Japanese release title: Three Giant Monsters: Earth’s Greatest Battle
International release title: Monster of Monsters, Ghidorah
U.S. release date: Sept. 13, 1965, by Continental Pictures
Japanese audience attendance: 4,320,000
Director: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Sfx: Eiji Tsuberaya
Musical score: Akira Ifukube
U.S. version available on home video by Video Treasures.
Princess Salna, leader of the tiny but honored republic of Saligna, while traveling to Japan in a government plane, is overcome by a mysterious hypnotic urge to leap from the plane, thus saving her from an assassination attempt via hidden bomb.
In the meantime, a strange ferrous meteor crashes to Earth in the Kurobe Gorge area of Japan, and it immediately begins giving off magnetic waves, which, among other things, causes a freak winter heat wave across the island nation. The meteor also begins to slowly increase its size, as if incubating something within.
Afterwards, Princess Salna inexplicably appears alive in Japan, but her mind seems to have been taken over by the same unknown force that previously saved her life, which she claims to be Martian in origin (Venusian, in the Japanese version), and she begins making catastrophic predictions of the very near future. Among these predictions are that the magnetic waves will arouse both Rodan and Godzilla from their hiding places, and that both of them would immediately attack Japan anew.
As the Salignian assassins, determined to stage a coup in their nation’s political structure by murdering Princess Salna, continue to stalk her, she is placed under the protection of a heroic detective named Shindo. With the assistance of his sister Naoko, and the tiny Shobijin from Infant Island (who also appear in Japan as a result of the prophecy), Detective Shindo manages to save the life of the princess turned prophetess from the assassins, who are led by the evil agent Malness (Malmess, in the Japanese version).
Meanwhile, true to Princess Salna’s warnings, Rodan is awakened from suspended animation in the depths of Mt. Aso by the magnetic waves, and begins a destructive flight across Japan. Soon after that, Godzilla appears in the Pacific Ocean and destroys an ocean liner. After coming ashore in Yokohama, Godzilla engages Rodan in battle.
Nevertheless, the worst is yet to come as the activity occurring in the meteorite reaches its climax, and the giant metallic rock releases an enormous ball of energy that materializes into the 100 meter tall, extraterrestrial tri-headed dragon-like kaiju known as King Ghidorah, and who is feared throughout the galaxy (the “King” prefix isn’t used in the American version, and the currently standard spelling of this kaiju's name in English is "King Ghidorah," regardless of the variety of ways his name has been spelled in the various American sources, including the American film titles where King Ghidorah's name appears). King Ghidorah immediately attacks several villages across the Mt. Fuji locale, and the military is completely overwhelmed by the space kaiju’s tremendous power.
After being taken to a clinic in the Mt. Fuji area, Princess Salna reveals, under guided hypnosis, that the Salignians are allegedly distant, devolved ancestors of a highly advanced humanoid civilization that dwelled on the planet Mars many centuries ago. However, King Ghidorah arrived on the red planet in due time, and the demonic kaiju destroyed the entire civilization, save for a few refugees who escaped to the nearby planet Earth. Having started the tiny island nation now called Saligna, they eventually lost all conscious memories of their extraterrestrial origins, and their once great psychic powers became dormant. She claimed that a residue of her race’s psychic past returned to her to warn the Earth once King Ghidorah arrived in his incubating incarnation, lest the planet be unprepared for the monster’s appearance as the Martians were. Realizing the extent of the danger, the Shobijin telepathically summon the single remaining Mothra larva from Infant Island [the other one, being redundant, apparently died soon after helping his/her female twin defeat Godzilla] to try to persuade Godzilla and Rodan to stop fighting each other and aid her in repulsing King Ghidorah from Earth.
As the two Earth kaiju’s battle reached a stalemate, Mothra interrupted the conflict, and communicates with them through telepathy (described in the film as an ill-defined “monster language”), urging them to come to Earth’s defense. The two monsters refuse, however, and Mothra is forced to try to battle King Ghidorah by herself.
However, despite a valiant attempt, the Mothra larva is no match for the huge space dragon, and Ghidorah thrashes her about at will with his electro-bolts. Just as the brave little caterpillar’s defeat seems imminent, Godzilla and Rodan, apparently put to shame by Mothra’s example, intercede in the battle, and all three Earth kaiju join forces against the demon from space. As the extraordinary battle ensues, the nearby Detective Shindo and Princess Salna are pursued and attacked by Malness and his henchmen across the breadth of Mt. Fuji. Both the princess and Shindo are shot in a gun battle with Malness, but neither are hurt fatally. Before Malness can finish the two off, however, he is killed in an avalanche caused by the nearby monster battle.
When the princess awakens, her original persona is restored to her, and she has no memory of her sojourn as the Martian prophetess.
