CAPSULE: GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) AND THE “GODZILLA: THE SHOWA-ERA FILMS, 1954–1975” BOX SET

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DIRECTED BY: Yoshimitsu Banno

FEATURING: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Toshio Shiba, Keiko Mari

PLOT: Hedorah, a monster created from earth’s excessive pollution, wreaks havoc on Japan.

Still from Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
COMMENTS: “Hedorah is a monster of our own making.” In the intro we see Hedorah rise from some sludgy gloop floating in the ocean. The creature attacks freighters and factories and at the same time inhales the pollution they emit to grow larger and more powerful. A young boy and his marine biologist father are on the case, and soon discover the origins of the creature and why and how it is evolving.

The child is the film’s protagonist. He seems to have a connection with Godzilla. He knows Godzilla is coming before he appears. Like the original 1954 Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Hedorah comes with a strong message about the harm man can do: Godzilla was awoken by hydrogen bomb tests, Hedorah is an alien being made massive and powerful by pollution.

At this point in the Godzilla series, the King of the Monsters has been both an enemy of mankind, and sometimes somewhat of a hero. At the story’s climax walls of electricity are set up in hopes of frying Hedorah. When the generator fails, Godzilla lends man a hand with his breath. As a child, I loved Godzilla as the hero; it’s something I’ve never grown out of.

There is, of course, also a final battle between the two creatures. If you come to Godzilla flicks for the creature fights, you will be rather disappointed here. This Godzilla reminds me a little of one of the Three Stooges putting on goofy moves, shrugging and shuffling about. And Godzilla flying through the air?! What was that? I suppose Hedorah would be a slippery sucker to grab at, being a pollution monster. He starts out looking like a giant sperm, but evolves into a flying saucer shape, and eventually takes an upright form. Hedorah is not one of Toho’s more effective monsters, visually, but he does more damage than most.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a unique entry among the Godzilla Showa era films. It is the only film in the series that I am aware of that includes psychedelic imagery and animated sequences. These elements are unusual for Godzilla, but there is nothing particularly weird about them for a film from the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah has its goofy moments, but at times is actually quite grim. The poisonous toxin emitted by Hedorah kills instantly and the film has a significant body count . The harsh message of the animated sequences gives the pleasing and colorful animation a disturbing quality. I loved the addition of animation.  I also loved the attractive young couple they added in as secondary characters. All the scenes featuring them and their group of well-dressed mod types oozed late 60s early 70s underground culture. The films soundtrack was pure gold. I really enjoyed Godzilla vs. Hedorah; in fact, I would count it among my favorite from the Showa Era.

I treasure the handful of Godzilla Toho Master DVDs I have in my library. When I heard about the upcoming release of Criterion’s “Godzilla: The Showa Era Films, 1954 – 1975,” I lost my mind. There were so many films from this period I wanted to add to my collection (including Godzilla vs. Hedorah). This set is truly a monster collection, not just in subject but size. The set itself measures 14.5″ tall by 10.5″ wide and is arranged like a book, with blurbs on each film by Ed Godziszewski and beautiful art by Bill Sienkiewicz, Yuko Shimizu, Katsuya Terada, and others. Godzilla vs. Hedorah is presented in its original aspect ratio 2.35:1, as are the majority of the films in the collection.

Much to my surprise, there is not as significant a difference in image quality between the Criterion Blu-ray set and my Toho Master Collection DVD versions as I had anticipated there would be. From the screenshots I took using my desktop computer I could not actually tell which version was which. On the big LED television, however, the difference was more noticeable, but I would not say remarkable.

criterion godzilla stills

The sound quality was also little improved over the Toho Master versions. What stands out here, besides the very impressive overall presentation, is the inclusion of the superior Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), and the special features. Disc eight consists entirely of supplements that include a 1990 interview for the Directors Guild of Japan featuring Ishiro Honda in conversation with Yoshimitsu Banno; “Handcrafted Artistry” (an interview with discussing his admiration for the Showa era Godzilla films); “Launching Jet Jaguar” (interview with Tsugutoshi Komada, who played Jet Jaguar in Godzilla vs. Megalon); “Man of Many Faces” (interview with Bin Furuya about his work as a bit player in many Godzilla films); “Good Music Is Always Simple” (1999 interview with composer Akira Ifukube); and my personal favorite, “Toho Unused Special Effects Complete Collection” (an hour-long 1986 program highlighting never used fx sequences). The set also includes trailers for the films. Overall, I am thrilled to have this collection in my library. It is a really beautiful and impressive looking set that any monster movie junkie should be pleased to own.

Featuring 15 films:
Godzilla
Godzilla Raids Again
King Kong vs. Godzilla
Mothra vs. Godzilla
Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster
Invasion of Astro-Monster
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep
Son of Godzilla
Destroy All Monsters
All Monsters Attack
Godzilla vs. Hedorah
Godzilla vs. Gigan
Godzilla vs. Megalon
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Terror of Mechagodzilla

Criterion Godzilla Box Set

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Godzilla vs. Hedorah, from 1971, is the god-damn weirdest of all Godzilla films, and it puts in a superlative argument for being the god-damn weirdest giant monster movie that Toho ever put its name to.”–Tim Brayton, Alternate Ending

(This movie was nominated for review by “anonymous,” who proclaimed “The movie is like a psychedelic drug trip where a giant pollution monster takes a shit on Godzilla.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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