Spoiler alert: this article discusses the film in its entirety. If you don’t want to know how it ends, look away!
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a 1964 release by Toho. Directed by Ishirō Honda, it is the fifth film in the Godzilla series and features the first appearance of King Ghidorah. It also marks Godzilla’s transition from bad to good, sort of. The English language dub (the version I watched here) saw some minor storyline changes (nothing to worry yourself over), and for the US release the spelling was changed to Ghidrah (hence the screengrab above). This is probably my favourite Godzilla film to date, so I thought it should (finally) be the first I feature in a Kaiju Review.
The film begins at 2am with a UFO cult watching the skies for flying saucers. With them is Naoko, a TV journalist working on a show called Mysteries of the 20th Century. When the saucers fail to turn up the cult blame Naoko for her cynical thoughts: “The flying saucer people are obviously on guard against the unbeliever.” It’s January, we’re in the middle of a heatwave, and one of the cult members hopes that the saucer people can explain what’s going on. Suddenly a lady thinks she spots one through her telescope. It turns out to be a meteor shower, one of which lands in the mountains.
Cut to police headquarters, where Detective Shindo is informed of his latest assignment – guarding Princess Selina Salno of the Himalayan kingdom of Selgina. She’s due to visit Japan after the recent assassination of her father, and Detective Shindo needs to keep her safe before she is crowned queen. There’s a rumour that she’ll be assassinated next. If this happens, we’re told, the country might “go the other way”.
Meanwhile, in Selgina we’re in “His Excellency’s” office as he asks his assistant Malness if the Princess boarded the plane, and also did he put a bomb on-board. Yes, responds Malness to both questions. On the plane the princess observes a flashing light from her window. The light hypnotises her and tells her to leave the plane. She does precisely this, opening the door and stepping out (as you do). Seconds later the plane explodes.
We join Professor Murai and his team out in the mountains to locate the meteor. After a long walk, during which they notice their compasses are giving off false readings, they discover the meteor and decide to camp. The meteor has strange properties, at times becoming extremely magnetic.
Back at police HQ and Detective Shindo tells his chief that he went to the airport but the princess wasn’t there. His chief says that’s because the plane blew up so he won’t be needed after all. Wow, break it to him gently why don’t you?
Naoko is informed of a prophetess proclaiming prophecies in the city. Armed with a tape recorder she rushes off to see if she can get an interview. The crowd are initially mocking in their reaction to the prophetess, who warns that the planet is on the brink of destruction. The prophetess also claims to be a Martian. Some of the crowd persist in cracking jokes, but Naoko asks what’s going to happen. The prophetess explains how the destruction will begin – first there will be a tragic accident in the mountains.
At the meteor Professor Murai discovers that its magnetic properties have vanished, but it is getting hotter and hotter. And bigger. Cue some brilliantly clunky dialogue, which I’d like to believe is a faithful translation of the Japanese original:
“I think it’s getting bigger, isn’t it? It wasn’t so big before.”
“It’s not a balloon. How could it swell up?”
Naoko and Detective Shindo (oh, they’re brother and sister by the way. Does this plot feel thrown together? It’s not just me is it?) are having dinner with their mother and watching a TV show called What Are They Doing Now?, which looks at what former celebrities are up to. The presenters bring on two young boys who request to see Mothra again. The presenters sadly don’t have the giant moth (imagine that episode of Surprise Surprise) but do have the Shobijin, the fairy twins from Infant Island who can communicate telepathically with Mothra.
One of the boys asks how Mothra is. The fairies explain that the old Mothra died, but the baby one (more of a caterpillar then) is alive and well, and keeping peace on the island. The fairies sing the Mothra song and we get a sequence showing baby Mothra being worshipped by the island’s inhabitants.
Detective Shindo is not at all impressed by this show so goes to read his newspaper. Spotting an article about the prophetess he realises that she looks exactly like the princess he was assigned to guard. He shows the picture to his boss, who agrees they’re similar but says that the princess wears a royal bracelet at all times, while this preaching woman isn’t. Detective Shindo says she could have taken it off. You can see how he got to be a detective. He thinks they should pick her up, but the chief replies that it’s not a crime to practice demagoguery. So Detective Shindo offers to guard her, strictly unofficially. The chief readily agrees.
