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.