Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster screenshot

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

three stars

Godzilla teams up with both Mothra and Rodan in order to save Earth from King Ghidorah, a planet-destroying monster from outer space.

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Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster utilizes all of Toho's successful kaiju movie strategies. First, it brings back Godzilla, their headlining star, for his fifth appearance. Next, it has Godzilla cross paths with other existing kaiju: not only does Mothra return here, but Godzilla also faces off with the eponymous monster from 1956's Rodan for the first time. Last but not least, it introduces a brand new kaiju in their own self-titled film: King Ghidorah, who will become Toho's top villain.

A foreign princess, believed to have died in a plane explosion, reappears as a prophet warning that Earth is doomed. Turns out the princess is now possessed by an alien from Venus (or Mars, if you're watching the American version). She predicts the arrival of King Ghidorah, a monster that destroyed the civilization on her home planet. Our human characters, with the help of the Shobijin, are able to convince Mothra to help protect Earth, but she can't save the planet alone. Can Godzilla and Rodan put their differences aside long enough to help Mothra defeat Ghidorah?

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster screenshot

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was rushed into production to fill a hole in Toho's schedule, and it ended up being released within the same year as Mothra vs. Godzilla. For the most part, the film doesn't feel haphazard or cheap compared to other Godzilla movies, but it is a rather inauspicious debut for King Ghidorah. Godzilla and Rodan meet here for the first time, and a fight between the two makes up a good chunk of the movie that could have been spent establishing the titular character as a threat instead. While it does take the combined efforts of three popular monsters to defeat Ghidorah, he ends up fleeing after sustaining only minimal damage (in fact, it's about the same amount of damage that Mothra inflicts on Godzilla and Rodan earlier in the same movie, and they both brush it off with relative ease). On the other hand, this leaves the door wide open for Ghidorah's inevitable return.

The true hero in the film is Mothra, who appears only in larva form. Whether due to budgetary or technical limitations (or both), this actually works in the film's favor. Mothra tries desparately to convince Godzilla and Rodan to join her, but they refuse, and Mothra scurries away to face Ghidorah alone. It's mentioned earlier that one of the two larvae has died since the last movie, so we know this one's vulnerable as well. Ghidorah will quite obviously make quick work of Mothra, which earns huge amounts of sympathy with viewers as well as Godzilla and Rodan, who are persuaded to come to her aid.

The princess assassination subplot feels entirely separate from the monsters, the only link between the two stories being the Shobijin. The film is also noteworthy for cementing Godzilla's heroic turn in full for the first time. These are all examples of the main issue: this particularly movie is trying to do too much at the same time, and landmark moments in the franchise are rushed through and packed tightly together. Ultimately, this is as fun and entertaining as any Toho kaiju movie, but doesn't stand out as much as it should on paper. Even though Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster introduces the all-time top Toho villain and immediately pits him against their three biggest established stars, it's not the most memorable depiction of any of these characters.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster poster Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster title screen

Director

  • Ishirō Honda

Cast

  • Yosuke Natsuki as Detective Shindo
  • Yuriko Hoshi as Naoko Shindo
  • Hiroshi Koizumi as Professor Murai
  • Takashi Shimura as Dr. Tsukamoto
  • Emi Itō as Shobijin
  • Yumi Itō as Shobijin
  • Akiko Wakabayashi as Selina Salno
  • Shoichi Hirose as King Ghidorah
  • Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla
  • Masaki Shinohara as Rodan