The first Godzilla movie I ever saw that featured the monster Ghidorah was not this film but the following one, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (which may in fact have been the second Godzilla movie I ever saw in my life). Being very, very young at the time, I wasn't able to comprehend that in that film, the characters talk about how Ghidorah had appeared once before and was driven from Earth, so I just assumed that this was the first time Godzilla ever encountered this powerful foe. It wasn't until I read that Crestwood House book on Godzilla that I learned about this film and how it involved not only Godzilla and Rodan but Mothra (she's not mentioned at all in Monster Zero) battling Ghidorah as well. I eventually also saw the trailer for the American version of the movie and I'll give you a hundred bucks if you can guess where I saw it. Say it with me, now: Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies. That trailer starts by showing Godzilla blowing up a ship and Rodan appearing out of a crater and then the title was shown: Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. At that point, I knew the character as either Monster Zero or Ghidorah, which is how its name was pronounced in the film Godzilla vs. Gigan, which I had seen and owned by that point, but the minute I saw Godzilla, which naturally piqued my interest anyway, and saw the portion of the title that said the Three-Headed Monster, I knew exactly what they were talking about. But, despite my interest in it, the fact that this was during a period when Godzilla films were very, very hard to find would prevent me from seeing it for quite a while. It wasn't one of the four that our local VHS rental shop had and I never saw it available in any video stores when I was trying to hunt down every single Godzilla movie so after a while, I kind of forgot about it and the other ones that I hadn't seen until I got back into Godzilla hardcore in late 1997. Fortunately for me, the upcoming release of the 1998 film prompted the re-release of many Godzilla movies on VHS and Ghidrah was one of many that I found and bought in the months leading up to the movie's release. When I finally got to see the movie at the age of ten, I thought it was good but I didn't absolutely love it, which is the opinion I still have today. A lot of fans really, really like this one and feel that it's one of the best of the original series and while I agree that it is entertaining, it's not one I find myself going back to that often. Because of nostalgia, I just prefer Monster Zero much more (which is weird because of how little monster action there is in that film) but I want to be clear that I do like Ghidorah and, in fact, respect it more now that the Japanese version is available for me to see; it's just not one that I'm absolutely crazy about, though.
It's January but, despite this, Japan is going through a heat-wave that's causing outbreaks of encephalitis and encouraging to go swimming around New Year's Eve. A club of UFO enthusiasts hopes to make contact with beings from other worlds in the hope that they can explain to them what's happening to their planet. One night, the group witnesses a meteor shower that is apparently visible all over the world, which ends with one particularly large meteorite crashing in a gorge behind a mountain. A team of scientists, led by the renowned Prof. Murai, hike their way through the wilderness in order to observe the fallen object, which they discover has sporadic periods of strong magnetism and also appears to be slowly growing. Meanwhile, Detective Shindo is assigned to act as a bodyguard for Princess Salno, a lovely young woman from a small Himalayan country who is under the threat of assassination due to her being the heir to the throne, while she's visiting Japan. While her plane is destroyed by a bomb before it can arrive, a mysterious force takes hold of the princess and gets her to jump out of the plane before it explodes. Despite the princess being presumed dead, she inexplicably appears in Japan, wearing normal clothes rather than her usual royal garb and claiming to be from the planet Venus (Mars in the English version). She acts as a prophet and attempts to warn very skeptical people that the Earth is in danger, starting with a warning about the volcano Mt. Aso, a prediction that ends up coming true when the flying monster Rodan breaks out of the volcano's crater and begins flying around the countryside. After that, she warns that a ship meant to take the visiting Shobijin, who, along with the natives of Infant Island and Mothra, are now on good terms with Japan, back home must not sail and, sure enough, when it does sail that night, Godzilla rises from the sea and destroys it. With two monsters now threatening Japan and Shindo doing his best to protect Salno from her assassins, who have traveled to the country to finish the job, the princess makes one last prediction, that King Ghidorah, a powerful space monster that completely destroyed the civilization on Venus, has arrived on Earth and will do the same to it. Like before, the prophecy comes true when the fallen meteorite cracks open and the evil, three-headed space dragon emerges from it and begins attacking the countryside as well. With Ghidorah being an even bigger threat than Godzilla and Rodan, the government turns to the Shobijin and Mothra, who suggest that if Mothra can persuade her fellow monsters to battle Ghidorah alongside her, they might have a chance to defeat the dragon. But, with Ghidorah laying waste to the country and Godzilla and Rodan caught up in their own battle, the question is whether Mothra can get the latter two to cooperate and join up to save the Earth before it's too late.
