Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster / The Greatest Battle on Earth / The Biggest Fight on Earth / Monster of Monsters / San Daikaiju: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen / Gojira, Mosura, Kingugidora: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen (1964/1965) **
It’s well known that Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster/San Daikaiju: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen marks a major turning point in the history of the Godzilla series. This, after all, is the movie in which Godzilla first becomes a good guy. But Ghidrah marks the beginning of a new era in other ways, too. Most noticeably, it is here that we see the first appearance in the series of the sort of wildly imaginative monster designs for which the Japanese would later become famous. Previous Toho kaiju weren’t really all that far removed from what you’d see in an American monster movie, beyond the fact that they were portrayed as being far larger and much more difficult to kill. Godzilla, Rodan, Varan, and Angiras were essentially just customized dinosaurs; Mothra was merely the hugest of many huge movie bugs to appear in the wake of Them! in 1954 (although Toho tinkered with the formula a bit by recycling the Polynesian god-monster motif from King Kong), Mogera, the alien mecha from The Mysterians, differed from the various giant robots of earlier US movies only in that it was slightly weirder-looking than most of them; and Godzilla’s opponent in King Kong vs. Godzilla had of course been a monster imported directly from an old American film. But King Ghidorah, making his first of many appearances here, is another matter. A gold-skinned, lightning-breathing dragon with three heads, two tails, and a wingspan of 120 meters, King Ghidorah is far more fantastic a monster even than those Ray Harryhausen was building for his contemporary mythology-based adventure movies. And as is only appropriate, the destruction he wreaks on Japan is more elaborately staged than anything else that special effects director Eiji Tsubaraya had ever attempted before. Unfortunately, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster differs from what came before it in another way as well. This is the first Godzilla movie in which the human story is entirely divorced from what the monsters are doing, with the result that it conveys the feeling of having been edited clumsily together from two completely unrelated films.
The script also bears the scars of the short turnaround time between this movie and its predecessor, Godzilla vs. the Thing. (The two films were released at opposite ends of the same year.) Indeed, it almost seems that screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa just made something up on the spot every time director Ishiro Honda finished with the last scene. As Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster opens, Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi, from The Last War and Godzilla vs. the Thing), a reporter working for the TV show “Mysteries of the 20th Century” (the same outfit that went and unleashed Varan the Unbelievable on Japan), is pursuing another goofball story for her bosses at the studio. This time, “Mysteries of the 20th Century” is running a segment on a UFO cult based in Tokyo, and Naoko is on hand to observe their efforts to contact the crews of the flying saucers that have supposedly been operating in the area of late. No UFO sightings are forthcoming this evening, but there is a considerable amount of celestial action on another front— an intense meteor shower, which leads to the landing of a space rock some 100 meters in diameter in the mountains just outside the city.
Meanwhile, Naoko’s brother (Yosuke Natsuki, of The H-Man and Dagora, the Space Monster), a police detective, is receiving word of an urgent new assignment. A tiny Himalayan nation called Sergina is experiencing a period of political turmoil, and its king has decided to send his daughter, Princess Mas Selina Salno (Akiko Wakabayashi, from King Kong vs. Godzilla and The Lost World of Sinbad), to Japan for safekeeping. Evidently she has become a target for assassination by Serginian radicals. The princess is on the plane to Tokyo even now, and it is Detective Shindo’s job to meet her at the airport and protect her from any killer mercenaries who might happen to be trailing her. It sounds like a pretty lousy gig to me, too, but Shindo is let off the hook when Princess Selina’s plane blows up over the Sea of Japan. Guess the king should have tried a little harder to protect his daughter, huh?
The truth is, it’s a little more complicated than that. In fact, the men who planted the bomb on the plane were the king’s own agents! Presumably His Majesty wanted to eliminate any figure around whom his enemies in the country could conceivably rally as the nucleus of a new government. Regardless of his motives, the king has a problem on his hands, in that his daughter has survived the destruction of the plane. It just so happens that the vehicle was buzzed by a UFO shortly before the explosion, and the princess heard a feminine voice in her head ordering her to get off of the aircraft. At that point, Selina got up out of her seat, opened the hatch at the back of her compartment, and simply stepped outside. Nevermind that she was thousands of feet up in the air when it happened; she survives the fall and turns up in Japan a couple of days later, claiming to be a Martian with the power to prophesy the future. Of course. When the king finds out about that, he sends his security chief, Malmess (Hisaya Ito, from Varan the Unbelievable and The Human Vapor), to Tokyo to finish the job.
