Tuesday, August 26, 2008
GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964)
Toho's original color design for King Ghidorah.
GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER
San Daikaiju Chikyu Saidai-no Kessen, Toho, 1964, 85 minutes
Director ISHIRO HONDA • Visual Effects Director EIJI TSUBURAYA
"Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth" (the film's Japanese title) was planned to feature all three of their biggest monster stars, Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra, who would team up to fight a new, and extraterrestrial menace. With the aim to appeal to general audiences, the narrative takes on a fairy tale-style approach, and while it is far more light-hearted than MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, it rather compliments the Honda-Tsuburaya film that preceded it into theaters, DOGORA: THE SPACE MONSTER (all released the same year), although it features one of the greatest monsters in all cinema.
Shinichi Sekizawa's screenplay is more fantasy-oriented, centering on an Eastern princess (a descendant of aliens) marked for assassination, and written to appeal to a broader audience than the previous films. Honda said to the late Guy Tucker, "When I make a monster film, I never think that it will be for children. I want to imagine and express a story [to a wide audience], but it's always children who are the most interested." While the other monsters are portrayed fairly rigueur-du-jour during the most of the film, they suddenly become anthropomorphic, "I don't think that monsters should be comical characters, the audience is more entertained when [the monsters] strike fear in the hearts of the [human] characters." But, despite this, Honda effortlessly sweeps the audience into the story, with assured and swift direction.
Then, there’s the star of the film. Perhaps the most inspired creature the studio ever conceived, King Ghidorah was the idea of scenarist Sekizawa, who only described the monster as having "three heads, two tails, and a metallic roar like a bell." Akira Watanabe, whose sketches combined the mythical Yamata-no-Orochi from Japanese legend and traditional Chinese Dragons, were faithfully brought to life by the prosthetic crew in Toho’s Visual Effects Department, designed the realization of King Ghidorah. Early on, the triple threat was conceived to covered in a menacing crimson, while gold was favored by visual effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya. This was changed to a more colorful variation after the suit was completed, but eventually King Ghidorah was given back his more familiar — and iconic — shade of gold. This interplanetary invader created such an impact on audiences, that it has since remained one of the most popular monsters ever created by Toho.
Yosuke Natsuki (b.1936), who had just come off of Honda's DOGORA, top-lines the cast as Detective Shindo. A former model, Natsuki, was preened as one of Toho’s new, young leads, and made a number of films in the 1960s. But, he wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan, either, and starred in numerous popular television series, such as G-MEN ’75 (1975-82). Almost twenty years after GHIDRAH, Natsuki returned to the kaiju eiga with Koji Hashimoto’s THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (1984) and more recently in Minoru Kawasaki’s MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G-8 SUMMIT (2008) — he also provided the voice of Commander DEUS in ULTRASEVEN X (2007). Still quite active, the veteran actor recently scored important roles in François Rotger’s THE PASSENGER (2005) and Shunichi Nagasaki’s BLACK BELT (2007).
The spunky, and very in-demand, Yuriko Hoshi (WARRING CLANS) stars as Shindo's sister, Naoko, an investigative reporter for a series called "Mysteries of the 20th Century." Ozu regular, Hiroshi Koizumi (DAUGHTERS, WIVES AND A MOTHER), once again plays the scientist, a geologist named "Professor Murai" (both actors seemingly carried over from their similar roles in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA). The beautiful Akiko Wakabayashi (BANDITS ON THE WIND) plays the unifying character, "Princess Salno," who went on to appear in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967). Her only starring role was in Luigi Filippo D'Amico’s AKIKO (1961). Originally, the assassin "Malmess" was to be played by actor Yoshio Tsuchiya (FUNERAL PROCESSION OF ROSES), but was held up on the lagging production of Akira Kurosawa's RED BEARD, and was replaced by character actor Hisaya Ito (A WOMAN’S LIFE).
Many of Tsuburaya's visual effects for the picture are thrilling, such as the birth of King Ghidorah, its awesome destruction of Yokohama and Tokyo, and the first battle between Godzilla and Rodan. His work here is as good as seen in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA — with fantastic long shots of Godzilla and Rodan engaged in mortal combat — until battle reaches the slopes of Mt. Fuji. Here, the scenes between Godzilla and Rodan become static and stagey, oddly juxtaposed with fantastic shots of King Ghidorah’s wonton rampage, until Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra unite to drive off the interloper. The difference is somewhat jarring from the first half of the film, but Tsuburaya believed that this humanizing of the monsters would win over audiences.
Honda said, "I was hesitant to let Mothra act as the mediator... I felt that the monsters... were far too humanized." While the increasing anthropomorphic behavior of the colossi in the last quarter of the film seems to lower the bar that was set with MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA — it still doesn’t lower the entertainment value as a whole. Carried along by Maestro Akira Ifukube's wonderful fairy tale score (including a memorable song from The Peanuts), the visual treats of Tsuburaya, and the magnificence of King Ghidorah, GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (the film's US title), is not only a memorable entry in the series, but also one of the most entertaining films of the kaiju eiga.
Executive Producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA Screenplay SHINICHI SEKIZAWA Production Design TAKEO KITA Cinematography HAJIME KOIZUMI Music AKIRA IFUKUBE Visual Effects Production Design AKIRA WATANABE Visual Effects Photography SADAMASA ARIKAWA [US Version] Additional Music and Sound Effects FILMSCORES INC. English Dialogue JOE BELLUCI Post-production Consultant RAY ANGUS
Starring YOSUKE NATSUKI (Detective Shindo) YURIKO HOSHI (Naoko Shindo) HIROSHI KOIZUMI (Professor Murai) AKIKO WAKABAYASHI (Princess Salno) HISAYA ITO (Malmess) AKIHIKO HIRATA (Chief Detective Okita) THE PEANUTS: EMI and YUMI ITO (The Little Beauties) and TAKASHI SHIMURA (Dr. Tsukamoto)