I actually didn’t get to see Godzilla versus Hedorah (1971) until I was an adult, which is probably good for my mental health. This is one weird Godzilla movie.
That’s saying a lot considering this is a genre filled with sweaty Japanese actors in rubber suits destroying tiny cities. All of the Godzilla movies are weird, but GvH is in a class by itself. The odd part is, I really like this movie. I suppose I enjoy the weirdness in the same way I enjoy David Lynch or Terry Gilliam weirdness. There’s a level of surrealism that has to be witnessed to be understood.
Godzilla fans have a rather mixed view of GvH. Some, like me, enjoy the bizarre surrealism and 60s drug-trippy vibe. Others despise it. Many blame it for beginning the fall of the Showa era of Godzilla movies. In fact, the director Yoshimitsu Banno was barred from ever directing another Godzilla movie. I think this is unfair, since there were plenty of lousy Godzilla movies before this, all of them less entertaining than this crazy piece of cinema.
The movie was renamed Godzilla vs The Smog Monster in the United States. The central theme of the movie is pollution, which was a major problem in the 1960s-70s. Godzilla’s opponent is an alien pile of living pollution which lives on pollution and spews out worse toxins as waste. It starts out as a giant tadpole, only to become a slug-like thing, a flying horseshoe crab and finally a giant humanoid. It’s actually rather inventive how they have so many different versions of Hedorah.
The battle against Hedorah is fairly conventional so far as these movies go. What isn’t conventional is . . . pretty much everything else. The editing is bizarre, the tone veers
wildly from kid-friendly to darkly violent and even the music is strange. It’s like the movie can’t decide what it wants to be, so it tries to be both a grim environmental warning tale and a kid’s monster movie. Combine that with the psychedelic imagery in several scenes and cut scenes of animation and you have something unique.
For instance, you have the main annoying child character, Ken, at an amusement park when he spots Godzilla. You then have a scene just after where Hedorah flies over a bunch of people and dissolves them with acid in front of the child. This scene is actually a bit disturbing and graphic. You also have a later scene of hippies partying, only to be followed by a scene of them getting murdered by Hedorah. And then there’s the club
scene where people start to hallucinate monster heads on everyone.
Oh, and then there’s the infamous scene in it which causes most Godzilla fanboys to grit their teeth in rage. Godzilla flies. He uses his atomic breath like a rocket engine and flies backwards. I’m not kidding. It’s hilariously awesome and ludicrous. The thing is, I’m not even sure it qualifies as the weirdest scene in this movie.
I mentioned the music earlier. The classic Godzilla theme sounds warped and distorted in this. It’s recognizable, but is jarringly different, like everything else in this movie.
You should definitely check it out. Even if you don’t like it as a Godzilla movie, it’s certainly not boring.