Cast & Crew
A meteorite crashes in the mountains of Japan, and scientists rush to examine it, while the country prepares for the arrival of a foreign princess. The plane carrying Princess Salno is blown up in midair, but later she mysteriously appears in Tokyo, claiming that she has come from Mars to warn the world of danger. Naoko, a woman reporter, befriends the princess; and Naoko's brother, police detective Shindo, saves Princess Salno from assassins. Meanwhile, the meteorite bursts open; and Ghidrah, a three-headed monster, emerges and begins wreaking havoc over the countryside. In desperation officials summon the monsters Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla to combat this new menace. After a destructive battle the three monsters defeat Ghidrah.
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster
The fifth feature attraction starring producer Tomoyuki Tanaka's Godzilla made its Tokyo debut in 1964 as San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen (literally: "Three giant monsters: Earth's greatest battle"). The "battle" is a four-way monster bash between Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and a fanciful new alien creature named King Ghidorah. With the name shortened for American marquees, the dubbed version entitled Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster arrived in the U.S. about a year later, at the height of a national movie monster craze. Three hundred feet tall and covered in sharp golden scales, Godzilla's exciting new monster foe was an instant success in both countries.
Ghidorah takes the Godzilla franchise over the line into anything-goes fantasy. For the first time, Japan's military defenders don't even bother to oppose the monsters, and instead just monitor their activities. Ghidorah arrives on earth inside a magnetic meteor, and makes its gaudy entrance in a burst of animated fire, like the mythical phoenix. The three returning beasts soon exhibit fully anthropomorphic personalities -- they even talk to each other. The original twin "Shobijin" fairies from Mothra (Emi & Yûmi Ito) encourage the monsters to join forces to oppose the extraterrestrial menace Ghidorah. The tiny twins also use their telepathic talents to translate the conversations between the Earth monsters, providing a running commentary on their feelings: "Mothra says, 'Don't Fight! Let's work together!'"
Instead of merely watching the battle from the sidelines, writer Shinichi Sekizawa's human characters take an active role in the proceedings. An airplane carrying the exotic Princess Mas Selina Salno of Sergina (Akiko Wakabayashi) is destroyed in a mid-air explosion. But Selina mysteriously reappears dressed in a fisherman's clothing. Claiming to be a prophet from Venus (Mars in the U.S. version), she predicts the imminent attack of a space monster called King Ghidorah. Psychiatrist Dr. Tsukamoto (Takashi Shimura of Akira Kurosawa film fame) determines that Princess Salina is the descendant of ancient Venusians with psychic powers, and that her unconscious alien identity has come to the surface. The motif of psychic female characters that empathize and communicate with giant monsters will recur in various forms throughout the rest of the Godzilla franchise.
The explosion of the plane was actually an assassination attempt by Serginian dissidents, and Sekizawa's human characters protect the Princess Selina from subsequent murder attempts. Reporter Naoko (Yuriko Hoshi) and young scientist Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi) take charge of the Shobijin and witness a spectacular monster battle. Naoko's detective brother Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) becomes the respectful bodyguard of the elegant princess. The resolution of their relationship appears to be modeled after the finale of the romantic 1953 Hollywood classic Roman Holiday.
Ghidorah's outlandish design required all the skills of Toho's accomplished monster makers. Supreme effects expert Eiji Tsuburaya oversaw tokusatsu "special camera" work on all of Tanaka's fantastic films, and was also in charge of visualizing the wild monsters dreamed up by the producer and his writers. The new creation Ghidorah has three snake-like heads, two tails and a pair of wings. The monster required a small squadron of puppeteers to keep all seven of those appendages in motion, on the ground and also when the creature flies through the air. Tsuburaya's camera skills are put to the test hiding the many wires working in these shots; it's a miracle that so few are visible. Another wrinkle to be taken into consideration is the fact that Ghidorah has no arms, which made it difficult for the actor inside the suit (almost always the stalwart Haruo Nakajima) to maintain his balance. Godzilla-philes point to a multi-headed dragon in the Toshiro Mifune pirate movie The Three Treasures (1959) as a likely inspiration for Ghidorah. It's equally possible that Sekizawa and Tsuburaya were influenced by Ray Harryhausen's impressive seven-headed Hydra in the previous year's Jason and the Argonauts (1963).
