In 1964, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA was released in Japan and around the world to good box office numbers and soon became one of the most popular entries in this series. Picking up on the monster-battling-monster theme which began as early as 1955 (GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN) and really coming into its own in 1962 (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA), this 1964 monster fest revives not only Godzilla, Rodan (not seen since his 1956 film), and Mothra, but also introduces one of Godzilla’s most popular foes, the three-headed dragon from outer space, King Ghidorah. As part of their Godzilla DVD series, Classic Media has released both the Japanese and American versions of this well remembered “kaiju” (monster) classic.
Strange events are occurring throughout Japan: a meteorite crashes to Earth during a mysterious January heat wave and lodges itself in the hills of Northern Japan. At the same time, beautiful Princess Selina Salno (Akikko Wakabayashi), from a small Himalayan country, is en route to Japan when an assassin’s bomb blows her aircraft out of the sky just as she hears a strange voice telling her to flee the airplane. Soon afterward, a ragged vagabond resembling the princess is seen throughout Tokyo offering the public strange prophecies which soon come true. These include the appearances of Rodan (still encased in his volcanic tomb as per the ending of his original film) and Godzilla (still languishing in the ocean after his titanic battle with Mothra in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA).
Eventually, the meteorite hatches (in a spectacular special effects display) and out pops a giant, lightening-bolt spewing, three-headed dragon (with two tails) which goes on a devastating rampage throughout Tokyo. In an effort to save Japan, the twin fairies of Infant Island (Yumi Ito and Emi Ito) call on Mothra (in larva form) to help. When the valiant, but too small larva cannot defend itself, Godzilla and Rodan come to its assistance in a special effects fest by the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya and effects team.
GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER is the fifth film of the Godzilla series and it is notable for several reasons. For one thing, it features the first appearance of the titular monster whom would prove to be one of Godzilla’s most popular foes. In fact, many kaiju-eiga (monster film) fans easily rate Ghidorah as the second most popular monster under Godzilla. The Ghidorah costume is beautifully designed as a combination winged dragon/serpent complete with a high-pitched, cackling-like roar.
Another significant aspect of GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER is the transformations of both Godzilla and Rodan from evil rampaging monsters to chief defenders of the earth by the last act of the film. The two monsters even have a chance to play broad comedy as evidenced by the somewhat hilarious battle scene in which they play volleyball with a huge boulder. As the Godzilla character became more and more identifiable to children, Eiji Tsuburaya deliberately made the decision to soften his image from the soulless murder machine in the 1954 original to the almost completely humanized good guy of 1967’s SON OF GODZILLA. Even to this day, it was a decision with which not all Japanese monster movie fans agreed.
Though the monsters are the star attractions in this film, the human cast is once again loaded with Toho’s top talent. Yosuke Natsuki is good and enthusiastic as Inspector Shindo and he previously appeared in 1964’s DOGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER and would later appear as a scientist in GODZILLA 1985. Yuriko Hoshi as Shindo’s sister, Naoko, is absolutely adorable as the perky reporter and she and Natsuki have some cute scenes of light comedy. Miss Hoshi also appeared in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. Hiroshi Koizumi makes his seventh appearance in a Toho monster film (the others were GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, MOTHRA, MATANGO, ATRAGON, DAGORA, and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA) as Professor Murai. The great actor of many Kurosawa films, Takashi Shimura, also returns for this production as Dr. Tsukamoto. Genre fans will remember him from 1954’s GODZILLA, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, MOTHRA, THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD and FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Akikko Wakabayashi as Princess Salno previously appeared in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and DOGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER. She would later appear in Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli’s 1967 James Bond film, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (along with fellow Toho genre film veteran, Mie Hama). Familiar faces like Akihiko Hirata and Kenji Sahara also make guest appearances throughout.
This fourth installment of Classic Media’s Godzilla series is extremely well done (like the other titles) with the best transfer being on the Japanese language version. The Japanese version is very crisp and clear with excellent audio. Apparently, it was taken from the same negative used for Toho’s own Japanese DVD release. The transfer is 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and runs an uncut 92 minutes with very clear subtitles. In addition, fans can hear the original Akira Ifukubie score intact before it became an unfortunate victim of editing in the American version. As for the American version, it is the same dubbed version prepared by Joe Bellucci for the 1965 Continental Films release (on a double bill with Elvis Presley’s HARUM SCARUM). The color on this American transfer is excellent, but just a tad below the quality of the Japanese version. The picture is also 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with sound in 2.0 mono. This version runs 85 minutes.
Included on the disc is a great audio commentary by author David Kalat and his comments are enthusiastic, informative and extremely in depth. He offers a very scholarly take on the classic Japanese monster films of the 1960s and any genre film will appreciate just how seriously and lovingly he takes these films. In addition to the commentary, other special features include a seven minute documentary called “The Father of Godzilla—Eiji Tsuburaya” narrated by Ed Godziszewski and edited by Bill Gudmundson. Also, there is a Japanese trailer and an image gallery as well as coming attractions for the two remaining titles scheduled for release later in 2007 by Classic Media (GODZILLA’S REVENGE and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA).
Overall, Classic Media has done a great job in its presentation of GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER. After years of horrible pan and scan VHS tapes and bootleg DVDs of this title, genre fans can finally have the definitive edition to add to their collections. (Joe Cascio)
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