Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, 1965. 8/10

Doesn’t Ghidorah sound like some kind of Maserati? A gypsy girl’s name? No, three-headed monsters puts us in the sweet-spot (mid-’60s) of Japanese sci-fi movies. Notice I didn’t say Golden/Classic era. This is representative of the explosion of the genre from a more mythic, archaic past, as in the first Godzilla and Rodan from the decade before.

Nevertheless, as Japanese filmmakers delved deeper into the prehistoric-monster-reborn-thanks-to-atomic-bomb phase, the monsters and plots ran amok, often cartoonishly so, but sometimes the mash-up was well-done. That’s the case with Ghidorah. The main characters (other than the monsters) are Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki), his girlfriend Naoko (Yuriko Hoshi), The Princess/Venusian (Akiko Wakabayashi), and Professor Miura (Hiroshi Kolzumi).

Superficially, the idea of making a monster into a good guy seems ridiculous, but it works to get kids into the audience. In that funny way that kids relate to powerful alter ego figures (The Lion King, the Frankenstein monster, etc.) a prehistoric dinosaur makes a cool friend. And, just so we don’t feel left out, there’s our surrogate monster insiders–the tiny singing girls from Mothra’s indigenous tribe.

Rather unbelievably, Ghidorah, who’s engendered from outer space, was toned-down (from a mythical eight-headed Japanese dragon. That tidbit thanks to TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz’s commentary on this film). Anyway, from the first moments, we learn: “You’ve got to admit, there’s a lot of strange things happening lately.” You bet. Like global warming it seems. Plus, a plot to assassinate a princess.”Sir, a UFO!” No, it’s a bunch of meteors.

We segue to the royal airplane (what a strange court she keeps). The princess is communicating somehow with an alien spacecraft. So, just like that, she steps out of the plane, presumably scooped up by the aliens. The plane explodes, and the UFO/another meteor zips into some mountains. So, on that spot, a meteorlike egg rests. Meanwhile, the police figure the princess has gone down with the plane. Very nutty scene with a lady giving some new-agey speech: of course, she’s from Venus. You might say the crowd is a bit sexist. As if to make up for that awkwardness, the next thing is in the kiddie zone–a TV game show. Featuring the tiny girls from Mothra’s lair, they get a request from some little boys to summon Mothra.

For all the cartoonish aspect of Mothra’s character, I’ve got to admit that it’s very original. So, while the girls are supposedly on a TV studio in Japan, what we see is them floating on a magic carpet (!) to Infant Island. Right into the midst of a native ritual, high priest and all, with that odd-ball song they have. There’s Mothra getting suited-up in the background. And then, just to cover all their bases, we’re soon back with the actual girls in the TV studio.

Of course, this noise eventuates into another discovery on the island, Rodan is back in business. Soon Godzilla does his requisite opening stunt: sneaking up on a freighter and sinking it. Some genius has figured out that the girl from Venus is also the princess. How’s that for a royal family? She’s been abducted by gangsters. Might as well use another genre while it’s available. She’s helped by the police (Detective Shindo), and the Mothra girls.

Meanwhile, Godzilla’s creating a distraction as he gets into Tokyo. And, shazam! here’s Rodan too. Needless to say, the authorities have their hands full. Weirdly, the Venusian girl is taken to a shrink. She explains about Ghidorah. “The earth’s end is imminent.” Rodan and Godzilla fight, thankfully in a remote area. Speaking of which, back on the island, the egg is cracking open. This gestation thing is unique, as the creature is at first a luminous fireball, who then morphs into the three-headed Ghidorah.

All kinds of destruction has already happened. “How will the Government deal with this crisis?” Good question “We’re doing our best.” Big deal. Meanwhile, more monster fighting, and pretty well-done at that. Next thing is both the Venusian girl and the Mothra’s girls appear at the Government meeting. Good idea, as the miniature girls have the only useful suggestion: that Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla ally against the alien monster, Ghidorah. So Mothra sets off on her mission.

The shrinks are still trying to figure out the Venusian girl. What I don’t get is the monster ‘alliance’: are they gonna sit down on a mountain or something and sign a treaty? Let’s not forget the gangsters–but what are they after? The Venusian girl. Godzilla and Rodan have gone twelve rounds by now. If there were creatures like that, then this is how they would fight. Only after a lot of action does it get funny, as they start playing handball with a boulder. Even then in never looks like two guys in funny suits or models or puppets. Mothra crawls up now.

There is indeed a monster summit meeting, with Mothra as the go-between. The tiny girls interpret for the humans. It’s vaguely similar to a bunch of mafia dons agreeing to fight together to protect their territory from a usurper. Seeing that Mothra will fight the much larger Ghidorah by itself, Godzilla and Rodan come to its defense. More cool action. Eventually, Mothra’s sticky webbing neutralizes Ghidorah. He’s last seen flying away over the ocean.

Meanwhile, the human gangsters almost wipe out the Princess, but Shindo defends her, and an avalanche crushes the bad guys. That’s pretty much it, except for a finishing press conference, featuring the Princess, who now realizes who she is.

Wow. This is incredibly entertaining, even though it’s mostly Godzilla and Rodan going at it until Mothra and Ghidorah come aboard later on. Four monsters, each very different looking, with different M.O.s, and, differing agendas as well. Plus, a sort of mirror-image of good v. evil on the human side–with the good guys (including the mysterious princess and Mothra girls) ranged against the gangsters.

The special effects are surprisingly effective. Some of the buildings are obviously simplified models, and some of the ships too. But, for the most part, this looks like structures and vehicles being destroyed by monsters. For example, when the gangster’s car gets destroyed by the avalanche, it’s a real Mercedes, not a toy car. The parallel structure between the monsters and human plots is fairly well-integrated. Given that we’ve bought into the panoply of monsters theme (owing to the ‘history’ of the earth-bound monsters), the suspension of disbelief isn’t betrayed.

A unexpectedly good movie. There’s so much going on that we have the paradoxical effect of tension and confusion without losing the simple anchoring device of good v. evil. Plus, there’s bad (Rodan, Godzilla) which can change into good, but then there’s evil, which can’t be bargained with. If you like anything about Japanese sci-fi monsters, you can’t lose with Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.

Farmermouse thought those tiny Infant Island girls were just about his size, so he’ll hide out with them until all the monsters pack it in. 8/10.

I’m not quite sure

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