When I first read an American DVD company was working on bringing the original Godzilla and its sequels to disc in both their original Japanese and American versions, I began to wonder how much the later Godzilla flicks' fondly remembered goofiness would translate back in their original language. We all know that the original 1954 Gojira was a fairly grim nuclear age monster rampage film in both its Japanese and American form – but as the series "progressed" into the sixties and seventies, the Americanized Godzillas turned into Saturday afternoon kid's TV fodder.
Having seen a slew of these ill-synced flicks in my wasted youth, I was curious as to how they'd work without dubbing or the rough handling so many of them received when they first arrived in the U.S. (case in point: first sequel Godzilla Raids Again, which was even re-titled Gigantis the Fire Monster on its first American release because new distributor Warner Bros. didn't want to pay for the Godzilla brand name). With the upcoming release of two new entries in Classic Media's "Toho Master Collection," Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) and Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), I had the chance to see just how wacky these rascals are in their original un-Americanized versions.
Let's take a look at Ghidorah today (and save Astro-Monster, which was originally released in the U.S.A. as Monster Zero, for another time). Ghidorah contains the first instance of what would quickly become a familiar Toho plot: wherein Godzilla and two of the studio's other heavy-duty rampagers – Rodan and Mothra – team up to best an invading monster. The alien menace, Ghidorah (full name, "King Ghidorah"), is like an amalgamation of his opponents: a three-headed dragon with two tails, he has wings to blow the roofs off pagodas a lá Rodan or Mothra, but can also indulge in Godzilla-styled stompitude. Where the Big G. breathes radioactive fire whenever he's really being pissy, Ghidorah shoots out electric whatsit beams from his three mouths. No wonder it takes all three of our home-grown creatures to whup his two tails.
The title beastie doesn't really show for two-thirds of the movie, so to pass the time, we're given a plot around a visiting Princess (Akiko Wakabayashi, a Bond Girl in You Only Live Twice) whose body is taken over by a survivor of Ghidorah's invasion of the planet Venus 5,000 years earlier. (Why'd the monster wait so long between invasions? A long hibernation, perhaps?) Said Princess is the survivor of an airborne plane explosion plotted by nefarious spies from her homeland of Segina, so when she unexpectedly appears unharmed on Japanese soil, spouting prophecies and chirpily telling folks, "I'm from Venus," the sunglass-wearing bad guys try to hunt her down. On the side of the angels are a brother cop and sister reporter, the usual obligatory nerdy professor, plus the twin fairy sisters (Eimi and Yûmi Ito, a.k.a. musical duo the Peanuts) from Mothra's home island, who get to do full renditions of the big bug's summoning tune, "Call Happiness," twice in the movie.