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DVD Review: Rodan – Toho Master Collection

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Rodan brought about a number of firsts for the Japanese giant monster movie. It was the first non-Godzilla film, the first one in color, and Rodan is the first flying monster. None of those make it a better movie, but all add to one of the best from Toho’s output of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

In a film about Rodan, a massively oversized pteranodon (of course created by atomic testing), there’s surprisingly little Rodan. The winged creature doesn’t make a full-on appearance in the film until the hour mark, when it proceeds to devastate the Japanese cities. Instead, director Ishiro Honda goes for atmosphere.

The human drama, which builds around mysterious deaths, is wonderfully done. Tension is crafted through what is believed to be a murder inside a mine, only the culprit is revealed as a giant insect, noted as meganulon in the translated script. While the suit effects here are sub-par at best, the effective lighting, lack of music, and overall intensity of the action more than make up for it.

Rodan builds increasing tension by stockpiling problems on the human cast. First it’s giant insects, then a volcano erupts, and then jets are being taken out of the sky. The fast-paced script makes sure the first hour flies by (no pun intended) with plenty to grasp onto to keep it interesting.

This DVD includes both the original Japanese cut and the US version. Despite being 10 minutes shorter and having copious amounts of stock footage, certain aspects are handled better by the US version. The addition of a second Rodan creature is handled far better by the US version. In the Japanese cut, right in the middle of the spectacular final attack, authorities are notified of a second monster (though there are small hints prior). In the US cut, both appear at the same time through some clever editing.

Whichever version you watch, you’ll be treated to some of the finest destruction sequences to come out of Toho. Rodan’s massive wingspan leads to damage, and the miniatures are so well detailed, you can pick out individual shingles coming off houses. Signs get smashed around the city, Rodan crushes structures as he (she?) lands realistically, and all of this is sustained without a break for 10 minutes.

Rodan is pure giant monster spectacle, as possible only during the golden age of Japanese Sci-Fi. It’s an absolute joy to watch, and at a brisk 82 minutes (72 in the US), it’s infinitely rewatchable. This is a genre classic.

With most of Classic Media’s releases of the Toho monster line-up, there have been minor visual discrepancies between the different versions of each film. That’s not the case with Rodan. The US version is borderline unwatchable.

In fact, this looks to the exact same transfer the company used for the first release of the US version on DVD back in 2002. Admittedly, many of the problems are obviously from the source material. The print has faded in some scenes beyond the point of watchability, scratches are constant and annoying, colors are never consistent, and the less said about the stock footage the better. Even with that, the transfer itself is fairly terrible, with excessive artifacting that ruins every scene.

On the Japanese front, things aren’t much better. Again, a lot of this has to do with the source. Rodan is actually an ugly film, mostly done in shades of brown and gray. The few primaries that do come through are often overly bold and stick out (especially the blue). However, by comparison, the print is in remarkable shape, with no visible damage with the exception of a few matte shots. Black levels can be off-color, and some early scenes in the mine have an annoying and distinct blue line of artifacting on the left and right side of the screen.

US Version:

Japanese Version:

Again, it comes down to the source when discussing the audio. In both mixes, the soundtrack is practically inaudible. The US version sounds faded overall, with scratchy dialogue and the highs are strained. The Japanese cut fares better all around, but the classic Akira Ifukube soundtrack is lost to the point where you can barely even tell it’s there.

US Version:

Japanese Version:

Rodan comes in a two-pack of films, the other being another Toho classic, War of the Gargantuas. The Rodan disc comes with a documentary long-awaited by fans, Bringing Godzilla Down to Size. This is 60-minutes of monster bliss, reuniting living members of the special effects crew, actors, and even the three men who have donned the suit and played the giant monster over the years.

While relevance to the two movies included in this set is fleeting (it’s not a total Toho special effects piece), there’s little question it belongs. The set is worth the price for this alone. Sadly, excluding this feature's presence, the set has no other extras, including even basic trailers.

In the dubbed US version, only four people handled the voice work. It’s a notable cast despite its size including, George Takei (Star Trek) in his first role, Paul Frees (countless cartoons), Keye Luke (the old shop owner in Gremlins), and an unknown woman.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Jordan Richardson

    I must have this.