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Film / Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

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"Gentlemen, we need whatever help we are able to obtain. In this case, it makes no difference, where we finally get that help from."
General Wado

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a 1964 Japanese science-fiction kaiju film and the fifth film in the Godzilla franchise, which marked a few changes in the series. It was the first to deviate from the tried and true "giant irradiated mutants from a Lost World trample Tokyo" plot of the previous four films by introducing elements of the space operas and UFO culture that was prevalent in the '50s and '60s. This experiment would be expanded upon in later films. Called San Daikaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessen in Japan.

More importantly, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster marked a change in Godzilla as a character, one that was arguably necessary for the franchise to continue. After having played the villain for four movies straight, Godzilla switches sides in the third act of this film to fight an even worse monster than himself: the planet-destroying King Ghidorah. This change in Godzilla's role would be slowly built upon in the following movies, and set the groundwork for the change in tone that would occur between the first and later halves of the Showa Godzilla series.

That's not to say it's all seriousness and high art, though. There is a fair deal of the silly and goofy atomic age monster movie weirdness one would expect from a good Godzilla movie. Magnetic meteors, assassination plots, princesses disguised as homeless prophets, tiny fairy women on talk shows, and Martians (or Venusians in the Japanese version) possessing human hosts all collide in this movie as three of Toho's biggest monsters join forces to fight a golden three-headed space dragon with "a voice like a bell."

Despite laying the groundwork for the majority of the films that would follow, Ghidorah pretty much never saw theatrical distribution outside Asian and American territories for some reason.

Followed by its direct sequel Invasion of Astro-Monster.