After ten years of refinements by Eiji Tsuburaya's effects shop, the newest Godzilla suit allowed the actor inside to mime a variety of broad character gestures. A new radio control device was installed to enable Godzilla's eyes to move in their sockets. When all four monsters are on screen simultaneously, the effects stage at Toho must have been pandemonium. Mothra and Rodan fly through scenes. Godzilla roasts Ghidorah with his radioactive breath and Mothra shoots sticky silk to wrap the space invader in a tight cocoon. With the addition of live explosions motivated by the "gravity beam" rays emitted by Ghidorah's three heads Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster fills the wide Tohoscope frame with frenetic giant monster combat.
Ghidorah scribe Shinichi Sekizawa started his film career in animation before writing and directing a Shintoho science fiction thriller called "Fearful Attack of the Flying Saucer". Brought to Toho for 1958's Varan (released in the U.S. in 1962 as Varan the Unbelievable), Sekizawa thought that the Godzilla films were great fun and should be enjoyed as such. Toho's other notable fantasy screenwriter, Takeshi Kimura, was said to favor a serious approach and wanted to introduce political values to the series. Many of Sekizawa's scripts were lighter in tone, while Kimura stressed eerie mystery (The H-Man ), fateful tragedy (Rodan , The Human Vapor , The Last War ) and outright horror (Matango ). Sekizawa preferred his monsters to be heroic, protecting the Earth even as the humans fight among themselves. He was reportedly active in the practical end of the filmmaking as well, urging that the Godzilla suits be redesigned to allow the monster to become even more of an action hero.
The Toho Studio of 1964 was an enormous movie factory turning out a wide range of product. Monster fantasies were at their peak, with several projects in production simultaneously. The disciplined and organized Ishirô Honda had directed almost all of these pictures since the original Gojira. He handled all of the live action scenes for Ghidorah and the concurrent project Dagora, the Space Monster , while Eiji Tsuburaya's team worked long shifts on the enormous miniature stages, turning out several elaborate special effects pictures every year. No other studio ever committed to miniature effects filmmaking on such a large scale.
Informed Godzilla fans frequently debate the change of direction toward outright cartoonish fantasy begun in earnest in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Rodan and Godzilla bicker like spoiled children before rallying as a team to combat Ghidorah. Rodan lifts Mothra into the air, the better to direct the giant larva's silken stream at the gold-plated alien. Some of the action is unabashed slapstick comedy. Godzilla and Rodan seemingly play badminton with large boulders. Ghidorah's spastic energy rays blast Godzilla in the tail, causing him to jump like one of the Three Stooges. This buffoonery would multiply in succeeding pictures. Godzilla dances a giddy victory jig in his next appearance, and not long afterward sires a goofy offspring named Minilla. The stubbly little beast looks a bit like a marshmallow. In place of atomic breath, it puffs cute circular smoke rings.
The American version of Ghidorah trims some scenes and rearranges others, and is a full twelve minutes shorter. The U.S. distributor Continental did a reasonable job of redubbing the film in English, but unfortunately eliminated quite a few of Akira Ifukube's distinctive original soundtrack cues. Toho soon tried for a bigger share of the American box office by making co-production deals with Hollywood studios American-International and Universal, as well as some independents. Subsequent monster romps would import American actors Nick Adams and Russ Tamblyn to film in Japan. For the 1969 underwater fantasy Latitude Zero Ishiró Honda directed an almost all-Anglo cast top-lined by Joseph Cotten and Cesar Romero. Soon after the release of Ghidorah, Eiji Tsuburaya started his own company to create new monster fare for television. He would continue to serve as a supervisor on Toho's effects films until shortly before his death in 1970. Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima retired in 1972, but decades later he has become a familiar star attraction at fan conventions.
