Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

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Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byIshirō Honda
Produced byTomoyuki Tanaka
Screenplay byShinichi Sekizawa[1]
Music byAkira Ifukube[1]
CinematographyHajime Koizumi[1]
Edited byRyohei Fujii[1]
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • December 20, 1964 (1964-12-20) (Japan)
Running time
92 minutes[1]
Box office¥375 million[2]

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦, Sandai Kaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessen, lit. Three Giant Monsters: Earth's Greatest Battle) is a 1964 Japanese kaiju film directed by Ishirō Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced and distributed by Toho Studios, it is the fifth film in the Godzilla franchise, and was the second Godzilla film produced that year, after Mothra vs. Godzilla. The film stars Yosuke Natsuki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, with Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla, Masanori Shinohara as Rodan, and Shoichi Hirose as King Ghidorah. In the film, a Venus alien, possessing the body of a princess, warns humanity of the arrival of King Ghidorah, with Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra being their last hope for survival.

The film was rushed into production in order to replace Red Beard, which fell behind schedule, in Toho's New Year's holiday slate.[3] The Godzilla suit and Mothra larva prop were recycled from the previous film, with modifications added, while new suits were produced for Rodan and Ghidorah. Principal photography began and ended in 1964 in Mount Aso, Yokohama, Gotenba, and Ueno Park.[4]

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was released in Japan on December 20, 1964, and received a theatrical release in the United States on September 29, 1965 by Continental Distributing as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. The film marks the debut of King Ghidorah, a recurring antagonist of the Godzilla franchise.[5] The film was followed by Invasion of Astro-Monster, released on December 19, 1965.


Police Detective Shindo is assigned to guard Princess Selina Salno of Selgina during the Princess' visit to Japan, due to a suspected assassination plot. However, her plane is destroyed by a bomb en route. At the same time, a meteorite shower draws the attention of Professor Murai, who, along with his team of scientists, strikes out into the wilderness to examine the largest of the meteors, which has magnetic properties.

To Shindo's surprise, Selina turns up in Japan, without her royal garb, claiming to be from the planet Venus and preaching to skeptical crowds of forthcoming disaster. To their surprise, her prophecies begin coming true. First, she predicts Rodan (which was presumed dead in 1956) will emerge from Mt. Aso's crater and that Godzilla will destroy a ship on the sea. Both of these events transpire.

In the meantime, Selina's uncle, who was behind the assassination attempt, learns of her survival and sends his best assassin to Japan to dispatch the Princess. The assassin and his henchmen are stopped when the Shobijin, Mothra's twin fairies, turn out the lights in the room and Shindo shows up in time to drive them off. The Shobijin had been scheduled to return to Infant Island aboard the ship sunk by Godzilla but opted not to go after overhearing Selina's prophecy. A further attempt by the assassins is thwarted when both Godzilla and Rodan attack the city and engage in battle, forcing everyone to flee.

Convinced that Selina is insane, Shindo takes the Princess to see a renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Tsukamoto, in the hopes of curing her. However, Tsukamoto can find nothing wrong with her, mentally or physically. He concludes she must therefore truly be possessed by a Venusian as she claims. As if emboldened by the doctor's diagnosis, Selina reveals her final prophecy—that Venus's once thriving civilization was destroyed by an evil golden three-headed space dragon named King Ghidorah, and furthermore that Ghidorah itself has already arrived on Earth. The meteor Professor Murai and his colleagues are studying cracks open, revealing Ghidorah in a fiery explosion and the dragon proceeds to raze the countryside.

To combat the combined threats of the three monsters, the Japanese government enlists the aid of the Shobijin to summon the sole surviving Mothra larva (which once fought Godzilla in 1964). Once arriving on the Japanese mainland, Mothra attempts to persuade the quarrelling Godzilla and Rodan to team up against Ghidorah but both refuse. Unable to convince them and despite being vastly outmatched, Mothra resolves to fight Ghidorah by herself. Mothra engages Ghidorah and is continually blasted by its gravity beams. Fortunately, Godzilla and Rodan arrive to help, and a titanic battle against Ghidorah begins. Meanwhile, Shindo and Dr. Tsukamoto are forced to protect Princess Selina as the assassins converge on Tsukamoto's clinic; they manage to fend off the killers and escape into the mountains as the duelling monsters draw closer.

The assassins attempt to follow, but a stray blast from Ghidorah buries their car in an avalanche. Only Malmess, the leader, remains uninjured enough to continue. He attempts to snipe the Princess from an elevated position, but only injures her. In her pain, she regains her memory and is no longer possessed by the Venusian. Before Malmess can take another shot, another stray blast from Ghidorah buries the assassin under a second avalanche. With the heroes thus saved from the human menace, they gather at a safe distance to watch the battle between Earth's monsters and Ghidorah. Finally, Godzilla throws Ghidorah off the cliff and the alien dragon retreats into outer space.