The film provides examples of

  • Alien Invasion: King Ghidorah is introduced as a spacefaring Planet Destroyer who moves from world to world, laying waste to each one. He is responsible for wiping Venus or Mars (depending on the dub) clean of life before he targets Earth, where he's fought by Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra.
  • Aloof Ally: Godzilla and Rodan hate each other’s guts right up until the climax of the movie.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The few Venusians who escaped the destruction of the planet to Earth according to the princess.
  • Antagonist Title: The titular Ghidorah is the main villain.
  • Anti-Hero: Type IV-V. Godzilla and Rodan are still very much creatures against humans where up until the last 10-15 minutes of the film they did whatever they wanted and even then it was either looking out for their fellow monster or just flat out Enemy Mine.
  • Arch-Enemy: This is the film that introduced King Ghidorah, who would go on to face Godzilla eight more times across four continuities.
  • Asshole Victim: Malness and his men. His men die when one of Ghidorah's energy beams cause a landslide that also injures Malness. Malness dies after another energy beam causes another landslide.
  • Badass Adorable: The Mothra larva. Even though by comparison to Godzilla and Rodan she isn’t very powerful, she's still got enough guts not only to try to get them to stop fighting and ask them to help save the world from Ghidorah, but to then go and take on Ghidorah himself on her own (at first) when it seems the other two won't lift a claw in humankind's defense. She also refuses to stay down no matter what Ghidorah does to her. Godzilla and Rodan are quickly impressed by her courage and come to her aid.
  • Badass Normal:
    • Rodan is just a plain big pterosaur, but can go toe to toe with Godzilla, and pull awesome move after awesome move on the King of Terror himself. Then again, he’s a giant pterosaur capable of withstanding all known military weapons and direct hits from Godzilla and King Ghidorah’s respective breath weapons. The only thing that makes him significantly weaker than Godzilla is Rodan’s inability to breathe nuclear fire, but even then he compensates for that by being able to fly.
    • Malness. It isn't everyone who can walk away (mostly) unscathed from a landslide that crushes his car.
  • Badass Pacifist: Mothra.
  • Beware the Cute Ones: Mothra, not Godzilla or Rodan, is the first to charge into battle against King Ghidorah and plays a key role in the dragon’s defeat.
  • Big Bad: King Ghidorah.
  • Blow You Away: Both Rodan and King Ghidorah can cause hurricane winds by flapping their wings, which can topple buildings and knock other kaiju off of their feet.
  • Body Guard Crush: Vibes of it with Shindo to Selina.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played straight with the sole exception of Shindo needing to pause and reload at the hotel, allowing the assassins to get away.
  • Breakout Villain: King Ghidorah's first movie appearance, and he left such an impression, he would become the Big Bad of the entire franchise and the Arch-Enemy of Godzilla.
  • Bus Crash: The second Mothra Larva from the previous film Mothra vs. Godzilla is revealed to have died between movies, likely from being battered about by Godzilla's tail.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Godzilla and Rodan actually have a excuse for the destruction they create, King Ghidorah on the other hand, knows he's destroying and killing. Ghidorah needs no excuse or a reason. Killing and destruction just comes natural to him and he enjoys doing it. Godzilla is repulsed by it, as evident when he sees Ghidorah savagely attack the courageous and much weaker Mothra larva.
  • Butt-Monkey: Godzilla is absolutely this in the movie in his fights with Rodan and especially King Ghidorah, with two Groin Attacks (and an ass shot) to boot.
  • Call-Back: Godzilla's "clapping" Character Tic from King Kong vs. Godzilla is seen again briefly during the summit with Rodan and Mothra.
  • Cassandra Truth: Salno's predictions.
  • Catchphrase: Salno blandly states "I am from Venus" (or "I am a Martian" in the dub) any time her behavior or abilities are questions, and sometimes for no reason at all.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Even before entering the fight, Godzilla actually came to search for Mothra, but once he witnesses King Ghidorah attack her, all bets are off and Godzilla joins the fight to help Mothra.
  • Character Development: The Shobijin were (quite understandably) suspicious and distrustful of outsiders in Mothra and Mothra vs. Godzilla, due to their island being nuked and ruthless businessmen capturing them and forcing them to sing. They even initially refuse to ask Mothra to help drive Godzilla away. By this film though, they have learned that humanity isn't all bad and not only do they willingly come to sing for audiences on TV this time, they also don't hesitate to call upon Mothra to fight Ghidorah.
  • Combat Tentacles: King Ghidorah's necks (and the heads attached to them) behave like this.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Salno claims to be from Venus, an onlooker asks if that's in Africa.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The male Rodan emerges from Mt. Aso, where the pterosaurs had seemingly been killed at the end of Rodan.
    • It's mentioned that Godzilla was once defeated by Mothra, and suggested that Mothra could defeat Ghidorah in the same manner.
    • Mothra's tail-biting attack makes a return—this time it's used against King Ghidorah.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: Ghidorah to Godzilla and Rodan respectively prior to their Heel–Face Turn:
    • With Godzilla, he only appears to only attack when he's provoked by the JSDF and when he's left to his own devices, as shown in Godzilla Raids Again and King Kong vs. Godzilla where he initially doesn't attack humans unless they annoy him or provoke him first. Ghidorah attacks all forms of life because he wants to, and it doesn't matter if they provoke him or not.
