Sony // 1971 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // November 16th, 2004
Our environment is doomed!
A threatening new creature rises from Japan's sludge-ridden Suruga Bay, feeds on the noxiously fuming smokestacks of Osaka, and sprays an acidic cloud that dissolves human flesh on contact. Who can save Japan now? I'll give you one guess -- and no, it's not Raymond Burr.
Well, it all starts with an old weather-beaten fisherman who complains to the wise and worldly Dr. Yano that the heavily-polluted water of Suruga Bay can no longer sustain fish. He has fished out something, though: a weird and icky black tadpole, about the size of the fisherman's forearm. Of course, it's not a tadpole at all, but a strange new species that is composed of minerals and which thrives on pollution. The tadpole-things demonstrate their ability to combine with one another, growing at an exponential rate, ultimately emerging as a hideous giant creature. Dr. Yano quickly dons scuba gear to better explore the bay, and has a run-in with a man-sized monster that emits an acidic cloud. The creature grows to a tremendous size, begins sucking down the exhaust from some towering smokestacks, and generally wreaks havoc.
Now, before we go any further, did you know that "hedoro" is the Japanese word for sludge? That's OK if you didn't, because young Ken Yano, perpetually clad in snug-fitting short-shorts and bearing a girlish high voice as a result, knows threatening sludge when he sees it, and has appropriately named the odd creature "Hedorah." Ken has plenty more precocious insight for his doctor dad and, in addition to his creature-coining prowess, also seems to have a sort of psychic link with Godzilla, who rises from the depths to challenge this new monster threat. The first encounter is won by our radioactive hero, but as Hedorah continues to feed upon gunk and grow ever bigger, he gains the upper hand on Godzilla via a barrage of acidic sludge attacks, noxious vapor sprays, and an unexpected laser weapon. Just when it appears things can't get worse in the Land of the Rising Sun, Hedorah shape-shifts into a flying fright that terrorizes the citizens, reducing them to acid-eaten skeletons. And when all hope seems dashed, Ken Yano perks up again to offer a way to kill Hedorah. But will his plan work? Will Godzilla survive this cataclysmic clash? And can mankind clean up its act?
From the above synopsis, this seems like a rather compelling Godzilla gig -- but, sadly, it's not so. In fact, this 1971 film, released stateside as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, is polluted with so many on-screen oddities that while you're trying to figure it out for yourself, you'll just swear that somewhere Gilbert Gottfried is screeching, "What the f***?!"
The film begins with a title sequence that is a blatant rip-off of Maurice Binder's James Bond opening, complete with a Japanese girl singing "Save the World" (in Japanese) amid a hemorrhage of color splashes; she chickens out, though, by not taking off her clothes. We also meet a would-be hero and brother to Dr. Yano, Miki Fujiyama, who likes to hang out in cheesy dance joints hallucinating about dancing skeletons and fish-headed club-goers. (I think there's some symbolism at work here but you might need to be stoned to tune in to it; I was sober and completely lost through that sequence.) There were also several animated interludes clumsily inserted throughout the picture, seemingly to deliver some sort of ecological moral, that make us wonder if a young Terry Gilliam made an un-credited contribution.
Adding to the confusion here is the ambiguity over how many Hedorahs there really are at any given time. By the film's conclusion, it appears there is only one very large Smog Monster; one that towers over Godzilla. Earlier in the picture, however, it seems there were two slightly smaller (yet still monstrous-sized) Hedorahs, one that slithered about along the industrial coast and another that flew about the city proper; these ultimately joined to form the larger monster that Godzilla battles to save Japan. (Hint: watch the film with the original Japanese dialogue, augmented by English subtitles, to draw out subtleties such as this that the English dub ignores.)
The Hedorah creature looks relatively decent, though he reminded me of a cross between congealed hurl and a loose bowel movement. As with most Japanese "kaiju" (giant monsters), it's clear there's an actor crawling or lumbering upright in the rubber suit (it's Kengo Nakayama for those of you who must know). The flying Hedorah is just a hard rubber prop suspended by wires that farts out contrails of acidic gas. Godzilla is presented in the classic design (this one a bit trimmer than earlier versions) and portrayed by Haruo Nakajima. The effects which surround these two titans are decent, this time managed by Shokei Nakano (the legendary Eiji Tsuburyaya had since passed on). The miniatures are obvious, of course; but the explosions and downtown demolitions are always a treat to watch. (And how many of us have wished that we could wreak havoc in such a setup?)
Granted, when considering vintage Godzilla pictures, you never go in expecting anything that would even closely resemble "cinematic achievement," but you still gotta wonder what the f*** interim helmsman Tomoyuki Tanaka was thinking (or, perhaps, smoking) when he wrote and directed this abomination. This film is goofy; there are no two ways around it. It seems to want to operate on multiple levels -- sometimes serious and somber, sometimes playful and childish -- and winds up being an indeterminate mess as a result, much like its titular foe.
For better or for worse, this new disc from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment is one of three new releases marking the 50th anniversary of the Big G. It's a rather competent anamorphic widescreen transfer, framed at 2.35:1. The image looks quite clean and crisp, free of noticeable source print damage and compression artifacts. In essence, it's a rather bad movie that looks really good. The soundtrack is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that's actually more enjoyable with the original Japanese dialogue than with the typically overacted English dub. Extras here aren't much -- just some trailers, including a teaser for Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (that one looks good), one for Godzilla the Series -- Monster Wars cartoon, Kaena: The Prophecy, a CGI adventure, Steamboy, an anime feature from the creator of Akira, and the perplexing Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.
Well, in defense of this picture, I suppose you could argue that it's extremely "kid friendly," though I dare say it clearly underestimated the intelligence of its pre-pubescent target audience. I screened this one with a couple of youngsters, and they squirmed frequently and furrowed their brows at the silly goings-on and the dopey music.
How dopey is the music? Well, each Godzilla entrance is greeted by daffy-sounding French horns and shrill and silly trumpets. As an ominous slick of floating gunk and junk creeps across Saruga Bay, it's punctuated by the nutty biiinnng-boiiinnng of a mouth harp, accompanied by a wistful flute. On the whole, it's a score more fitting of a Gilligan's Island episode that an entry in the Godzilla franchise. With this score, composer Riichiro Manabe has summarily dishonored his entire family tree. There was plenty of action and other goings-on that would have been better punctuated by the familiar monster marches and ominous overtures from usual Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube (and, without a doubt, music of that caliber might have saved this film -- partially, anyway).
If you're a Godzilla fan and completist, then Godzilla vs. Hedorah certainly belongs in your collection. If you're a new fan who's been weaned on the Millennium Series (Godzilla 2000 and beyond) and are curious about this radioactive rascal's cinematic roots, check out the first film from 1954, Godzilla vs. Ebirah (1966), and Son of Godzilla (from 1967 and finally due out on DVD December '04). Stay away from 1969's incredibly asinine All Monsters Attack (U.S. title: Godzilla's Revenge). After you've given those a look, then, perhaps, take a peak at this odd outing, followed quickly by 1968's Destroy All Monsters.
Writer/director Yoshimitsu Banno is charged with premeditated misappropriation of a successful film franchise, delivering a product more noxious than a toxic spill. He is hereby sentenced to 20 years of back-to-back screenings of Godzilla's Revenge.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated PG