Varan the Unbelievable

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For lizards from the family Varanidae, see Monitor lizard.
Varan the Unbelievable
Theatrical Japanese poster
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Ken Kuronuma (story)
Shinichi Sekizawa
Starring Kôzô Nomura
Ayumi Sonoda
Fumito Matsuo
Myron Healey (USA)
Tsuruko Kobayashi (USA)
Music by Akira Ifukube
Albert Glasser (USA)
Cinematography Hajime Koizumi
Teisho Arikawa
Jacques R. Marquette (USA)
Edited by Kazuji Taira
Rudolph Cusumano (USA)
Jack Ruggiero (USA)
Distributed by Toho
Crown International Pictures (USA)
Release dates
  • October 14, 1958 (1958-10-14)
Running time
87 min.
70 min. (USA)
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Varan the Unbelievable, released in Japan as Giant Monster Varan (大怪獣バラン Daikaijū Baran?), is a 1958 Japanese science fiction kaiju film directed by Ishirō Honda. The film focuses on Varan, a prehistoric creature reawakened by scientific experiments performed on the lake where Varan resides. The film stars Kôzô Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumito Matsuo, and Haruo Nakajima as Varan. The film is produced by Toho and features special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. It is also Toho's last Kaiju film to be shot in black-and-white.

Initially, the film was to be produced for American television, but the American producers backed out at the last minute. With most of the film already completed, Toho's crew filmed additional scenes, and it was released in Japanese theaters, but not before adapting the remaining spherical footage from the original production to anamorphic widescreen using a one-shot, SuperScope-like process called TohoPanScope. A reconstruction of the TV version is included on both the Japanese and American DVDs.

In 1962, Crown International Pictures released Varan the Unbelievable, a heavily re-edited American adaptation of the original Japanese film, Varan. While Varan the Unbelievable used some of the original Japanese footage, it mainly consisted of new footage shot exclusively for the film's North American release, which heavily altered the premise of the original Japanese version and featured American actor Myron Healey and other Japanese-American actors replacing the original actors from the Japanese version with new principal roles, a technique previously done in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, another film produced by Toho.

The 2005 subtitled DVD release of Daikaijū Baran, the original Japanese version, was titled Varan the Unbelievable on the front cover leading to confusion as to which version of the film (Japanese or American) was presented on the disc.


A rare species of butterfly native only in the Katanami River area of Japan is discovered by two Japanese students while vacationing in Siberia. In response, an expedition is dispatched to the Northwest Region (The Japanese Tibet) to study the butterflies in their native habitat.

While driving to the location, two researchers come across a village. They ask where the lake is but give no answer. The pair travel and come upon a lake and find the butterflies, but are mysteriously crushed by something that the police can only describe as "powerful." The nearby villagers of the Kitakami River insist that the deaths were a result of the wrath of their god Baradagi-Sanjin (Mountain God Baradagi).

Another expedition is then dispatched to the area. This time the investigation is funded by the film company "20th Century Mysteries Solved", an organization that seeks to uncover the truth behind the two deaths to report on it. Staff of the firm are reporters Motohiko Horiguchi and Yuriko Shinjo (Ayumi Sonoda), the sister of one of the men killed, and an entomologist named Dr. Kenji Uozaki (Kozo Namura) from the scientific community come along.

The expedition travels further inland and stumbles upon a village doing a ritualistic prayer to their mountain god. The priest of the village warns the travelers that their presence will make the monster angry. The warnings fall of deaf ears, though, and the problem escalates when Ken, a young local boy, runs out of the village after his dog. Kenji and Horiguchi return to the village to rally the locals to help them, telling them their beliefs are little more than superstition. The villagers, minus the priest, agree, and head toward the lake to rescue Ken. Once there, Ken, along with Yuriko, are discovered. Their reunion is cut short, though, by the monster Varan rising from the Kitakami River. The villagers flee back to their homes, but Varan gives chase. The aquatic monster enters the village, killing the priest who was guarding the entrance. The beast then proceeds to tear apart the huts inside. After the destruction, the monster retreats to his underwater lair.