    • Rodan and Ghidorah are Giant Flyers after being unearthed under similar circumstances. However Rodan at his worst only attacks to feed while Ghidorah attacks because he loves to. Rodan eventually stops being an antagonist whereas Ghidorah remains the antagonist throughout the series.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In the grand Toho tradition. Noako reports on the space program on the night Ghidorah's meteorite lands on Earth, and her boyfriend is the geologist assigned to study it. Her brother is a police detective assigned to protect the princess who winds up possessed by Ghidorah's Martian victims, something Naoko also reports on.
  • Cop and Scientist: Shindo and Dr. Tsukamoto in the second act.
  • Crisis Cross Over: The previous film linked Mothra and Godzilla but this one had Rodan coming in to join forces against a new enemy.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: To show just how dangerous and powerful King Ghidorah really is, the mighty Godzilla goes to take him head-on, and promptly gets put on the ground within seconds.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Though definitely monstrous in appearance, destructive, and incredibly self centered, Godzilla and Rodan are not truly evil. The lighter colored King Ghidorah, on the other hand…
  • Destructive Saviour: Godzilla and Rodan, oh so very much.
  • Death Ray: Godzilla's radioactive breath, obviously. And King Ghidorah's gravity beams too.
  • The Determinator:
    • Malness, the Selginian assassin. He pulls himself out of his crushed Mercedes after a rock slide and, bruised and bloody, immediately resumes his mission as if nothing happened.
    • Mothra as well. Compared to the other monsters, she's tiny. Yet she throws herself at King Ghidorah again and again. It's this show of raw courage that brings Godzilla and Rodan into the fray to help her drive off the three headed space monster.
  • Didn't Think This Through: No matter how much of a professional killer you are, disasters will happen to you. Malness, despite the obvious red flags surrounding him, continuously chases after the protagonists even after the government issued a warning of King Ghidorah's attack on the country. Because he chooses his job over his safety, his men were killed in a landslide, and King Ghidorah is so unpredictable, an Energy Beam destroys another cliff which kills him. If anything, he could've waited it out after Ghidorah was dealt with.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?:
    • After watching Godzilla and Rodan swat a boulder back and forth like a volleyball, Mothra sprays Godzilla with silk to get his attention. When Rodan laughs - for lack of a better word - at Godzilla, Mothra sprays him too, causing Godzilla to laugh at Rodan.
    • Later, the same larva sprays silk at King Ghidorah.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: And then defeats him and forces him to retreat with the same silk, albeit with the assistance of two much stronger monsters.
  • Disney Villain Death: How Malness meets his doom.
  • Draconic Abomination: King Ghidorah is a three-headed dragon that travels through space devastating entire worlds just for the fun of it.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: the U.S. dub of Rodan changed the volcano Rodan is trapped in from Mt. Aso to Mt. Toya. This change wasn't carried over to the dub of Ghidorah, so for American viewers watching the films in order it would appear that Rodan is freed from a completely different volcano from the one he was buried in, with no explanation.
  • Endangering News Broadcast: At the Diet news conference announcing the new danger to Earth, a minister enquires about "the Martian girl's" location. Considering an attempt had just been made on Selina's life, Naoko rather foolishly replies that she's at Tsukamoto's clinic, which tips off the assassins. Oddly, Shindo never registers his sister's mistake.
  • Enemy Civil War: Two of the film's key antagonists, Godzilla and Rodan, spend the bulk of their screen time fighting each other instead of focusing on their personal vendettas against mankind. They only stop when Mothra convinces them to pull off a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Godzilla only decides to fight King Ghidorah when the space dragon attacks the much weaker Mothra larva.
  • Eviler than Thou: Godzilla and Rodan are both fairly huge threats, but both cease being villains once Ghidorah makes the scene because they simply cannot compete.
  • Evil Laugh: Ghidorah has an iconic cackle which he uses constantly
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over three days.
  • Foreshadowing: Salno's ignored warnings to the ship's crew. Averted in the U.S. version, where the characters' dialogue make it pretty clear Godzilla's gonna be back in the game soon.
  • Global Warming: The worldwide heatwave in the middle of January. Emphasized less in the U.S. cut.
  • Groin Attack: Poor Godzilla was in the receiving end of two of these. One when Rodan drops him on an electrical tower, and the other when King Ghidorah shoots him with his gravity beam.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: What ultimately defeats the mighty King Ghidorah? Rodan's Supersonic Flying Speed? Godzilla's atomic breath? Nope, it's little Mothra's Silk Spray.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Godzilla and Rodan quit waging war on humanity (and each other) to face the threat of King Ghidorah. This is also the beginning of Godzilla's change towards a heroic defender of Earth.
  • Human Aliens: The Venusian/Martian. Maybe… really, her whole deal is something of a Mind Screw.
  • Implacable Man:
    • King Ghidorah is nearly unstoppable, requiring the combined efforts of three kaiju to chase him off, and even then, it took an incredible effort to do so.
    • Malness as well.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Malness had come within a hair's breath of being crushed to death by the first rockslide, which perhaps explains why he was unable to deal Selina a lethal shot while she was in his crosshairs. However, he manages to end the rifle-pistol duel with Shindo by shooting the officer's gun.
