychiatrist, determines the Prophetess to be normal, she predicts the arrival of King Ghidorah, a monster that destroyed her home on Venus. Miura and his team witness the meteor explode, unleashing the golden three-headed space dragon Ghidorah, who proceeds to attack Matsumoto city. The authorities plea with the Shobijin to summon Mothra for help, but they warn that Mothra alone could not defeat Ghidorah, and their only hope would be for Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra to join forces. Under hypnosis, the Prophetess reveals that some Venusians escaped to Earth from Ghidorah and assimilated with humans, resulting in them losing their abilities with the exception of predictions.
After Malmess overhears Tsukamoto recommend shock therapy next, he increases the voltage knowing it will immediately kill her but fails after the power lines are destroyed by Godzilla. After thwarting off Malmess and his crew, Shindo evacuates to the mountains with the Prophetess, Tsukamoto, Naoko, Murai, and the Shobijin. Mothra attempts to convince Godzilla and Rodan to set aside their differences to save the planet, but both refuse due to years of harassment from humans. After seeing Mothra attempt to battle Ghidorah on her own, Godzilla and Rodan rush to her aid. The Prophetess wanders off and regains her memories after Malmess nearly kills her. Shindo protects her in time and Malmess falls to his death. The monsters overwhelm Ghidorah and force it to flee into outer space. Prior to departing for home, Princess Salno reveals to Shindo that she doesn't recall her recent memories as the Prophetess but remembers the three events when Shindo saved her and thanks him and Naoko for their help. Godzilla and Rodan watch on as Mothra journeys back home with the Shobijin, who bid farewell to all.
- Yosuke Natsuki as Detective Shindo
- Yuriko Hoshi as Naoko Shindo
- Hiroshi Koizumi as Professor Murai
- Akiko Wakabayashi as Princess Mas Dorina Salno
- The Peanuts as the Shobijin
- Takashi Shimura as Dr. Tsukamoto
- Hisaya Ito as Malmess
- Akihiko Hirata as Security Chief Okita
- Kenji Sahara as Kanamaki
- Susumu Kurobe as Assassin
- Ikio Sawamura as Fisherman
- Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla
- Masanori Shinohara as Rodan
- Shoichi Hirose as King Ghidorah
Cast taken from Japan's Favorite Mon-star.
Personnel taken from Japan's Favorite Mon-star.
"[Ghidorah] is basically Yamata no Orochi. It is an old folktale, and we wrote it as a creature from outer space. It is fine for audiences to think that way, but I do not believe it was written with such a political notion."
—Honda on the theory that Ghidorah symbolized China's nuclear threat.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was rushed into production due to Red Beard falling behind schedule and a replacement was need for Toho's New Year's holiday slate. After the success of previous films where monsters were partnered up such as King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra vs. Godzilla, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to develop a film which would feature Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra.
The film also includes a new monster, King Ghidorah. Ghidorah was designed as an homage to Yamata no Orochi. Yoshio Tsuchiya was originally attached to play Malmess but his commitments to Red Beard prevented him from participating. Honda felt "uncomfortable" with Toho and Eiji Tsuburaya's decision to anthropomorphize the monsters, particularly the summit scene, stating, "I used the Peanuts as Mothra's interpreters, but even that was something I had to force myself to do." The film was shot on various locations, such as Mount Aso, Yokohama, Gotenba, and Ueno Park.
Akiko Wakabayashi was briefly blinded by the flash of light that represented the Venusian. Additionally, Honda permitted Wakabayashi to sleep on the gurney during the shock therapy scenes, due to Wakabayashi working the previous night without sleep for a separate film. Wakabayashi noted that the Venusian's homely attire came about when Honda spotted her walking the studio in jeans and a "bug guy's hat." Honda liked the attire and chose to adopt it for the Venusian. Wakabayashi chose to play the Venusian as someone who sleepwalks, stating, "I tried to play the character as someone who was sleepwalking. I tried not to look at each person's face.' The track Cry for Happiness was written by Hiroshi Miyagawa.
