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11) GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971)

Japanese/international release title: Godzilla vs. Hedora
U.S. release date: July, 1972
Japanese audience attendance: 1,740,000
Director: Yoshimitsu Banno
Screenplay: Yoshimitsu Banno and Kaoru Mabuchi
Sfx: Teruyoshi Nakano
Musical score: Riichiro Manabe
U.S. version available on home video from Cheezy Flicks Entertainment (the American version is now presumably in the public domain, as it has been out of print for many years after being released by Orion Video during the 1980's); international version, titled "Godzilla vs. Hedorah," available on home video in America by Tri-Star Video.

Synopsis:

As the waters of industrialized Japan become increasingly polluted with refuse and toxic sludge, a menace is inevitably spawned. A large aquatic creature, at least 4 meters long, appears in Suruga Bay, wreaking havoc on the boats in the harbor. When a scientist named Dr. Tohru Yano dives into the bay in search of evidence of the mysterious creature’s existence, he encounters the beast (which resembles a huge black tadpole with enormous red eyes) and is nearly killed by it, his face horribly scarred in the process. A short time later, Dr. Yano’s young son Ken also encounters the monster while standing at the water’s rocky shore, managing to slice a piece of “flesh” off of the beast with his knife. When observing the creature's cellular residue under the microscope, Dr. Yano learns that each of the tiny particles are independently alive, and they readily join together to form larger organisms, constantly mutating as they go. At Ken's suggestion, Dr. Yano names the strange creature “Hedorah” [the monsters's name was spelled 'Hedora' in the title of the international film version of this movie], and he obviously fears the worst. Ken, however, is confidant that Godzilla will appear to save the world should the need arise.

The scientist’s fears are proven correct a short time later when the water monster appears on shore one evening, having mutated into an amphibious, quadrapedal beast at least 30 meters long. The sludge-like kaiju begins feeding off of the pollutants issuing forth from industrial smokestacks when, in fulfillment of young Ken Yano’s hopes, Godzilla suddenly appears in the city to challenge the smog monster. Hedorah attacks Godzilla, and after a fierce battle, the heroic kaiju is left for dead in a pool of sludge spewed by the toxic creature. Meanwhile, Hedorah promptly escapes into the ocean.

After further investigation of the smog monster, Dr. Yano theorizes that Hedorah is some sort of alien life form that fell to Earth via meteor billions of years ago, and remained dormant until being revived and mutated by modern industrial pollutants [Dr. Yano never revealed why he believed the creature stems from an extraterrestrial source; scientists believe that all the building blocks of life may have actually arrived on Earth the same way, thus rendering his inexplicable hypothesis rather unpeculiar in the scheme of things]. He also theorizes that as Hedorah feeds upon more and more industrial pollutants, the kaiju will continue to grow in size and mutate into different forms.
Sure enough, Hedorah mutates into a flying, pancake shaped creature that's completely free from the ocean, and the now airborne beast spews a deadly sulfuric acid mist in his wake, corroding the city infrastructure, and reducing hapless humans to primordial ooze. Godzilla appears once again to tackle the creature, but Hedorah’s great mobility in its flying form, coupled with the acid mist, prove too much for Godzilla once again.

Finally appearing in the Mt. Fuji area, Hedorah mutates into his ultimate form, a shambling, nearly 70 meter tall bipedal mountain of slime, though he can still morph into his flying form at will. Now battling the Japanese military to a standstill, the creature is later caught in a trap set by the J.S.D.F., a set of giant electrical grids that buffet the monster with enormous amounts of electrical energy, which Dr. Yano suggested would weaken and dry up the creature’s sludge-like body. Although the trap seems to work initially, the device short circuits, and Hedorah escapes once more.

However, just as all seems hopeless, Godzilla appears yet again to battle his evil kaiju foe. Godzilla is seemingly outmatched as his physical attacks prove useless against the only semi-solid kaiju, and Hedorah severely scars his opponent with assaults by his acid sludge, sulfuric mist, and a "toxic" beam of energy projected out of the smog monster’s right eye. To make things worse, Hedorah continuously morphs into his flying form and back, which keeps Godzilla confused. However, in an incredibly absurd moment, Godzilla counters this particular advantage of his foe by using his atomic breath to enable him to fly, as well (this has to be seen to be believed; trust me on that!). He then discovers that his atomic breath can likewise activate the electric grid, thereby sending the lethal electrical currents into Hedorah’s sludgy form anew.

After several minutes of being subjected to attacks by the electrical grids as a result of the latter being "powered up" by Godzilla's nuclear blasts [it's always nice to have a scientifically informed monster on humanity's side!], Hedorah has dried into a dessicated husk, and Godzilla tears two glowing orbs from the creature’s body, which apparently serve as its energy conduits, and then crushes them in his hands. With Hedorah definitively destroyed, Godzilla roars in anger at the tiny builders of the pollution-producing machines, and then strides back to the ocean to heal his painful injuries.