So now we've got a UFO cult, a sleazy tabloid TV reporter, a self-proclaimed Martian prophetess, and a bunch of spies from some penny-ante mountain monarchy running around Japan. Clearly not enough crazy shit is going on. So to rectify that situation, Sekizawa sends us next to the studio of another TV show, this one called “What Are They Doing Now?” The idea here is that the studio audience asks for certain washed up celebrities to come out onstage and talk about what’s been going on in their lives now that they aren’t celebrities anymore. Well guess who today’s guests are... the famous Twin Fairies of Infant Island (Emi and Yumi Ito, once again)! I confess that this plot point is entirely beyond my understanding. The first time the Fairies came to Japan, they had been kidnapped by a Rolisican tycoon who pressed them into service as a slave-labor nightclub act. The second time they came to Japan, on a mission to recover a Mothra egg that had washed ashore near a small fishing village, another filthy rich asshole tried to buy them, and refused to let them take the egg back to their island. How fucking stupid are these girls that they’d want to come back to Tokyo just to appease a few million couch potatoes?! Be that as it may, the Twin Fairies put in an appearance as requested, and even sing the Mothra song— which, luckily for Japan, doesn’t bring any giant caterpillars swimming across the ocean this time around.
What was that? You want to know when the monsters are going to show up? So do I, honestly. Fortunately Naoko’s new boyfriend, Professor Miura (Atragon’s Hiroshi Koizumi, who may be playing the same Professor Miura as he had in Godzilla vs. the Thing), is on the case. He and a group of his colleagues have been poking around the crash site of that huge meteor, and they have learned some interesting things about it. First of all, it periodically develops an extremely powerful magnetic charge. Second, it starts flashing with orange light once in a while. Finally, and of the greatest interest, it’s growing. Meteorites aren’t supposed to grow, of course, which leads me to believe that it might really be some kind of monster egg instead. Meanwhile, the princess, who still claims to be a seer from Mars, is predicting the awakening of Godzilla and Rodan. Both of these prophesied events come to pass, and the huge monsters begin dukng it out as soon as each figures out that the other has woken up too. Neither one of those monsters seems to pose nearly as big a problem as King Ghidorah, however, who finally rises up out of his stony incubator and begins blowing up everything in sight. According to the princess, it was King Ghidorah that destroyed the civilization of Mars some 3000 years ago, forcing its few survivors to flee to Earth, where they were eventually assimilated into the native population. Inevitably, terrestrial military power is of no avail against any of the monsters rampaging around Japan, but then Naoko Shindo gets a brilliant idea. Mothra protected Japan from Godzilla once— maybe it could be persuaded to take on King Ghidorah as well. The Twin Fairies don’t think that's such a good plan, considering that the current incarnation of Mothra is still just a larva, but Infant Island’s kaiju mascot might still be able to help. Most humans don’t realize this, but monsters are sufficiently intelligent to reason, and they can even talk to each other in a language that only they (and the Twin Fairies) understand. Mothra alone may lack the power to fight off King Ghidorah, but if it could persuade Godzilla and Rodan to stop fighting each other and gang up on the space monster instead, the Earth might just be saved.
I'll say this for the screenplay to Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster: at least it recognizes the need to supply a reason for Godzilla’s change of character. The shift from unstoppable menace to defender of the Earth was probably unavoidable after a certain number of movies— really, how much sense does it make to keep bringing in new good-guy monsters to protect humanity from Godzilla?— but it’s good to see that some effort was expended to justify that evolution in story terms. But alas, that’s just about the only thing Sekizawa did right this time around. Hardly anything that happens from one set of credits to the other makes the slightest bit of sense, and all of the different subplots end up getting in each other’s way more than advancing the overall story. Eiji Tsubaraya’s special effects are forced to carry the entire film, but this simply isn't possible because it takes so long for any of the monsters to show up. Furthermore, as great as the elaborately staged scenes of destruction are (and there’s a very good reason why Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster became the series’s main source of recycled special effects footage during the Jun Fukuda years), the only monster suit used here that is the equal of them is the one for King Ghidorah. Godzilla’s look has softened a bit since the previous movie, beginning the trend toward ever-cuddlier suit designs, and Rodan’s new head is just silly. Meanwhile the puppet representing the Mothra caterpillar is as cheesy as ever. All in all, it looks like we’re dealing here with yet another manifestation of the old movie-and-its-sequel-in-the-same-year curse.