The film's special effects were directed by Eiji Tsuburaya, while Teruyoshi Nakano served as the assistant special effects director. For Ghidorah's hatching scene, a variety of techniques were used such as a miniature meteorite prop, pyrotechnics, and rapidly edited explosions. Optical animation was used for the hovering fireball and Ghidorah's rays. For the Yokohama sequence, pyrotechnics were wire-rigged to send up debris and fans used to emulate strong winds. Haruo Nakajima reprised his role as Godzilla. The effects crew recycled the Godzilla suit from Mothra vs. Godzilla, however, alterations were made to the head. The original glass-like wooden eyes were replaced with radio controlled eyeballs. The installation of mechanics flattened the head by a small margin. Katsumi Tezuka portrayed the Mothra larva prop. The prop was recycled from Mothra vs. Godzilla and its eyes were changed from blue to red. Masanori Shinohara portrayed Rodan. A new Rodan suit was constructed with a different appearance for the face, with a muscular neck and triangular wings.
King Ghidorah was designed by Akira Watanabe and portrayed by Shoichi Hirose, who spent hours hunched over inside the costume, holding onto a crossbar for support. A team of wire work puppeteers manipulated the necks, tails and wings. As many as seven men were in the rafters over the sound stage working the wires. Effects cameraman Sadamasa Arikawa stated "There were times when all three necks got tangled up or the plastic wires would reflect the studio lights, or the wires would get caught in Ghidorah's scales. It was an agonizing operation!" Due to this, it took longer to film Ghidorah's scenes. Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa suggested to Tsuburaya that the Ghidorah suit be built from light weight silicon-based materials to allow more mobility for the suit performer. The wings were originally intended to have a rainbow hue. Small models of the monsters were also used for far away shots or flying shots of Rodan and King Ghidorah.
The set for the base of Mt. Fuji was built at 1/25th scale and took 12,000 hours to build. The set was raised so cameras could be positioned at low angles.The miniature buildings were built with working sliding doors, lights, and were built backless, to be seen from one direction. The miniatures meant to be destroyed were pre-cut and compressed. Miniature buildings that were not meant to be destroyed were repurposed for later scenes or other sets. While filming Godzilla and Rodan's battle in Toho's massive water tank, one of the edges of the tank was exposed on film. Tsuburaya hid this error by superimposing trees on the exposed area.
Theatrical and box office
Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster was released theatrically in Japan on December 20, 1964, by Toho, on a double-bill with Samurai Joker. The film became the fourth highest-grossing film of the 1964–1965 season in Japan. The film earned ¥375 million (over $1 million) in distributor rentals at the Japanese box office. In 1971, a heavily re-edited version was screened at the Toho Champion Festival, a children's festival centered on marathon screenings of kaiju films and cartoons. For the Champion Festival, the film was re-titled Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Greatest Battle on Earth (ゴジラ・モスラ・キングギドラ 地球最大の決戦, Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Ghidorah: Chikyu Saidai No Kessen), was re-edited by Honda, and runs 73 minutes. The Champion festival release sold 1.09 million tickets.
Months after the film's Japanese release, the film was acquired by Walter Reade-Sterling, Inc., with plans to distribute the film in the United States through their subsidiary, Continental Distributing. The film was theatrically released in the United States on September 29, 1965, as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. The film opened to 83 theaters in Boston, on a double-bill with Agent 8 3/4. In later areas, it was double-billed with Harum Scarum. Continental boasted to Variety that the film earned $200,000 in film rentals within five days of its release and $1.3 million overall. To promote the film in the United States, Ghidorah masks were created as promotional tie-ins with local super markets and radio stations.
The dubbing of the American version was supervised by Joseph Belucci and runs at 85 minutes. The American version shifts some scenes and removes some outright, Akira Ifukube's score is replaced with library music during some of the Godzilla/Rodan battle scenes, and a rough translation was provided for Cry for Happiness, which is read off-camera by Annie Sukiyaki. Some alterations from the American version were added to the Champion Festival release. Author David Kalat opined that the American version is superior in some ways, stating that the film is dramatically tightened and that continuity corrections resulted in an "improvement over the original".