Finally, after a tremendous effort, the three Earth kaiju finally manage to overwhelm King Ghidorah, and the tri-headed terror retreats from the planet. As a grateful Princess Salna thanks the injured Detective Shindo before returning to her native country, the three triumphant Earth monsters, now on better terms with the human race, part company in peace.
This grand Toho epic stands as one of the most memorable G-films of all time, despite the fact that Godzilla wasn’t even the main kaiju star. Instead, he shared company with the returning kaiju Rodan and Mothra, both of whom previously starred in their own films. Also, this particular entry in the series began the slow rehabilitation of Godzilla’s character (as well as that of Rodan), granting him a rudimentary degree of sentience, and changing him from a bona fide menace to humankind in the beginning of the film to the ambiguous relationship with the human race he would have for the rest of the G-films of the 60’s by the end of this movie. Godzilla would now be on friendly terms with kaiju he formerly knocked heads with instinctually, and he would come to the defense of humankind against a greater threat, however inadvertent it might have been; it wasn’t until the G-films of the 70’s that he became a deliberate savior of the human race.
This movie also features the first actual extraterrestrial menace that Godzilla and company battled, even though the alien race who was controlling King Ghidorah--the Xians--were behind the scenes until the next film, which would be more or less a direct sequel to this one. King Ghidorah (his name is often misspelled “Ghidorah” or “Ghidrah” in the U.S.) proved to be Toho’s second most popular kaiju, and he would become a recurring nemesis for Godzilla, battling him in five additional films to date, once tangling with the monster-battling super-hero Zone Fighter on the small screen in 1973, and facing off against Mothra in Rebirth of Mothra 3 (1998).
King Ghidorah was brilliantly and elaborately executed by effects master Eiji Tsuberaya, and the city destruction scenes were excellent, although he would surpass this film in quality with the next appearance of King Ghidorah in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965). Also worth noting was the truly unearthly cry of the space demon, unlike any other kaiju sound ever heard. The battle between the four kaiju was also extremely well done and exciting, filled with memorable scenes such as Rodan and King Ghidorah knocking each other out of the sky after colliding head-on during the battle, to that of Rodan carrying Mothra through the air as she blasted away at Ghidorah with her silk shooter. The teamwork executed by the three heroic kaiju against King Ghidorah was both marvelous and logical. Furthermore, the sfx used to realize King Ghidorah’s fiery materialization from the meteorite was very impressive, even by today’s standards, and Tsuberaya deserves heaps of praise for realizing these four super-beasts so convincingly, given the limitations of the time.
The only drawback to the kaiju action was the minor inclusion of some deliberate humor, such as the Godzilla/Rodan rock throwing segment, reminiscent of a volleyball game, and the introduction of the fact that the monsters can “speak” to each other. Also, Godzilla’s head was altered to give him an almost comical, much less threatening appearance, and the new Rodan suit had a head that was annoyingly ridiculous to behold. As a result of the latter iniquities, this film is often considered less of an accomplishment for the G-team than the original Godzilla vs. Mothra by current G-fans.
Further, Ishiro Honda’s direction of the human drama, while still top-notch and bolstered by a great cast, is often criticized for its relative lack of connection to the monster happenings. While the two disparate elements were mildly interrelated, influencing each other from time to time, they were admittedly kept mostly separate. The human plot was still quite good, with much suspense, though it was bereft of Honda’s usual presentation of important social commentary. Instead, it acted as a tense police drama, with a serious adult tone. Much of the criticism attributed to the human plot is the result of the poor dubbing present in the U.S. version, which inevitably brought Honda’s sterling direction down a notch.
In fact, Continental’s entire handling of the American release of the film was less than competent, and it’s a shame that this film wasn’t handled in America by AIP. Continental reshuffled plenty of footage needlessly, leaving the progression of events disjointed at times. As mentioned above, the dubbing was rather poorly done, and perhaps worst of all, one of Akira Ifukube’s most famous scores ever was largely excised, and either not replaced at all, or substituted with American library music.
To their credit, Continental did provide an exciting and non-deceptive ad campaign for the film, with the movie poster exclaiming “The three-headed monster battles Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan for the world!” And for once, the film actually delivered what the ad poster said it would! Thus, while the American version is still enjoyable to watch, it's nevertheless much better to obtain a sub-titled Japanese print, which is affordably available from Video Daikaiju. In either case, King Ghidorah’s debut appearance is a must-have for every G-fan’s video library, as well as sci-fi fans in general.
After this great movie was released by Continental (on a double bill with the Elvis Presley film Haram Scarem, no less!) the American versions of the G-films began being released out of order of their production. For the purposes of film continuity, I will continue to list the G-films in the order of their production and release in Japan.
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