The space monster Ghidorah would return almost immediately for a major rematch in Kaijû daisensô, known in America as both Invasion of the Astro-Monster and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (both released in 1965). He's made frequent returns to fight Godzilla, and underwent major redesigns in some of the newest films. But fans of classic Toho monsters still regard Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster as the best of the original all-out monster battle fantasies.
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Director: Ishirô Honda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa (writer)
Cinematography: Hajime Koizumi
Art Direction: Takeo Kita
Music: Akira Ifukube
Film Editing: Ryohei Fujii
Cast: Yosuke Natsuki (Detective Shindo), Yuriko Hoshi (Naoko Shindo), Hiroshi Koizumi (Professor Miura), Akiko Wakabayashi (Mas Selina Salno, Princess of Sergina), Emi Ito (Shobijin, Twin Fairy), Yûmi Ito (Shobijin, Twin Fairy), Takashi Shimura (Dr. Tsukamoto), Akihiko Hirata (Chief Detective Okita), Hisaya Itô (Malmess, Chief Assassin), Minoru Takada (Prime Minister).
by Glenn Erickson
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster
Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster - Another Tokyo Stomper Cometh - GHIDORAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER on DVD
The story: En route to Japan, Princess Salno (Akiko Wakabayashi) of Selgina hears strange voices that compel her to leave her plane in mid-flight moments before it is blown up by would-be assassins. She soon reappears on the streets of Japan claiming to be a prophetess from Venus (Mars in the U.S. version) and accurately predicting new attacks by Godzilla and Rodan. Salno warns Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki), a detective assigned to determine if the "Venusian prophetess" is the missing Princess, and his sister Naoko (Yuriko Hoshi), a television reporter, of a threat even greater than the two Earth monsters: King Ghidorah, a space monster that destroys entire worlds. As predicted, the creature emerges from a meteorite in the Japanese Alps and launches a devastating attack. Naoko asks the Mothra fairies (Emi and Yûmi Ito) for aid, but they reply that although Mothra is willing, she is not strong enough to defeat King Ghidorah. Mothra, clever monster that she is, calls upon her hitherto unknown diplomatic skills to persuade Godzilla and Rodan to join her in protecting the Earth with their combined might. As an all-out monster melee for the future of the world breaks out at the foot of Mount Fuji, Shindo faces a more personal battle protecting the Princess from a team of assassins determined to succeed where the bombing attempt failed.
It's a common complaint that the "human scenes" in monster films are simply dull filler until one gets to "the good stuff," and this was never truer than in Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster. Shinichi Sekizawa's screenplay is populated by uninteresting characters and rife with dead ends. We don't get to know Princess Salno before she becomes possessed, and it's difficult to engage with her once she becomes a glazed-eyed Venusian. She claims she wants to warn humanity of the threat of King Ghidorah, but she offers no useful information on how Earth can protect itself and all her prophecies are delivered too late to do any good; sometimes, as in the case of Rodan, mere minutes before the monster appears. The Venusian intelligence also makes the foolish decision to dress in an old fisherman's garb and shout her warnings from the street, making her look like a loon; had it merely made use of the Princess' Earthly identity, she would have been able to deliver her warnings directly to leading politicians. In the last half hour the Princess/Venusian becomes almost totally passive, allowing herself to be dragged around to various meetings and then taken for electroshock therapy. The assassins chasing after her are more silly than menacing. It's possible that Sekizawa intended this part of the story to be a spoof of the spy films that were then in vogue, but if this is the case neither director Ishirô Honda nor the cast seem to have gotten the memo, as the spy scenes are mostly played straight, without the sort of tongue-in-cheek humor found in similar scenes in Uchu Daikaiju Dogora (Dogora the Space Monster, 1964) from the same writer-director team. (The introduction of the villains, in which they are shown improbably garbed in 16th century cartwheel ruff collars and modern sunglasses, always provokes a laugh, but the odd costume choice was most likely made so no foreign country could infer that the sinister Selginians were a slanderous depiction of their own people.) The other lead characters, Detective Shindo and his reporter sister Naoko, come across as unimaginative rehashes of protagonists from earlier Godzilla films.