The early to mid-1960's were very busy years for director Ishiro Honda.With Toho's output of science fiction and monster flicks at its absolute peak, they had Honda at the helm of at least one movie a year, with 1964 being an especially active year that saw him in the director's chair for three. Once Honda finished with Mothra vs. Godzilla, he began work on a film called Dogora the Space Monster (a film I've never seen), which was released in August, just four months after the last Godzilla film, and four months after that in December, Ghidorah was released. The idea of three special effects-heavy monster movies being released within four months of each other is insane but, nevertheless, Toho and Honda pulled it off, mainly because the movie's productions overlapped, with some scenes being shot for one movie while another was being finished up. Even more unbelievable than that is that some of these movies are not only good but damn good, with Mothra vs. Godzilla being revered as a bona fide classic and Ghidorah remaining a beloved fan favorite to this day. It's a true testament to the abilities of not only Honda but also his associates, notably producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, and effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya, that they were able to create some quality work out of the assembly line-like mentality that Toho had when it came to putting these films out and it would continue as such throughout the decade.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a noteworthy entry in the franchise for a couple reasons. For one, as many fans will tell you, this is when Godzilla begins to shrug off his original role as a villain and starts to become a good guy. He still causes some death and property damage here and only helps out after some convincing about why he should do so but, regardless, this is the start of Godzilla's popular persona as champion of the Earth. From here to the end of the original series, the only damage he would intentionally cause to mainland Japan would be when he's under the control of aliens, as would be the case in the next film, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (I've always found it interesting how, in the film after he starts to turn over a new leaf, you have Godzilla destroying stuff again, mind control or not), and later on in Destroy All Monsters. Personally, as I'll go into as we head deeper into the series, I don't think Godzilla ever became an out and out hero to Japan but instead was a creature who, while not actively harming mankind, was defending Earth because it's his home too and the monsters he's fighting are threatening its survival. Still, if you want to call Godzilla an out and out hero, I'm not going to stop you and regardless, I agree that this is the film where his characterization begins to really change. The other thing that this movie is noteworthy for is that it's when the series started to go absolutely insane, with everything but the kitchen sink being thrown into the stories. While some of the stuff that would come later, especially the entries in the 70's, would make this movie look downright reasonable, with even the next one being much more heavy on the sci-fi, Ghidorah is still a very out there film. Besides the typical plot of a monster threatening all life on Earth, you've got political intrigue involving this princess character and the policeman trying to protect her from assassins, an apparent case of possession with whatever this otherworldly force is that takes hold of the princess and makes her claim that she's from another planet and enables her to predict the future, mysterious phenomena such as a heat-wave in the middle of winter that's never explained, and, craziest of all, a literal debate between Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra about whether or not they should try to save the Earth from Ghidorah! 1964 must have been the year when Shinichi Sekizawa just said, "Fuck it," and came up with the craziest stuff he could because, although I've never seen the film, I've heard that the movie Dogora, which he also wrote, was about a jellyfish-like monster that ate diamonds and was defeated by bee venom and that the main plot was actually like a yakuza gangster movie. If your mind just exploded while reading that, you'd better reconstruct it fast because things are only going to get weirder as we move on through the series.
Back from Mothra vs. Godzilla is Yuriko Hoshi, this time as Shindo's reporter sister, Naoko. While she plays another member of the press, the big difference is that in the previous film, she was a good-hearted but rather naïve and inexperienced rookie who wasn't that skilled in her job as a photographer; here, she's a very savvy go-getter of a television reporter who follows up on any lead to a big story that she can get, especially when it comes to the self-proclaimed Venusian prophet. She's so good at her job that she actually manages to track her down and find her long before he brother does, taking her to a hotel where she plans to interview her for her television show. When Shindo and their mother chide her for having a possible romantic interest in Prof. Murai, Naoko insists that she's talking to and spending time with him in order to get a story for the program and she really means it too. Her mother finds it a little discouraging that all Naoko can talk and think about is her job but Naoko is undeterred. Like I said, she's so determined to get a story that she risks forcing her own brother to arrest her for interfering with police business by initially refusing to allow him to see the princess, taking the hotel room key away from him at one point. But Shindo eventually makes her realize that protecting the princess and figuring out what's wrong with her is more important than her story and she goes along with him for the remainder of the movie, although she does get to record Princess Salno's final statements to everyone before she returns to her home country at the end of the movie, which will probably be used in that upcoming special. One can't help but admire what a strong female character Naoko is in a film that, as we'll see, is quite pro-women in and of itself, especially in comparison to some of the female characters we got before, including Junko in the previous film.
