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Between Godzilla, King of the Monsters (Gojira, 1954) and his next foray into what Japanese moviegoers recognized as kaiju eig ("monster movies"), director Ishirô Honda made a number of films in various genres, from the equally fantastic Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman (Ju jin yuki otoko, 1955) to the light comedy Crybaby (Oen-san, 1955). With the success in America in 1956 of a dubbed version of Godzilla (boasting new footage of Raymond Burr as a concerned journalist caught in the backdraft of Godzilla's wrath) -the first Japanese movie to play mainstream movie houses in the U.S. - Honda was pressed back into the business of monster-making.
Rodan (Sora no Dai kaiju Radon, 1956) was Honda's first film in color but echoed the somber tone of Godzilla, leavening the mixture with a dash of compassion for the behemoths making hash of Japanese real estate values. An obvious influence on the script by Takeshi Kimura was Warner Brothers' Them! (1954) and Kimura sets several early scenes in Rodan deep in moist subterranean lairs where horrific grub-like creatures are spawned; an equally likely influence on Rodan was the George Pal-produced When Worlds Collide (1951), which offered a scale model simulacrum of the end of the world in glorious Technicolor - a recipe for destruction that would recur in a number of kaiju eiga throughout Japan's Golden Age of Monsters.
For the role of Rodan's engineer hero, Honda promoted a young actor from the Toho Film talent school. Tadashi Ishihara had won a magazine-sponsored modeling contest and was an extra in both Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai, 1954) and Godzilla before adopting the stage name Kenji Sahara. Sahara and his 20 year-old costar Yumi Shirakawa were touted in publicity releases for Rodan as "Toho's Great Hope for 1957." They were paired twice more by Honda, in The Mysterians (Chikyû Bôeigun, 1957) and The H-Man (Bijo Ekitainingen, 1958). While Sahara continued in mostly genre fare, such as Attack of the Mushroom People (Matango, 1963) and The War of the Gargantuas (Furankenshutain no kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira, 1968), Shirakawa graduated to a role in Yasujirô Ozu's award-winning The End of Summer (Kohayagawa-ke no aki, 1961) and enjoyed a long and varied career.
Hidden under the latex Rodan suit is Haruo Nakajima, one of a pair of "suitmation" performers who had stomped the terra as Godzilla two years earlier. Suspended by wires from the ceiling of a Toho soundstage, Nakajima endured a number of bruising falls during production of Rodan, from heights as low as three feet and as high as twenty-five. The veteran stuntman and martial artist would continue to ply his punishing trade, appearing as such big box behemoths as Gigan, Varan, Baragon and King Kong, and would don the Godzilla suit eleven more times before his 1972 retirement (prompted as much by encroaching age as by the death of Japanese special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya two years earlier). Nakajima never again appeared as Rodan, despite the super-sized pteranodon's presence in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen, 1964), Monster Zero (Kaiju daisensô, 1965) and Destroy All Monsters (Kaiju sôshingeki, 1968), all directed by Ishirô Honda.
Rodan was imported to the United States by Alexander Beck and Eddie Goldman. The New York-based film buyers had paid $25,000 for the American rights to Godzilla, an investment that reaped a gargantuan dividend when they sold the property to Distributors Corporation of America for $500,000; the acquisition is estimated to have made $9-10 million in its American release. (Beck would later have a hand in the foreign sales of both John Carpenter's Halloween  and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th .) English dubbing for Rodan took place in a sound studio on the MGM lot in Culver City.
Top-loaded with stock footage attributing Rodan's rise to nuclear testing, the import also received end-to-end narration courtesy of Art Gilmore (who had had a small role in When Worlds Collide and was the narrator of the TV series Highway Patrol.) Paul Frees, the "Man of 1,000 Voices," did extensive looping for the American cut, supplying voices for dozens of characters, while Keye Luke ("No. 1 Son" to Warner Oland's Charlie Chan at Fox) dubbed Kenji Sahara.
The American cut of Rodan also provided an early credit for a young University of California-Berkley student spending the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at home in Los Angeles. Prompted by a trade paper ad placed by a vocal casting agent, a 20 year-old George Takei not only landed the dubbing gig on Rodan but was retained to provide voices for the sequel to Godzilla, King of the Monsters, Motoyoshi Oda's Gigantis, the Fire Monster (Gojira no gyakushû, 1955), released in the States in 1959 and retitled Godzilla Raids Again for TV. Takei went on to play various minor roles on TV and in films (many of them Japanese soldiers) until he got his big break, joining the cast of Gene Roddenberry's landmark sci-fi TV series Star Trek as Starship Enterprise helmsman Mr. Sulu.
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka; Frank King, Maurice King (US versions)
Director: Ishirô Honda
Screenplay: Takeshi Kimura, Takeo Murata (writers); Ken Kuronuma (story); David Duncan (U.S. version)
Cinematography: Isamu Ashida
Music: Akira Ifukube
Film Editing: Robert S. Eisen, Kôichi Iwashita
Cast: Kenji Sawara (Shigeru Kawamura, colliery engineer), Yumi Shirakawa (Kiyo, Shigeru's lover), Akihiko Hirata (Professor KYUichiro Kashiwagi), Akio Kobori (Police Chief Nishimura), Yasuko Nakata (Female Honeymooner), Minosuke Yamada (Colliery Chief Osaki), Yoshifumi Tajima (Izeki, reporter of Seibu Nippou), Kiyoharu Ohnaka (Male Honeymooner, Sunagawa's friend).
By Richard Harland Smith
Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo: The Incredible of Japanese Fantasy Films by Stuart Galbraith, IV (Feral House, 1998)
Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda by Peter H. Brothers (AuthorHouse, 2005)
A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Films by David Kalat (McFarland & Company, 1997)
Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G by Steve Ryfle (ECW Press, 1998)
"Horror Film Supermarket: From Godzilla to Mother's Day - Alexander Beck's wide world of exploitation" by David Everitt, Fangoria, issue 42, volume 3, 1985
George Takei interview by Connie Goodnow, http://conster74.users5.50megs.com/takei.html