Monday, May 12, 2014

Godzilla Week: Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster (1965)

Godzilla makes the dramatic shift from being a villain and enemy of the human world to a dedicated (if reluctant…) Earth defender in the rip-roaring Toho effort, Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster (1965).  

This film also introduces the world to Godzilla’s key nemesis: the three-headed flying alien dragon known as King Ghidorah.

Ghidorah would return to battle Godzilla in many other films, including the brilliant adventure Monster Zero (1970), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), to name just a few titles.

The enduring charm of Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster, in large part, rests on its fanciful depiction of the monster world and, importantly, the monster viewpoint about that world. 

Specifically, in the film’s delightful and unexpected final act, humanity asks for assistance battling the berserker Ghidrah, and Godzilla and Rodan must consider their priorities. 

Are they man’s enemies, or do these beasts have a basis for cooperation with the human race?

Fortunately for mankind, Mothra is present to talk some sense into the recalcitrant Godzilla…

“These monsters are as stupid as human beings!”
A foreign princess, Selina (Akiko Wakabayashi) is presumed dead after her plane is destroyed  by assassins en route to Japan.

However, Selina soon re-appears in perfect health...but claiming to be a Martian princess. 

In this new identity, Selina warns the people of Earth of an impending crisis, a repeat of the very one that destroyed her advanced home world.

While assassins from her home-land continue to seek to assassinate Selina, the alien princess’s warnings come to pass.  As she forecasts, the fearsome pterodactyl Rodan awakens at Mount Aso, and Godzilla ascends from the sea.

Selina’s protector, Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) and psychiatrist Dr. Tsukamoto (Takashi Shimura) become convinced that Selina is acyually possessed by the spirit of an alien, and she makes a final, dire prediction.  The monster that destroyed her home planet, Mars, in a matter of months, is now on Earth.

This too comes to pass, as King Ghidrah, or Ghidorah -- a three-headed goliath -- emerges from a meteor and lays waste to Japan.

Desperate, authorities make an effort to solicit Mothra’s help on Infant Island, and the giant insect acquiesces. 

However, Mothra alone cannot defeat Ghidorah. So Mothra attempts to convince the quarrelsome Godzilla and Rodan to join forces and vanquish their common enemy, but it is not an easy sell.

When Mothra decides to go it alone, and is savagely attacked -- and ridiculed -- by malevolent Ghidorah, however, Godzilla comes to the rescue, followed by Rodan…

“Godzilla, what terrible language!”

The theme of cooperation, already given voice in Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964) is front and center in Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster. Here, Godzilla and Rodan must stop their bickering -- with the help of a third monster, Mothra -- and defend the Earth from a threat of monumental proportions.

In terms of metaphor, it is not difficult to gaze at the film as a post-Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War Era plea for sanity and cooperation among the argumentative powers of the world.  If we follow it through symbolically, Godzilla may here represent the U.S. (as he is the avatar of American nuclear tests), Rodan the Soviet Union, and Mothra...level-headed, practical Japan.  Only by all three “monsters” (or nations…) working together will the “alien” Ghidorah be defeated.

This theme finds voice in the brilliant finale, as Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan share a meeting of the minds, or international monster summit of sorts.  Mothra attempts to sway them with reason and logic, but Godzilla and Rodan are too busy kicking rocks into each other’s faces, at least at first, to listen.  Eventually Mothra gets their attention, and then Godzilla and Rodan must consider their options.  

They both hate mankind, and remember, importantly, that mankind hates them.  Why should they help?

Well, as Mothra points out, we all share this Earth together, and so Godzilla and Rodan must put their hatred for man aside and do what is right for the planet.

I absolutely love the imagination and audacity of this film's climactic sequence. Mothra’s tiny princesses translate for the human audience while three monsters gurgle, growl and squeal at one another in serious conversation, determining the fate of the planet in the process.  

This sequence conveys some important information, too. The first thing is that man, in his arrogance, presumes that he controls the planet and its future. Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster reveals him “humbled” before the monsters.  If man is to survive, and not suffer the same fate as the Martians, he will have to put his trust into beings -- monsters -- he considers enemies.

Secondly, the monsters dislike man as much as man dislikes them, apparently. More is made of this notion throughout the Godzilla franchise, actually.  In Godzilla: Final Wars, for instance, we learn that Godzilla hates man -- and can’t forgive him -- because of his misuse of the planet, and because of all the “fires” (wars?) man has started.

Third, and finally, Godzilla, we learn here, seems to possess both a grumpy attitude (and the vocabulary of a sailor…) but also a strong moral barometer.  He cusses and uses bad language when talking to Mothra, and that’s a funny moment.  But more importantly, Godzilla refuses to fight until he sees what a total bastard Ghidrah really is.  Ghidrah mocks and plays with poor Mothra and that action offends Godzilla’s sense of honor, even though Mothra has, in the past, defeated him.

Mothra is quite the smart creature too. No doubt, Mothra goes it alone intentionally, hoping that Godzilla will detect the level of the danger, and be drawn into the battle to save the planet. That seems to be precisely what happens.

Indeed, what seems to separate good monsters from bad monsters in this thoroughly enjoyable film is a sense of justice or honor. 

Mothra, Godzilla and Rodan all demonstrate the capacity not merely for growth, but for cooperation. They are able to rally to a cause greater than themselves, in other words.  

By contrast, King Ghidorah is really a berserker with no value system beyond destruction.

I suppose that the question that must be reckoned with involving Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster involves changed premises or changed assumptions in the Godzilla franchise.  Are audiences willing to embrace Godzilla the hero, over Godzilla the avatar of nuclear destruction? 

And if so, is it a corruption of the franchise’s original idea?

Although on an artistic front, I do prefer the purity of the nuclear metaphor in Godzilla (1954), I must confess that on an emotional level, I love the idea of Godzilla as Earth’s (grumpy) defender.  I love the big green monster as a hero, and as a friend to the human race.  It may be a corruption of the original premise, but I do find Godzilla in these Showa "versus" films to be an appealing combination of innocent, tragic, and lovable.

One further quality of Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster that may keep it from being a corruption of the original franchise intent and rather an evolution of key concepts is the example of Mars.  The alien princess reports: “Centuries ago, the monster appeared in the skies of Mars. Within a month, the culture of Mars had been wiped out completely. The civilization on my planet had reached a stage of development which you people will not achieve for a long time…Today, because of the space monster, it is a dead world…dead and unpopulated.

Encoded there is a direct corollary to the warning in Godzilla (1954).  

Man has and will continue to achieve advances in terms of his technology, and his capacity for war. But if he brutalizes nature in that evolution, nature will have its revenge, and man will, in that conflict, lose. 

Ghidorah, in essence, here takes on the role of Godzilla from the first film.  He is Out-of-Whack Nature Personified: a threat that can’t be reckoned with in terms of technology or conventional war.

Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster is such an imaginative and entertaining film not only because it features lovable and idiosyncratic monsters, but because it endows its monsters with a point of view that is not human-centric, and allows them -- in their  own destructive way -- to settles matters based on those points of view.  

To some, this approach of giving the monsters human personalities may seem silly or childish, but in a way, this creative choice perfectly expresses the childish nature of the Cold War conflict.

Are we really going to destroy the world because we can’t get along with each other? Can we stop kicking sand in each other's faces long enough to see that the planet needs our help?

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