Apparently, 1964 was also the year of Hiroshi Koizumi playing scientists in these films because, after doing so in both Mothra vs. Godzilla and the previously mentioned Dogora, here he is again in such a role, this time as a geologist who leads to investigate the meteorite that is eventually revealed to be housing Ghidorah. If it wasn't for the change of name (from Miura to Murai), you'd swear that he was playing the exact same character as he was in the previous Godzilla film and possibly Dogora as well. As I've said before regarding Koizumi in these films, he's always likable and is believable when he's giving scientific advice but, unfortunately, he doesn't have much else to do except stand around while giving said advice. He does do a couple of important things here, such as suggest that the government turn to the Shobijin and Mothra for help when Ghidorah appears and begins ravaging Japan, which leads to the Shobijin suggesting that Mothra should join up with Godzilla and Rodan to battle the space monster, and he also helps a little bit during a shootout at a clinic, clocking one of Princess Salno's would-be assassins on the head with a wrench and shooting a little bit at them (he doesn't hit any of them, though), so he's not an absolute bystander. That's actually more than he did in the previous film, despite the fact that his and everybody else's acting there was great. Even though he was the one who suggested that they still go to Infant Island to ask for Mothra's help against Godzilla when Sakai wasn't feeling too good about it, he wasn't the one who made the strong appeal that changed the islanders' minds in helping them. So, at the very least, he's a bit more active in the actual story than he was before. Still, in the end, he doesn't do that much except act as a rather intelligent bystander but, even though I'm sure he could do more (look at his performance in the original Mothra for proof of that), he's one of those actors whose presence onscreen I always enjoy.
The main human antagonist in the film is Malness (Hisaya Ito), is the leader of the assassins out to do in Princess Salno. He's a pretty straightforward villain: he's got a job to do and nothing is going to stand in his way, not even this ongoing situation involving the monsters. He'd already tried to kill the princess by planting a bomb aboard her plane and when she somehow survived the explosion and ended up safely in Japan, he's sent there to finish the job and is threatened with execution as punishment for failure. He's actually pretty intimidating with how cold and emotionless he is in the way he talks and acts and also because he's pretty much faceless since he's always wearing a pair of dark glasses. Despite his determination to off Salno, Malness is smart enough to make sure that the woman who looks like her and is claiming to be from Venus really is her since killing someone else would have dire consequences for him. He's especially suspicious when Salno doesn't recognize him at all upon seeing him at the hotel and he and his fellow assassins confront her in her hotel room, he tries to get her to admit that she's the princess by interrogating about what she did with the royal bracelet. After she confirms that she had a bracelet and gave it to the fisherman who found her, Malness prepares to kill her with the same knife that he murdered her father with (the way he admits that fact to her is a perfect example of how cold and unfeeling he is) but is interrupted when the Shobijin, who were also in the room, unbeknownst to the killers, turn off the lights. After that first attempt to kill the princess fails, Malness becomes all the more determined to finish his job. He goes as far as to track her down to a psychiatric clinic, despite the threat of being killed by Godzilla and Rodan, who are battling nearby, and tries to make Shindo and the doctor inadvertently kill Salno themselves by increasing the voltage of their electroshock therapy all the way to 3,000. And when that doesn't work and he and his men are forced to break off their assassination attempt due to Shindo and Prof. Murai's intervention, he still attempts to track the princess down to try again, despite their plot being caught in the middle of a huge monster battle. In fact, while driving along a mountainside road, the assassins' car is crushed by a rockslide that Ghidorah causes, killing everyone inside except for Malness who, despite being seriously injured, staggers out of the car and eventually finds Salno in a deep gorge further up in the mountains. You have to give Malness some credit for his determination and persistence. He's quite wounded by that incident and yet, is still trying to snipe Salno out. He manages to graze her head and snap her out of this alien personality that's taken hold of her and actually shoots Shindo in the arm, making him unable to protect Salno. He's just about to kill them both at that moment but he himself ends up being killed by a falling rock caused by the nearby monster battle.