Mothra and the Shobijin return to Infant Island while Godzilla and Rodan go their separate ways. Selina, having retained the memories of her time with Shindo, bids farewell to her guardian as she meets her bodyguards at the airport to return home.



"[Ghidorah] is basically Yamata no Orochi. It is an old folktale, and we wrote it as a creature from outer space. It is fine for audiences to think that way, but I do not believe it was written with such a political notion."

—Honda on the theory that Ghidorah symbolized China's nuclear threat.[4]

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was rushed into production due to Red Beard falling behind schedule and a replacement was need for Toho's New Year's holiday slate.[3] After the success of previous films where monsters were partnered up such as King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra vs. Godzilla, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to develop a film which would feature Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra.[7]

The film also includes a new monster, King Ghidorah.[7] Ghidorah was designed as an homage to Yamata no Orochi.[4] Yoshio Tsuchiya was originally attached to play Malmess but his commitments to Red Beard prevented him from participating.[8] Honda felt "uncomfortable" with Toho and Eiji Tsuburaya's decision to anthropomorphize the monsters, particularly the summit scene, stating, "I used the Peanuts as Mothra's interpreters, but even that was something I had to force myself to do."[3] The film was shot on various locations, such as Mount Aso, Yokohama, Gotenba, and Ueno Park.[4]

Akiko Wakabayashi was briefly blinded by the flash of light that represented the Venusian. Additionally, Honda permitted Wakabayashi to sleep on the gurney during the shock therapy scenes, due to Wakabayashi working the previous night without sleep for a separate film. Wakabayashi noted that the Venusian's homely attire came about when Honda spotted her walking the studio in jean's and a "bug guy's hat." Honda liked the attire and chose to adopt it for the Venusian. Wakabayashi chose to play the Venusian as someone who sleepwalks, stating, "I tried to play the character as someone who was sleepwalking. I tried not to look at each person's face.'[2] The track Cry for Happiness was written by Hiroshi Miyagawa.[9]

Special effects[edit]

Eiji Tsuburaya directed the film's special effects.[10] For Ghidorah's hatching scene, a variety of techniques were used such as a miniature meteorite prop, pyrotechnics, and rapidly edited explosions. Optical animation was used for the hovering fireball and Ghidorah's rays. For the Yokohama sequence, pyrotechnics were wire-rigged to send up debris and fans used to emulate strong winds. Haruo Nakajima reprised his role as Godzilla.[6] The effects crew recycled the Godzilla suit from Mothra vs. Godzilla, however, alterations were made to the head. The original glass-like wooden eyes were replaced with radio controlled eyesballs. The installation of mechanics flattened the head by a small margin.[11] Katsumi Tezuka portrayed the Mothra larva prop.[12] The prop was recycled from Mothra vs. Godzilla[12] and its eyes were changed from blue to red.[13] Masanori Shinohara portrayed Rodan.[6] A new Rodan suit was constructed with a different appearance for the face, with a muscular neck and triangular wings.[14]

King Ghidorah was designed by Akira Watanabe[12] and portrayed by Shoichi Hirose, who spent hours hunched over inside the costume, holding onto a crossbar for support. A team of wire work puppeteers manipulated the necks, tails and wings.[13] As many as seven men were in the rafters over the sound stage working the wires.[13] Effects cameraman Sadamasa Arikawa stated "There were times when all three necks got tangled up or the plastic wires would reflect the studio lights, or the wires would get caught in Ghidorah's scales. It was an agonizing operation!"[15] Due to this, it too longer to film Ghidorah's scenes.[12] Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa suggested to Tsuburaya that the Ghidorah suit be built from light weight silicon-based materials to allow more mobility for the suit performer. The wings were originally intended to have a rainbow hue.[12] Small models of the monsters were also used for far away shots or flying shots of Rodan and King Ghidorah.[16]

The set for the base of Mt. Fuji was built at 1/25th scale and took 12,000 hours to build. The set was raised so cameras could be positioned at low angles.The miniature buildings were built with working sliding doors, lights, and were built backless, to be seen from one direction. The miniatures meant to be destroyed were pre-cut and compressed. Miniature buildings that were not meant to be destroyed were repurposed for later scenes or other sets. While filming Godzilla and Rodan's battle in Toho's massive water tank, one of the edges of the tank was exposed on film. Tsuburaya hid this error by superimposing trees on the exposed area.[11]



Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster was released theatrically in Japan on December 20, 1964, by Toho,[1] on a double-bill with Samurai Joker.[11] The film became the fourth highest-grossing film of the 1964–1965 season in Japan.[17] Months after the film's Japanese release, the film was acquired by Walter Reade-Sterling, Inc., with plans to distribute the film in the United States through their subsidiary, Continental Distributing. The film was theatrically released in the United States on September 29, 1965, as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster.[18] The film opened to 83 theaters in Boston, on a double-bill with Agent 8 3/4. In later areas, it was double-billed with Harum Scarum. Continental boasted to Variety that the film earned $200,000 in film rentals within five days of its release and $1.3 million overall.[15] To promote the film in the United States, Ghidorah masks were created as promotional tie-ins with local super markets and radio stations.[19]

