SON OF KAIJI DAY MARATHON: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

The eleventh Godzilla movie was one that never felt right to me watching it on TV as a kid. It always looked dingy, dirty and cheap. Seeing the new Criterion re-release of this movie is a revelation, as the original Japanese version is a wild, out of control environmental message film with animated moments and musical numbers that battles within itself, somehow unrealizing that it is a big rubber suit monster movie.

Yoshimitsu Banno, who directed this, also made Prophecies of Nostradamus for Toho, which is another movie that should just be schlock and has moments that aspire to become outsider art.

Not all would agree that this movie is wonderful. Tomoyuki Tanaka*, one of Godzilla’s creators, demoted Banno and went so far as to claim that the director ruined the King of Monsters.

Hedorah is a microscopic alien that grows larger by eating Earth’s pollution and soon grows into a poisonous, acid-secreting sea monster. Or Smog Monster, if we believe one of the American titles.

Much like the motorcycle death scene in the aforementioned Nostradamus film, a party is thrown on Mt. Fuji to celebrate the last day of life before Japan. Thousands have died and so many more will as Hedorah and Godzilla fight again, with the pollution-eating beast doing more gore-drenched damage to the big green lizard than anyone before — he takes his eye and burns his hand to the point we see bone — before drowning him in sludge.

Godzilla returns, flying backward in an astounding scene that’s nearly hilarious, but then things get beyond serious when Godzilla repeatedly burns his enemy, tearing away at him bit by bit before returning to the ocean, staring back one last time to remind humans that Hedorah was all their fault.

This was released in the U.S. by American-International Pictures and teamed with The Thing With Two Heads before playing repeatedly on TV. I know that I saw it multiple times and never thought much of it until now.

Lucio Fulci would have loved this one, because not only does Godzilla nearly lose an eye, but he also tears Hedorah’s eyes right out of his body.

I mean, there’s no other kaiju movie inspired by Rachel Carson. For me, this movie is a success because it’s just so wild that this arose from a major franchise. Here’s to experimentation, with films that have Bond-like openings, wild musical numbers and extended sequences of a giant monster pulling junk out of another one.

*Tanaka banned Banno from ever working on another Godzilla film for as long as Tanaka lived. That said, after Tanaka’s death, Banno acquired Godzilla’s film rights and had planned to produce an IMAX short film entitled Godzilla 3-D to the Max. When funding fell through, he worked with Legendary Pictures on behalf of Toho and was an executive producer of 2014’s Godzilla.

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