Reports of the creature's existence are sent back to Tokyo, and the defense force is mobilized near Kitakami River to prepare for the beast's return. The nearby village is evacuated, as tanks and ground artillery units move into position. Shortly after the evacuation, the military begins releasing toxins into the river to drive the monster out.

The plan is a success, as Varan emerges from the water's surface. Phase two of the SDF's plan is put into operation, as tanks and artillery units began to unleash their destructive fury on the monster. The conventional weapons have no effect, though, and the military is forced to retreat. Amongst the confusion, Yuriko manages to get caught under a falling tree, placing her right in Varan's path. Kenji narrowly manages to save his colleague, though, and the two seek safety in a nearby cave. Varan pursues the two, reaching into the cavern with his claws. Luckily, the military intervenes, firing flares over the monster's head. Varan becomes attracted by the flares, and climbs a nearby mountain in order to get a closer look. Once at the peak, though, Varan raises his arms to reveal hidden flaps of skins. The creature then leaps from the mountain and glides off towards the sea.

Some time later, Varan's reign of terror continues as he capsizes a fishing boat not far from Tokyo's shores. The defense force then remobilizes, sending a squadron of jets to intercept the creature. The jets are met with little success, however, as Varan manages to destroy one of them that ventures to close to the water's surface. The monster submerges and continues his descent toward Tokyo. The military moves into phase two of their counterattack, deploying destroyers to the surrounding waters. Unfortunately, the ship's artillery has no effect against the creature.

Undiscouraged, the SDF quickly launches a third campaign to try and stop Varan's advancement, this time using mine sweepers to seal off Tokyo. The attack, like the rest, is met with failure, though. Out of options, the defense force again remobilizes its forces to the area around Tokyo bay, lining the water with landing-ships carrying rocket artillery vehicles and dispatching a battalion of tanks near Haneda airport. A large amount of Special Gunpowder, which they hope will have better success at destroying the monster, is also readied. Tokyo is then evacuated, as the military awaits the appearance of Varan.

Varan finally emerges from the water, ready to attack the Japanese mainland. The creature is immediately shelled by the surrounding forces, but that doesn't deter his advancement on land. Kenji drives a truck filled with Special Gunpowder to the runway of Haneda airport. Varan advances on the small vehicle, as Kenji escapes to a safe distance. With Varan directly over the truck, the detonate trigger is pulled, causing the monster to fall flat on his stomach. The SDF celebrates prematurely, though, as the beast rises from the attack seemingly unfazed, and begins an assault on his hind legs.

Flairs are once again deployed to try and attract the monster, while the defense force witnesses Varan eating one of the flares. A new plan is then hatched, as they prepare light bombs filled with the Special Gun Powder. The bombs are unleashed, as the monster eats two of them out of the night sky. Shortly after, the first bomb detonates, causing the monster to retreat back to the sea. The second detonates as the creature is underwater and the defense force declares the creature long gone.


US Version cast


Much stock footage from Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again was used mostly in close ups of buildings getting crushed and when the planes fight Varan. During the filming, suit actor Haruo Nakajima was injured by an explosives mishap and had to be replaced for the remainder of the shoot.[1]

US release[edit]

Crown International Pictures theatrical poster for the 1962 U.S release of Varan the Unbelievable.
  • A virtually new film was created, using American players for all significant dramatic scenes which now centered around an American military scientist Cmdr. James Bradley (Myron Healey) and his Japanese wife Anna conducting desalinization experiments in the salt water lake which awakened the monster. Except for the final scene, Daikaju Baran was represented only by its special effects, cut to accommodate the new script, and two or three brief incidental shots. Nothing was dubbed as there were no dialogue shots left to dub.
  • The entire music and sound tracks of Daikaiju Baran were replaced.
  • All footage showing Varan flying was removed in an attempt to make the monster more believable.
  • In the US version the name Varan is almost never spoken. Except for one Japanese language scene, involving a military radio transmission, the monster is instead referred to as "Obaki" (from "obake", a Japanese word for "monster").
  • Varan's attack on Tokyo was much shorter.


  1. ^ Lees, J.D. and Cerasini, Marc. (1998). The Official Godzilla Compendium Random House, p. 28.

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