  • It Can Think: we find out here that Godzilla and Rodan are both much more intelligent than the earlier films let on, able to hold a fairly complex psychic conversation with Mothra and explain their stances on initially refusing to fight Ghidorah just to save the puny humans that keep shooting them in the face with missiles. Up until now they were generally treated as mindless animals lashing out instinctively, rather than self-aware beings with opinions and agendas.
  • Jerkass: Godzilla as per usual for this early era, despite his Heel–Face Turn. When Rodan is webbed up by Mothra's silk, he actually doubles over in laughter like a jackass.
  • Jump Cut: Ghidorah is the victim of a very prominent one, during his otherwise fantastic materialization shot.
  • Knight of Cerebus: King Ghidorah is introduced as the first truly evil monster of the Godzilla universe. Unlike Godzilla and Rodan, who are more tragic and are given an excuse, King Ghidorah simply doesn't care. He kills and destroys worlds because he wants to.
  • Land, Sea, Sky: The Kaiju who defeat Ghidorah: Mothra in larval form (Land), Godzilla (Sea) and Rodan (Sky).
  • Light Is Not Good: Ghidorah is a beautiful, golden, shiny dragon. Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra Larva are duller, darker-toned entities, with Godzilla being nearly black and Mothra resembling a large, mobile piece of dung.
  • Lilliputians: The Shobijin, for obvious reasons. In fact, they are only one foot high.
  • Little People Are Surreal: The Shobijin, again. They talk in unison and are priestesses of a gigantic-ass caterpillar deity.
  • Master of Unlocking: One of the assassins. He makes a show of picking the lock on Selina's hotel room door.
  • Mistaken for Romance: Naoko's mother and Shindo think she's dating Professor Murai when he drops her off at their house. When Shindo brings it up to Murai, he just chuckles and says he wishes he were that lucky.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Released in December 1964 but set in January 1965, during a fictitious heat wave.
  • Not Quite Dead: The male Rodan from Rodan survived diving into the volcano Mt. Aso at the end of the movie, and emerges a third of the way through this movie.
  • No-Sell: Rodan is completely unfazed by Godzilla blasting him point-blank with his Atomic Breath.
  • Outside-Context Problem: This is the first time in the Showa Godzilla series that humanity encounters an extraterrestrial monster and it's considered a full-on doomsday scenario rather than just a threat to Japan. Ghidorah is so much more powerful and relentlessly destructive than any of Earth's native monsters that the military can't do anything to him and it takes the arguably insane plan of getting Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra to team up in order to stand a chance.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: While other major themes are widely known to be from Ifukube's earlier work, Ghidorah's theme is in fact a modified form of the lunar motif from Battle in Outer Space.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Ghidorah arrives within a meteorite. Subverted when Ghidorah breaks out without any help from outsiders. Averted when it becomes known that this is simply how Ghidorah travels between planets and conserves energy—there is no sealing up of any kind by anyone.
  • Sir Swears Alot: If what the Shobijin say is accurate in their translation, Godzilla is this, though the "Oh Godzilla, what terrible language!" line was just an addition of the dubbing studio to add some more humor to the scene. In the Japanese version of the scene, Rodan and Godzilla come close to agreeing with Mothra at that point instead.
  • Solar System Neighbors: Venus used to have a thriving ecosystem and ancient civilization, until Ghidorah arrived. Some managed to survive and migrate to Earth, intermingling with the natives. The dub changes this to Mars.
  • Spell My Name with an S: Ghidrah, Ghidorah, King Ghidorah, Kingu Gidora
    • While in the U.S. dub, the princess is identified as "Princess Selina Salno," in the original Japanese dialogue her full name and title is "Princess Mas Dorina Salno." It is a Japanese pun for their phrase, "Ma, sudori nasaru, no/Well, are you passing through?"
  • Staring Down Cthulhu: Mothra, in her generally helpless larval stage, faces down King Ghidorah, the King of Terror who wrecks worlds for the fun of it. Alone (initially). She's outmatched and she knows it but she does it anyway.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Naoko and Salno, depending on which personality the latter has, can go each way. Salno can do it in one body with her natural personality being quite feminine, even not so assertive, and her ancestral possession being a bit tomboyish and also suddenly very independent and assertive.
  • The Unfettered: Malness again. To him, a giant, golden, lightning-spewing space dragon is a negligible inconvenience to his mission to kill a princess. Then again, Malness was threatened by his boss with death as punishment if he returned home without completing his mission, so he actually has a valid reason to keep going.
    • In the Japanese dialogue, Malness and his men also dismiss the appearance of Rodan as being a problem.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: After being trounced by Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan, King Ghidorah flies away, fleeing the earth's atmosphere. However, this wouldn't be the last the world sees of him.
  • The Worf Effect: Godzilla, the strongest monster in the entire kaiju universe so far, marches up to, and prepares to fight Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. He gets brutally trounced by Ghidorah in a few seconds.
  • Worf Barrage:
    • Godzilla's Atomic Breath proves all but useless against Rodan. This is especially notable when taken into perspective, where in earlier films Godzilla's breath was used mostly as a last resort and often had devastating effects on opponents.
    • King Ghidorah tanks it with no problem as well (although, that would not be revealed until the next movie).
    • Averted in Mothra's case, as her silk spray, once used from a proper vantage point, defeats the invincible Big Bad. Again.