The film, especially the first half, contains a lot of padding and plot points that go nowhere. In the opening scene, we are told that many strange phenomena have been occurring, including a mysterious heat wave, but this is never tied in with Ghidorah's arrival on Earth, or anything else for that matter; it's just dropped. An eccentric UFO expert is introduced, but he disappears from the film--until there is a sudden cut to him talking some gibberish about Princess Salno slipping between dimensions, after which he disappears again. Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi), a geologist, makes two trips to study a meteorite and is amazed by its powerful magnetic properties, but this is more pointless padding. It's supposed to create a sense of mystery about the object, but ultimately adds nothing to the film but running time; the only important thing about the meteorite is that Ghidorah emerges from it, not that it messes with a geologist's compass. Still more padding comes in the form of a musical number for the Mothra fairies. It's not unexpected since Emi and Yûmi Ito were major recording stars, and the song is pleasant enough (if a bit melancholy) the first time, but it gets a little tiresome when it's repeated in order to summon Mothra. (It's never explained how Mothra distinguishes between the "performing for a TV show" version and the "come help save the world from a space monster" version of the song.)
Faced with a problematic script, there's little the actors can do to make much of an impression, let alone create memorable characters. As the Princess, future Bond girl (You Only Live Twice, 1967) Akiko Wakabayashi is beautiful and appropriately regal, but once she is possessed by the Venusian intelligence she just shouts exposition and stares blankly. Yosuke Natsuki, Yuriko Hoshi and Hiroshi Koizumi are solidly professional, but stuck with one-dimensional stock characters. The distinguished Takashi Shimura, acclaimed worldwide for his performances in a number of Kurosawa classics, is wasted in a small, colorless role as a doctor. In their third and final appearance as the diminutive Mothra fairies, Emi and Yûmi Ito are charming and effortlessly steal scenes from their "normal sized" co-stars.
With the human scenes pretty much a washout, it's up to the monsters to furnish almost all the interest and entertainment, and here the movie is much more successful. With its majestic golden wings and three serpentine heads spewing lightning-like "gravity beams", King Ghidorah is one of Toho's most memorable creations, and the scenes of it forming out of an exploding fireball and launching an attack rank among the most spectacular ever brought to life by Eiji Tsuburaya's crew. Probably inspired by the eight-headed dragon Orochi of Japanese folklore, Ghidorah required a combination of the traditional man in a rubber suit and elaborate, marionette-like wire work to be brought to life. The execution is not always perfect-wires can be glimpsed in several shots, and the heads have a tendency to flop around-but the striking design of the creature helps compensate for any technical deficiencies. Overexposure in later films diminished Ghidorah's novelty and effectiveness as a villain, but his debut appearance still feels fresh and exciting.
Outfitted with a new head, the Godzilla suit from Mothra vs. Godzilla was reused for Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster. The new head has larger eyes, a less pronounced brow and a rounder snout. Its less menacing appearance may have been intentional given Godzilla's conversion to a "good guy", but unfortunately the new head looks less lifelike. Compared to his 1956 debut, Rodan looks (and acts) a good deal goofier. Of the three "good guy" monsters, Mothra (larval form) comes across the best, design-wise, looking essentially the same as in earlier films.
Overall the effects work in on par with other Toho films of the period, but does reveal a growing tendency on the studio's part to save money by reducing the number of expensive urban destruction scenes in favor of fights between monsters in settings with few (if any) miniature buildings. (Pacific islands would soon become a favorite locale for kaiju films.) The major change in Ghidorah is not in the quality or quantity of kaiju effects, though; it's the decision to heavily anthropomorphize the monster characters, add humor and make Godzilla a hero, a change which would alter the tone of the series for the next ten years. The key scene is the "monster summit" between Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra, with the Mothra fairies providing translation. ("Oh, Godzilla! What terrible language!") Godzilla and Rodan act like rowdy frat boys who just want to enjoy a good fight, with Mothra the sensible female who comes between them and tries to get them to think about more serious matters. With its almost slapstick action and silly translated dialogue, the scene plays like a parody of the themes director Ishirô Honda had been exploring in his earlier kaiju and science fiction films, in which he stressed mankind's need to work together in the face of a common threat to survival. The decision to humanize the monsters, play up the laughs and aim for the kiddie audience appears to have been partially a creative choice by Sekizawa and Tsuburaya, and partially an economic move by Toho, which saw its adult audience for Godzilla movies shrinking while children remained devoted fans. Not surprisingly, Honda was displeased with the direction in which the series was heading and was replaced for most of the remaining 1960's and 70's Godzilla films by Jun Fukuda.