Back in Selgina His Excellency, who it turns out is Selina’s uncle, learns of her survival. He orders Malness (as his best assassin) to travel to Japan, dispose of the Princess and steal the golden bracelet. I’m wondering if Malness only accepts so he’ll have an excuse not to wear that wonderful collar:
Police HQ again, and Detective Shindo’s colleague comes in with the royal bracelet, which an old fisherman was trying to sell to an antique dealer. They interview the fisherman who reveals that he was out in his boat when he happened across the princess floating on the water like a cork, and that she gave him the bracelet in exchange for his clothes. Detective Shindo and his colleague can’t understand how the princess survived the exploding plane, but they find a man who can:
It’s all to do with the curvature of space, he says, spinning a globe. The area around a globe such as ours is composed of different dimensions, he says, and the force of the plane’s explosion created a gap between these dimensions. Fortunately for the princess, she fell into it.
The next day Naoko is trailing someone when Detective Shindo catches up with her. They go for a drink and Professor Murai joins them and tells them about the meteor. A news report shows the prophesying princess at Mount Aso (actually a volcano), warning everybody to leave immediately because they are in great danger. She says that Rodan is buried beneath the crust. The crowd again aren’t particularly sympathetic to her, but soon run off screaming when Rodan breaks free.
The fairy twins are preparing to sail back to Infant Island. Naoko asks them about Godzilla and Rodan and they reply that both will soon come back. As the ship prepares to leave the princess turns up and says they must not sail: “You will all die if the boat sails today.” Naoko persuades the princess to come with her, and the fairy twins secretly follow.
Back in the mountains the meteor is getting bigger again. Cue more clunktastic dialogue:
“Professor, look, it’s getting bigger again.”
“Yes, according to these figures it’s bigger than it was before.”
Naoko takes the princess to a hotel that she uses for interviews. The manager, seeing how the princess is dressed, sneers, “You’re doing a report on vagabonds now I see.” As Naoko takes Princess Selina to their room we spy Malness and his henchmen waiting to make their move. They’re unsure if it really is the princess because she doesn’t appear to recognise them as she enters the room:
Inside the room Princess Selina senses that they’re not alone. She moves a bag on the bed to reveal the fairy twins. The twins explain that they decided to stay after the princess made her warning earlier. The princess now explains that the boat will be sunk by none other than Godzilla. Cut to the boat. Godzilla surfaces nearby and, annoyed by the sight of Rodan flying overhead, uses his atomic breath to blow the boat up. A bit random, but that’s Godzilla for you (mind, in the Japanese version Rodan doesn’t appear at this point – Godzilla just blows up the boat for kicks):
Detective Shindo turns up at the hotel, so Naoko goes down to meet him. The henchmen take this opportunity to make their move and confront the princess. After gaining entry to the room Malness asks her if she recognises him. “Are you a Martian too?” she replies. She tells them to leave, but Malness holds a knife to her throat – and tells her it’s the knife that he killed her father with. The fairy twins look on from behind a mirror:
Downstairs in the lobby Detective Shindo explains to Naoko that the prophetess and the princess are the same woman. He grabs the door key and starts to go up to the room. “Give me that key or I’ll call the police,” threatens Naoko as she runs after him. “I am the police,” says Detective Shindo. “I don’t want to have to arrest you.” He convinces Naoko that he just wants to protect the princess.
The princess maintains she is a Martian, but that she did have a bracelet and gave it away to a fisherman. As Malness prepares to stab her, the fairy twins turn off the lights. Detective Shindo opens the door to the room, and the twins shout a warning to him. Several shots are fired and the door swings shut. Naoko decides to trigger the fire alarm with her heel, and when Detective Shindo bursts into the room the henchmen have escaped through the window. Princess Selina is discovered hiding in the fireplace. With the princess still claiming to be a Martian it is decided that she must be insane, so they take her to see the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Tsukamoto.
Back in the mountains the science team are sleeping in their tent when a noise wakes them. The meteor is glowing and explosions are going off. Suddenly the meteor splits open and out emerges Ghidorah:
The next day, at Dr. Tsukamoto’s laboratory, tests are under way to see what’s wrong with Princess Selina. Tsukamoto concludes that she’s absolutely fine, and as to whether or not she really is a Martian, well, he has a new hypnotic drug that might help get to the bottom of all of this. Selina suddenly stands up and asks why nobody has paid heed to her warning. “The entire human race will perish from the earth,” she says. She now reveals her final prophecy – that Ghidorah will bring destruction to the planet, just as he did centuries ago on Mars.
