Godzilla versus Hedorah: Weirdest Godzilla Ever

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.

Most malevolent tadpole ever.

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.

It’s like a stinky Transformer.

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

This commute is murder.

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

The director has some balls.

scene where people start to hallucinate monster heads on everyone.

Friggin’ weird.

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.

Kind of like fighting a giant shag rug of garbage.

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.

 

A Nifty Kaiju Movie: Gamera, Guardian of the Universe

gamera-gou-01Gamera, Guardian of the Universe (1995) is a giant monster movie that is far better than it has any right to be. 

The Heisei Gamera series is a reboot of the original Daiei Studio Gamera series (1965-1980.)  The series was Daiei’s answer to Toho’s Godzilla series.  Much in the way Dolph Lundgren was supposed to be the answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Like Dolph, it didn’t really turn out so well.  Instead of a prehistoric spawn of an atomic bomb, it was a turtle.  A flying, jet-propelled turtle.  Yes, you read that right.  Flying.  Jet-propelled.  Turtle.

The old series’ charm was its goofiness.  They warmed my coal-black heart.  The best gamera-gou-03way to watch them is via Mystery Science Theater 3000.  The MST3K versions are choice.  I recommend them.  “Gamera is a friend to children.”

Let’s just say they’re not Oscar material.

So when I saw the reboot coming out, I expected more of the same.  I snagged a VHS copy and got together with my friends to watch the cheese.  We sat down and started watching.  About halfway through it, we looked at one another and I said: “It is my imagination or is this pretty goddamn good?”

gamera-gou-04Instead of a goof, it turned out to be (no joke) the best giant monster movie I had seen up to that point.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Toho Godzilla movies.  I’m a total Godzilla junkie.  However, most of them aren’t very good.  They’re poorly written with paper thin plots plastered over monster fights.  I still love them.

This was better.  There were three Heisei Gamera movies and they were all damn good.  Perhaps this one blew me away because my expectations were low.  They scraped together the ridiculous elements of the original Gamera and somehow managed to make it coherent.  Not only coherent but very entertaining.  (Even the “friend of children” theme.)

In this version Gamera is a biological weapon created by an extinct civilization.  (Makes a touch more sense than a prehistoric turtle that breathes fire.)  It was created to destroy another biological weapon gone amok: Gyaos.  Gyaos is pterodactyl-like monster that gamera-gou-05feeds on humans.  They manage to make the critter pretty sinister.  There’s one honestly disturbing scene with an elevated train that I always remembered.

Typically the human characters are the most boring part of kaiju movies.  Much like the caulk holding together the monster fight bricks.  Not so in this movie.  They have some genuinely likable (and competent) characters that are important to the outcome.

Let’s talk about the fights.  They are mostly the ‘man in suit’ fights, with some animatronic gamera-gou-06and CGI thrown in.  There actually aren’t many of them, but you don’t feel cheated, because they look gorgeous.  Some of the best miniature work I’ve ever seen and crisp editing hides the flaws in the suites/practical effects.

Another thing I like is that human weapons hurt the monsters.  This is a break from Godzilla, where monsters plow through gamera-gou-07them like grass.  The monsters also hurt one another.  Lots of pyrotechnics in the Godzilla movies.  Not the Heisei Gamera.  Blood, wounds and even amputations.  Good stuff.

I unreservedly adore this movie as well as the two sequels.  Dig up a copy and enjoy.

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