How an adult viewer responds to Ghidorah will hinge to a large degree on his or her reaction to this change in tone. Fans who grew up watching the "heroic" Godzilla films, or who enjoy them purely as camp, will be more receptive and find the film a good-naturedly goofy romp; fans who prefer the earlier, more sober Toho kaiju films may find it painful to watch the mighty Godzilla turned into a clown and a do-gooder. This reviewer leans toward the latter group, but will confess to having a soft spot for the film based on nostalgic memories of repeated television viewings as a child. Children are, of course, the one audience that will enjoy the film without any critical reservations; they'll adore the action and happily root for Godzilla and friends against the nasty King Ghidorah without fretting over what amount of silliness is appropriate for a movie starring men in rubber suits. Six year-olds don't debate whether giant monsters get together to discuss world affairs!
Like the previous discs in their Godzilla series of releases, Classic Media's DVD of Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster contains both the Japanese and American versions of the film. Both are 16 x 9 enhanced and, unlike their Mothra vs. Godzilla disc, both are presented in the original 2.35:1 Tohoscope aspect ratio. The Japanese version appears slightly soft and has some minor speckling that betrays the film's age, but the color is good and the overall image is satisfactory. (The quality dips in shots featuring opticals, but this is inherent in the film and not a flaw of the transfer.) The mono soundtrack is clean, with Akira Ifukube's exciting score well served. Except for the dupey-looking main and end titles, the American version appears to feature the same transfer, recut to match the English dub track. Originally distributed by Continental, the American version trims about eight minutes, shuffles the order of scenes and inexplicably substitutes inferior library music for some of Ifukube's cues.
The chief extra is an excellent commentary on the American version by David Kalat, author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series. Beyond the expected behind-the-scenes history the enthusiastic Kalat offers passionate defenses of dubbing, the much-maligned American cut and "Godzilla comedy." Also included are a Japanese trailer (without English subtitles), a 7-minute featurette on Eiji Tsuburaya written and narrated by Ed Godziszewski and poster and still galleries.
Recommended for Godzilla completists, nostalgic fans and parents of young monster aficionados.
For more information about Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, visit Classic Media. To order Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, go to TCM Shopping.
by Gary Teetzel
Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster - Another Tokyo Stomper Cometh - GHIDORAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER on DVD
Oh Godzilla, such terrible language!- Shobijin
In the original concept King Ghidorah's wings were rainbow colored. Also, the creature was to breath fire from it's three heads, in the final concept they emit gravity rays.
Director 'Ishiro Honda' originally wanted 'Yoshio Tsuchiya' for the role of Malness. But he was was unavailable due to his commitment to the Akira Kurosawa film Akahige (1965).
Toho did not reveal to the public that Godzilla was played by a person in a costume until this film was released, because the people who worked in the Japanese film industry in the 1950s and early 1960s tried to keep their techniques as secret as possible so that a mythical atmosphere to surrounded the industry. No one would be allowed to visit the set.
This is the only film in which Ghidorah is not controlled by aliens.
This was the first movie to feature King Ghidorah, who would later go on to be Toho's main villain monster, fighting both Godzilla and Mothra as well as making appearances on Japanese television.
Released in Japan in 1965 as Sandai kaiju chikyu saidai no kessen; running time: 92 min. Also known as The Biggest Fight on Earth and The Greatest Battle on Earth.