Review/Comments:

This truly bizarre and outrageous entry into the original G-series, which marked the beginning of Godzilla’s “super-hero” career as a full-fledged defender of the Earth, was the product of a completely different creative team than those who brought us the classic G-films of the '50’s and '60’s. In fact, director Yoshimitsu Banno went out of his way to be as different from Ishiro Honda and Jun Fukuda as possible, and it’s safe to say that he succeeded. Whether this was a good thing or not is still hotly debated by all G-fans. Banno was obviously greatly influenced by the Showa Gamera series (still ongoing at the time), and this movie fit the profile of a Gamera film perfectly, to wit:

1) Godzilla, like Gamera, is portrayed as a campy but very brave heroic monster, something quite different from what he was originally intended to be; 2) Godzilla displays a level of intelligence greater than that of any animal, often to the point of utilizing human-like fighting techniques and creative use of his nuclear-based powers (let's not forget that in this movie the Big G actually deduced how to use his atomic breath to power huge man-made electrical induction devices!);

3) Godzilla actually flies in a few scenes during the climactic battle, utilizing his atomic breath to achieve both lift and thrust, enabling the Kaiju King to fly backwards ([!!!!]; are we absolutely certain that this wasn’t actually Gamera in disguise, hoping to covertly cut a contractual deal with Toho?);

4) The film featured just two monsters, a "good" one and a "bad" one, rather than Toho’s usual plethora of kaiju, the appearance of only two contending monsters in one film being a common theme for Gamera films, as Daiei had no interest in presenting a movie featuring more than two monsters (with the exception of Space Gyaos in Gamera vs. Guiron [1969] in addition to the two titular kaiju, but that was only an extended cameo along with another very brief one);

5) More of the film is taken up with the military’s schemes to defeat the bad kaiju than with the latter creature’s conflict against the good kaiju;

6) People are shown meeting horrific deaths directly by the evil monster, something Toho avoided depicting after the first G-film, but which were rather common in Gamera films;

7) A child star appears as one of the main human protagonists; even more astounding, his name in the American version is Ken! The reason this is worth noting is because for some odd reason, the young boy in Eastern dai kaiju films often had their name transformed into "Kenny" (or sometimes simply "Ken") when the movie's dialogue was dubbed into English for the American/international versions of the flick ("Ken" being short in the Japanese lingo for "Kenimitsu"). Thus, this prominent type of young protagonist in such movies are often collectively referred to by long time kaiju-fans as "Kennys";

8) The tone of the script is grim but simplistic, and surprising amounts of violence are depicted, including grueling injuries delivered to the heroic monster, a memorable staple of Gamera films (Godzilla has his eye destroyed by one of Hedorah's blobs of acid sludge at one point), though it should be noted that Japanese kid audiences are considerably more tolerant of extreme violence in films than their American counterparts are raised to be;

9) The good monster gets his head handed to him in battle with the bad monster more than once, until the movie’s climax; and...

10) The film was geared as much towards a younger audience as any other.

Need I say more regarding Mr. Banno’s source of inspiration? Gamera was kaijudom’s first official monster super-hero equivalent, and his movies by the Daiei film studio attracted a decently sized young audience. Toho obviously felt they could change Godzilla’s character traits to attract the same audience and effectively compete for it against the Gamera films, only to realize that the shrinking adult fans were the group the King of the Kaiju was founded upon, and the G-film franchise wouldn’t thrive for long without them. Nevertheless, in making sure that its social message remained topical, Toho switched its environmental theme focus from radiation to pollution, as the first Earth Day celebration coincided with the film’s release. Also, the movie soundly defeated Daiei’s contribution to the ecological cause that year, the unbearably awful Gamera vs. Zigra, due to the latter’s terminally low budget and hastily churned out, putrid script, since Daiei, Toho's only major competition in the dai kaiju business, was tottering on the financial brink at the time, and would soon go out of business for many years (though later resuming operations, and later still granting Gamera a wondrous cinematic comeback). Hence, Toho's contribution to the first Earth Day celebration can be said to have had an unfair advantage over rival Daiei's own benefaction to the cause, since the latter's Gamera vs. Zigra was so terribly scripted and budget-deficient as a result of the haste with which the latter film was written and produced, and the severe financial woes then being suffered by the company (which would fold just a few months later, the corporate entity's fiscal problems not helped in the least by the cinematic disaster of their last Gamera movie of the Showa Era).