We cut to a police car driving along warning the citizens to evacuate as Ghidorah flies overhead smashing things up. To add to the city’s woes a news report announces that Godzilla and Rodan are also on their way. While all this is going on the fairy twins meet with the Japanese government and explain that although Mothra is only a little caterpillar they think that if Mothra, Rodan and Godzilla co-operate then Ghidorah can be defeated. “Who can persuade them to co-operate?” is the obvious question. “Mothra might,” reply the twins. “If we ask him he will.” (I know Mothra’s female – she lays eggs – but that’s what the dub says here…) While they sing the Mothra-summoning song Ghidorah continues to fly over Tokyo, blasting things to pieces:
In the countryside Godzilla and Rodan are busy having a fight, while back at Tsukamoto’s lab Princess Selina is under the influence of the hypnotic drug. She insists that she is a Martian, and explains that a handful of Martians escaped to Earth when Ghidorah destroyed life on their planet several millennia ago. They became Earthlings, and while their highly developed minds degenerated they did retain one ability: the power to tell what the future holds. Detective Shindo and Tsukamoto, naturally, seem a bit fazed by this.
Outside the laboratory Malness and his crew have arrived. They’re going to finish off the princess once and for all, but when they discover that Tsukamoto is considering shock treatment on Selina they decide that electricity can do their job for them. Under Tsukamoto’s instruction Detective Shindo sets the voltage to 500, but Malness sneaks in to increase it to 3000 so that Selina’s brain will be fried. As Tsukamoto prepares to deliver the shock, however, the power cuts out – back in the countryside Rodan had picked Godzilla up and dropped him from height right on to a pylon, snapping the power lines:
Detective Shindo goes to check why the power went out, and a gun fight ensues as Malness and his men try to finish off the princess. Eventually the baddies make their escape in their car. Godzilla and Rodan, meanwhile, are hurling insults at each other. After a few exchanges Godzilla starts hurling an assortment of boulders instead. Mothra arrives and tries to get them to stop but they keep fighting anyway. A bit of boulder tennis takes place and a rather lovely volley ensues. Mothra watches for a bit, then decides enough is enough and starts spraying Godzilla with silk. Rodan laughs at this, but soon stops as Mothra sprays silk at him too:
Naoko and the twins turn up, and along with Detective Shindo they look on as Mothra asks Godzilla and Rodan to co-operate in defeating Ghidorah. The fairies translate the various roars and shrieks: “He’s trying to persuade them, but he’s having trouble. They won’t agree.” According to Rodan it’s none of their business if the earth perishes, a view Godzilla fully agrees with. Rodan says he’ll just fly away, while Godzilla thinks they “have no reason to try to save mankind.”
We cut to the henchmen as they make their escape by car. Ghidorah flies over and causes an avalanche. The car is crushed and only Malness manages to escape.
Godzilla and Rodan can agree on only two things: that they don’t care about humans, and that they want to continue their fight. Mothra continues in her attempts to persuade them, and the fairy twins continue to translate – at one point admonishing Godzilla for using terrible language. Mothra eventually decides it’s no use and crawls off to fight Ghidorah alone.
At first this seems like a terrible move as Ghidorah blasts Mothra over and over, but suddenly Godzilla and Rodan turn up. Seems like they hate Ghidorah more than they do humans, or perhaps Mothra’s bravery (or stupidity) impressed them. Things start badly as Ghidorah throws Godzilla, destroying a railway bridge. Rodan then flies past and Ghidorah takes off in pursuit. Rodan pulls off an impressive 180 and flies head first into Ghidorah, and they’re both sent crashing to the ground. Rodan hides behind a boulder as Ghidorah fires some rays:
Cut to the princess, on the mountainside. She’s standing in the open calling for the planet to be saved. Malness, from a vantage point above, shoots at her. Luckily he only wounds her, and as Detective Shindo tends to her he discovers that she no longer believes she’s a Martian. Malness shoots Detective Shindo’s gun away, but before he can take another shot, a stray blast from Ghidorah (who seconds before blasts Godzilla in the crotch) buries the assassin under a second avalanche.
Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra finally learn the values of teamwork – as Godzilla keeps Ghidorah distracted Mothra climbs on Rodan’s back and they take off together so that Mothra can spray silk on Ghidorah:
Godzilla grabs hold of Ghidorah’s tails while Mothra continues the spraying. Covered heavily in silk, Ghidorah decides enough is enough and, after being thrown about by Godzilla, decides to leave and flies off into space:
With the planet saved and the henchmen all killed, Princess Selina can finally return to Selgina. Naoko is interviewing her and asks for some final words. “Is it really true that I called myself a Martian?” the princess asks. She also wonders if she’ll ever regain the Martian instinct for prophecy. Tsukamoto is sad because the answer is beyond human knowledge. The twins are also leaving, with Mothra, to return to Infant Island. They say goodbye to Rodan and Godzilla, who both seem a bit put out by the whole thing. Ghidorah’s gone, their rage is gone. No fighting. What a rum do. The end.
20 December 1964.