In a contemporary review, Vincent Canby from New York Times noted that the film "at least provides a smile or two as Ghidorah lurches and lunges through a veritable anthology of Japanese monster picture plots." and that "This fascination, on the part of contemporary Japanese film makers, with the destruction of their land by fantastic, prehistoric forces only 20 years after Hiroshima, might be of interest to social historians. The film, otherwise, is strictly for the comic book set." Variety noted that "When the viewer finds himself cheering on the trio of unlikely allies, it's a tribute to Honda's ability to capture an audience" while noting that the dubbing in the film was "as usual, atrocious."
From retrospective reviews, the American version was reviewed by Leonard Maltin who gave the film two and a half stars, calling it "one of the better Toho monster rallies”. Phil Hardy's book Science Fiction noted that the film's visual effects "are better than usual and the cast includes Okada (Mistakenly believing actor Eiji Okada to be in the film), best known for his performance in Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), as well as the brilliant Shimura, star of Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952)." Slant Magazine awarded the film three stars out of four and stated that the film "embodies much of what the popular monster films have come to be known for over the years: reptilian wrestling matches on a citywide scale, human drama paralleling the monster threat, rubbery creature effects, and the gleeful destruction of many a miniature architectural set piece."
Film historian August Ragone called the monster effects "somewhat uneven," but added that "Tsuburaya still delivers a punch with the production's bountiful visual effects."
Den of Geek ranked the film at number two in their 2019 ranking of the Shōwa Godzilla films, calling it a "superb entry" and describing the battle sequences as "classic." Screen Rant ranked it at number six on their list of the "Best Kaiju Movies Featuring Mothra", calling it "one of the wackier plots to meet the history of kaiju cinema." Collider ranked the film number four on their Shōwa Godzilla list in 2022, stating, "there’s a nice balance here between presenting the monsters as genuine threats and having fun with their antics, probably the best such mix of the Shōwa era."
In 1983, Toho released the film on VHS, and followed it with a LaserDisc release two years later. In 1992, the Champion festival cut was released in a LaserDisc box set. In 2001, the film was released on DVD. In 2005, Toho included the film on the Godzilla Final Box DVD Set. In 2010, the film was released on Blu-ray.
In 2008, Toho remastered the film in High-definition and premiered it on the Japanese Movie Speciality Channel, along with the rest of the Godzilla films also remastered in HD. In 2021, Toho premiered a 4K remaster of the film on the Nippon Classic Movie Channel, along with seven other Godzilla films also remastered in 4K. The film was downscaled to 2K for broadcast.
In 1988, the American version was released on VHS by Video Treasures. In 2004, the American version was unofficially released on DVD, bootlegged by CineVu. In 2007, Classic Media released the film on DVD in North America, along with other Godzilla titles. This release included the remastered, widescreen versions of the Japanese and American versions, as well as a biography on Eiji Tsuburaya, image galleries, promotional material, and an audio commentary by David Kalat.
In 2017, Janus Films and the Criterion Collection acquired the film, as well as other Godzilla titles, to stream on Starz and FilmStruck. In 2019, the Japanese version was included in a Blu-ray box set released by the Criterion Collection, which included all 15 films from the franchise's Shōwa era. In May 2020, the Japanese version became available on HBO Max upon its launch.
The film marks the debut of King Ghidorah, a recurring antagonist of the Godzilla franchise. Ragone described King Ghidorah as "one of the most famous and popular creations in the Toho canon." Don Kaye from Den of Geek echoed these sentiments, stating, "Ghidorah remains a formidable enemy, which is why his debut is still one of the best-remembered entries in the series." The film was also the turning point in Godzilla's transformation from villain to hero, with Godzilla taking on a radioactive superhero role. The film also marks the first ensemble between Godzilla and other established monster characters.
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