三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦 / San dai kaijū chikyū saidai no kessen

This 1964 creature feature may be remembered as the one that introduced Godzilla's arch-enemy, Ghidorah, but it represents more than that. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster set the pattern for daikaiju films for several years to come, and helped determine how Godzilla would be regarded in pop culture. It also presaged the pop-blockbuster universes of the twenty-first century. It's a big order but, of course, it's a movie about some really big monsters.

The first Japanese daikaiju took themselves seriously. Godzilla is a horror movie, especially in the original version.1 The connection to the atomic bomb cannot be missed. The beast lays waste to Tokyo; his fiery breath lingers, and burn-scarred survivors die from radiation poisoning. A new Godzilla emerges in the less horrific, but still serious sequel, Godzilla Raids Again (1955). The genre proliferated, internationally and in Japan, but, save for direct Godzilla sequels, Toho Studios' offerings initially showed no sense of a shared cinematic universe. No one in Rodan (1956)) has heard of the Big G, while Mothra (1961) is very much its own, rather mythic movie. Other Toho monster offerings feel even more removed from their inspiration. Kong-like Half Human (1955) never connected to the other Toho films. Their two gigantic Frankenstein films and Varan the Unbelievable (1968), an in-house rip-off of Godzilla, mostly stand on their own. Relevant monsters from both eventually make cameos in Destroy All Monsters(1968), while Varan introduced an in-universe TV show, Modern Mysteries, which we will see more of shortly.

Godzilla's fourth film pitted him against Mothra, indicating for the first time that the Japanese kaiju share a universe2. It also lightened the tone significantly; Toho recognized a significant portion of their audience consisted of children. Mothra vs Godzilla aka Godzilla vs the Thing was immediately followed by Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, and maintains close continuity with it. We now have a cross-movie saga, and one more coherent that Universal's earlier, gothic monster-verse.

Mothra returns. Rodan reemerges, possibly the offspring of the original flying monsters, who died at the end of their film. The host of Modern Mysteries covers the action, a fact which indirectly brings Varan the Largely Forgettable into the fold. Furthermore, the Big G, destroyer of Japanese cities, and the villain just defeated by Mothra one movie ago, makes his hero turn. For the remainder of his original Shōwa era run (to 1975), Godzilla would be the defender of humankind.

The plotting demonstrates the fragmented story-structure now associated with the genre. We move clumsily from scene to scene, character group to character group. The world has to deal with the usual monsters, battling each other and causing significant collateral damage. For many of the fight scenes, Godzilla eschews his radioactive fire breath and lobs boulders at his opponents. It looks rather silly, but does show that the daikaiju can use tools.

A missing foreign princess resurfaces, claiming to be from Venus and predicting doom. Meanwhile, opponents from her country have hired cartoony gangsters to knock her off. Her protector? A police officer whose sister happens to report for Modern Mysteries. They provide most of the comic relief, which was becoming more important to the series, through their banter. For example, after experts examine the supposed Venusian, we get:

Sister: What did her treatment reveal?
Brother: As you see, she's still a Venusian.

They're not the only comic relief. The movie features a brief scene with children and a pair of TV comedians. Children and gags would grow more important in future movies, as the series moves from horror to light fantasy.

What with rampaging monsters and dubious humour it would seem the situation couldn't get any worse, but no, King Ghidorah, the space monster, attacks earth for the first time. The news identifies him by name, which is odd, because the only one who seems to know the name before the point is the amnesiac princess / Venusian. In any case, all seems lost, until the Shobijin, those tiny twin faeries from Mothra's island, propose that the earth-monsters band together to protect their planet. Mothra (the caterpillar version, born in the previous movie) makes the pitch and, judging from the translation provided by the the Shobijin, it appears kaiju roars and trills contain complex language and all kaiju understand each other. Their transformation from monstrous forces to rubbery humanized characters is complete.

But will they ally against Ghidorah? Is the princess really from Venus? And who will win the final battle?

Along the way, Rodan picks up Godzilla, and gives Mothra-pillar a ride on his back, allowing her to spit constricting silk onto Ghidorah. Apparently, the extra weight doesn't prevent Rodan from flying. Then again, given that a creature a couple hundred feet tall can fly in the first place, why not? The effects overall demonstrate the blend viewers would expect, increasingly, from Toho. Decent model work coexists with basic animation and blatant costumes.

While the soundtrack still uses traditional monster movie orchestral music, the Shobijin's "Mothra song" gets replaced with a pop hit. Many of the remaining Godzilla films of this era would feature western-pop-influenced soundtracks.

We're in a strange, interconnected world, but increasingly familiar fantasy world, with monsters, aliens, and singing fairies. It resembles more than a little a comic book, and presages the Marvel Cinematic Universe of the twenty-first century. Serious viewers would deride the increasingly silliness. Of course, they would also deride superheroes, films based on old movie serials, and kids casting magic spells. And maybe they had a point. But the fact remains, the return of the daikaiju to international prominence in the twenty-first century, with bigger budgets and monsters, was entirely expected. Kiddie fare rules the contemporary box office, and Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster helped lead the way.


Director: Ishirô Honda
Writer: Shin'ichi Sekizawa

Yôsuke Natsuki as Detective Shindo
Yuriko Hoshi as Naoko Shindo
Hiroshi Koizumi as Professor Miura
Akiko Wakabayashi as Princess
Emi Itô as Shobijin
Yumi Itô as Shobijin
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Tsukamoto
Akihiko Hirata as Chief Detective Okita
Hisaya Itô as Malmess, Chief Assassin
Minoru Takada as Prime Minister
Someshô Matsumoto as Alien Expert
Ikio Sawamura as Honest Fisherman
Kôzô Nomura as Geologist
Kenji Sahara as Kanamaki
Susumu Kurobe as Assassin with Sinister Moustache

1. The western release softened some scenes and added others, with Raymond Burr as an American reporter.

2. Granted, a monster named Anguirus appears in the second film, while the third pits Godzilla against King Kong. The former made his debut in the film and has never had a movie of his own, while the latter represents an international monster match too good for Toho to pass up.

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