Teruyoshi Nakano made his debut here as the director of special effects, something he would continue to do for the next five G-films. While his talents were certainly not equal to that of the late, great Eiji Tsuberaya, he nevertheless brought some interestingly outré sfx to this particular film, at least. Riichiro Manabe’s score is best left unmentioned, although the film’s main theme song, “Save the Earth,” was beautifully performed by a talented singer, and the song's title also ended up as the sub-title for Atari's excellent 2004 home video game released in America for the Playstation 2 and X-Box home arcade systems (sadly, despite its title, Hedorah didn't make into this game in any shape or form as he did as a non-playable character in Atari's previous 'Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee' [2002]). This movie is a must have for all G-fan's' film libraries, as its premise and execution were so unusual for the series, particularly the inclusion of crude but disturbing cartoon animation sequences that periodically showed up in the film, delineating Hedorah’s attacks on the city’s industrial infrastructure (these also have to be seen to be believed).

Further, the movie was a staple of '70’s pop culture, the cinematography often highlighting the weird manner of dress and psychedelic elements prevalent at the time (yep, the liberal hippie movement of the era found its way to the Land of the Rising Sun, also!).

Furthermore, love him or hate him, Hedorah was an extremely deadly, very well executed nemesis for Godzilla, despite being a far cry from Toho’s 'logical' creatures of the '50’s and '60’s, and more resembling one of Gamera’s cartoony but intriguing and ultra-dangerous adversaries.

People who see Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) prior to this one will be astounded to find out how deadly Hedorah was in this movie, considering how easily he was dispatched by the Big G in GFW.

The film was quickly released in America by AIP, the legendary exploitation company’s final release of a G-film. As usual, the movie was handled very well by them, with quality dubbing replacing the dubious English dubbing for the international version, and with a minimum of alterations to the movie itself. The only two significant changes made to the U.S. version was in the beginning and the ending. The lyrics of the main theme song over the title credits were translated into English by AIP, a very unusual occurrence when a film is dubbed into another language, but also well done (the song was not translated into English for the dubbed international version, which is currenly featured on the Godzilla movie marathons that periodically show up on the Sci-Fi Channel, and is also available on home video in the U.S. under its international title of "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" [the latter's name sometimes spelled sans the second 'h']).

The Japanese ending showed a still picture of Hedorah rising to the surface of the water (taken from the film’s opening scene), along with the Japanese characters spelling out the question “Will there be another?”, thus underscoring the fact that director Banno originally wanted to see Hedorah return (in Africa, of all places, according to his original proposition for a sequel!). The U.S. version deleted this final scene, leaving no implication to the audience that Hedorah would ever rise again. That proved prophetic, since executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was in the hospital during the production of the film, pitched a fit upon seeing the movie, and left the expressed command across the studio that Yoshimitsu Banno would never again helm a Godzilla film.

Surprisingly, a poll taken in G-FAN magazine a few years ago listed Hedorah as one of Godzilla’s foes that they would most like to see resurrected, and we all must wonder about the interesting prospect of Hedorah being depicted onscreen in the current era of CGI effects. Alas, it would be 33 years before Hedorah would be revived, for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), the final G-film in the Millennium Series, and his appearance in that film was much too brief to elicit much excitement to Hedorah fans. His appearance in Marc Cerasini's G-novel GODZILLA AT WORLD'S END was interesting, but that story's powered-down version of Hedorah ultimately left much to be desired, and like the latter G-film, his appearances in the book were lost amidst a large kaiju cast, and he was defeated fairly easily in battle with Godzilla, unlike the major challenge he proved to the Big G in this film. As such, it would appear that this G-film marks Hedorah's sole grasp at something akin to true glory.

The completion of Godzilla’s change from menace to hero by this movie was rewarded with diminishing box office receipts, as the film series began its inexorable slide into oblivion due to floundering interest and support from the adult audience. On this side of the Pacific, the Godzilla films would now be considered as nothing more than fodder for the children’s matinees. This state of affairs wasn't helped by the American release of Godzilla's Revenge the previous year, though some hope may have been fleetingly offered when AIP re-released the impressive Destroy All Monsters again the same year as this film, and the two were often seen on a double bill, the latter arrangement obviously intended to increase the marquee value of this considerably different G-film, and this was admittedly a very good marketing ploy by AIP.

Though Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster was released to home video in the early '80's, and frequently played the now defunct WOR station every friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day, the American version was out of print for many years by the late '90's and scarcely seen on TV, being replaced in both venues by the somewhat inferior international version, "Godzilla vs. Hedorah."
Thankfully, this unfortunate state of affairs was remedied in early 2005 when the American version was released to home video by Cheezy Flicks Entertainment at a very reasonable price, and I heartily recommend AIP's American version over that of the international version available by Tri-Star Video to my fellow G-fans. Of course, the Japanese version of the film with English sub-titles can be affordably purchased from those cool folks at Video Daikaiju.

Hence, it should be noted that "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster" and "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" are the American and international versions (respectively) of the same film. And I recommend the American version that is now again available, this time on DVD, over that of its officially released international counterpart not only because of the more professional dubbing, but also because the English language version of the theme song "Save The Earth" is, IMHO, quite awesome, and obviously fondly recalled by many other G-fans if the sub-title of Atari's 2004 Godzilla video game is any indication.

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