Friday, January 24, 2020

Ghidorah Makes His Film Debut in the First Smackdown!

Ghidorah (center) battling Mothra and Godzilla.
When I first saw Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster at the Winston Theatre in 1965, it was a different movie. The title monster's name was Ghidrah (no "o"), the dialogue was dubbed, and the movie was viewed through the eyes of a squirming youngster. Five decades later, I watched a subtitled Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster...and enjoyed it more than the first time.

Akiko Wakabayashi as the princess.
The plot was certainly more complex than I remembered. Assassins want to kill Princess Selina Salno of Selgina before she can visit neighboring Japan. Moments before her plane explodes, she is warned by a flashing light in the night sky. She walks to the exit door and--with no parachute--jumps out of the plane just before it bursts into flames. When we next see her, she claims to be a princess from Venus who has come to Earth to warn it of impending disaster. She has no memory of her life in Selgina.

Meanwhile, monsters Godzilla and Rodan have re-emerged to fight one another...and destroy a few cities in the process. Unknown to them, a meteorite "hatches" to reveal a flying, three-headed dragon hellbent on destroying the Earth. The Venusian princess confirms that this creature, Ghidorah, wiped out all life on Venus and must be stopped. Fortunately, it just happens that the Shobijin, the twin fairies from Infant Island, are visiting Japan. They send for Mothra in the hope that she can convince Godzilla and Rodan to team up to defeat Ghidorah.

Mothra--in her larva state.
One's understanding and appreciation of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster depends on whether one has seen the previous kaiju films, especially Mothra (1961). I can imagine novice viewers getting a little confused when the tiny Shobijin start singing their Mothra song!

The first forty minutes focus mostly on Selina's transformation from an Earthly princess to a Venusian one. It's not without interest, but the plot picks up considerably when Godzilla makes his first appearance.

The special effects possess a quaint charm in this day of elaborate CGI. Even in the 1960s, as a wee lad, I could tell the difference between an actor traipsing around in a monster suit and the impressive stop-motion animation creatures of Ray Harryhausen. The miniature sets, though, still look impressive--though one needs to appreciate them quickly before they're crushed as collateral damage amid the monster battles.

Ghidorah's three heads.
As for for the gold-colored Ghidorah, I think he's one of special effects specialist Eiji Tsuburaya's most inventive creatures with each of his three heads capable of spewing forth a "gravity beam." He proved to be a popular villain and returned the following year in Invasion of Astro-Monster (known as Monster Zero in the U.S.). In the original kaiju films that spanned 1954-75 (known as the Showa Era), Ghidorah was a villain. His origin story changed in post-Showa films and he was sometimes portrayed as a hero.

The Shobijin summon Mothra.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster marks the third and final appearance of twins Emi Itō and Yumi Itō. They first appeared in Mothra as the Infant Island fairies who can summon Mothra and resurfaced in Mothra vs. Godzilla (aka Godzilla vs. the Thing) in 1964. They're typically called Shobijin these days, though they are referred by other names, such as the Alilenas, depending on the movie and translation. In real life, the twins had a successful recording career as The Peanuts for several years. Emi died in 2012 and Yumi in 2016.


  1. as always, on the mark. little is better than a day of giant monsters from Japan, no matter who the good guy is! thanks for the article.

  2. I know this misses the point of your post, but thanks for the introduction to The Peanuts. I found their music on YouTube, and I think I'll be listening to them all morning – I'm serious! They're fabulous.