American version[edit]

The dubbing of the American version was supervised by Joseph Belucci[15] and runs at 85 minutes.[18] The American version shifts some scenes and removes some outright, Akira Ifukube's score is replaced with library music during some of the Godzilla/Rodan battle scenes, and a rough translation was provided for Cry for Happiness, which is read off-camera by Annie Sukiyaki.[15] Author David Kalat opined that the American version is superior in some ways, stating that the film is dramatically tightened and that continuity corrections resulted in an "improvement over the original".[20]

Critical response[edit]

In a contemporary review, Vincent Canby (New York Times) noted that the film "at least provides a smile or two as Ghidorah lurches and lunges through a veritable anthology of Japanese monster picture plots." and that "This fascination, on the part of contemporary Japanese film makers, with the destruction of their land by fantastic, prehistoric forces only 20 years after Hiroshima, might be of interest to social historians. The film, otherwise, is strictly for the comic book set." [21] Variety noted that "When the viewer finds himself cheering on the trio of unlikely allies, it's a tribute to Honda's ability to capture an audience" while noting that the dubbing in the film was "as usual, atrocious."[22]

From retrospective reviews, the American version was reviewed by Leonard Maltin who gave the film two and a half stars, calling it "one of the better Toho monster rallies”.[23] Phil Hardy's book Science Fiction noted that the film's visual effects "are better than usual and the cast includes Okada (Mistakenly believing actor Eiji Okada to be in the film), best known for his performance in Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), as well as the brilliant Shimura, star of Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952)."[24] Slant Magazine stated that the film "embodies much of what the popular monster films have come to be known for over the years: reptilian wrestling matches on a citywide scale, human drama paralleling the monster threat, rubbery creature effects, and the gleeful destruction of many a miniature architectural set piece." [25]

Home media[edit]


In 1983, the film was released on VHS. The film was reissues on VHS in 1988 and 1991. In 1985, Toho released the film on LaserDisc. In 1992, the Champion festival cut was released in a laserDisc box set. In 1994, the film was reissued on LaserDisc. In 2001, the film was released on DVD. In 2005, Toho included the film on the Godzilla Final Box DVD Set. In 2010, the film was released on Blu-ray.[26]

United States[edit]

1988, the American version was released on VHS by Video Treasures. In 1997, the American version was reissued on VHS by Anchor Bay. In 2004, the American version was unofficially released on DVD, bootlegged by CineVu.[26] In 2007, Classic Media released the film on DVD in North America, along with other Godzilla titles. This release included the remastered, widescreen versions of the Japanese and American versions, as well as a biography on Eiji Tsuburaya, image galleries, promotional material, and an audio commentary by David Kalat.[27] In 2017, Janus Films and the Criterion Collection acquired the film, as well as other Godzilla titles, to stream on Starz and FilmStruck.[28] In 2019, the Japanese version was included in a Blu-ray box set released by the Criterion Collection, which included all 15 films from the franchise's Shōwa era.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Galbraith IV 2008, p. 215.
  2. ^ a b Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 217.
  3. ^ a b c Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 215.
  4. ^ a b c d Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 216.
  5. ^ Nicholas Raymond (May 29, 2019). "Ghidorah Explained: Godzilla 2 Villain Origin & Powers". Screen Rant. Archived from the original on February 10, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Ryfle 1998, p. 354.
  7. ^ a b Kalat 2007, p. 74.
  8. ^ Kalat 2010, p. 74.
  9. ^ Kalat 2010, p. 75.
  10. ^ Kalat 2010, p. 72.
  11. ^ a b c Kalat 2010, p. 76.
  12. ^ a b c d e Kalat 2010, p. 77.
  13. ^ a b c Ryfle 1998, p. 116.
  14. ^ Kaneko, Masumi; Nakajima, Shinsuke (1983). Gojira Mook (Godzilla Graph Book). Kondansya Publishing Pgs.70 & 71
  15. ^ a b c d Ryfle 1998, p. 117.
  16. ^ Kaneko, Masumi; Nakajima, Shinsuke Pg. 103
  17. ^ Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 213.
  18. ^ a b Ryfle 1998, p. 113.
  19. ^ Kalat 2007, p. 78.
  20. ^ Dallmann, Shane M. (August 2007). "Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster". Video Watchdog. No. 133. p. 13. ISSN 1070-9991.
  21. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 16, 1965). "Presley Shares Billing". New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  22. ^ Galbraith IV 1994, p. 100.
  23. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2009), p. 520. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. ISBN 1-101-10660-3. Signet Books. Accessed May 9, 2012
  24. ^ Hardy 1984, p. 241.
  25. ^ Humanick, Rob (June 5, 2007). "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster". Slant Magazine. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  26. ^ a b "三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦". LD, DVD, & Blu-ray Gallery. Archived from the original on February 7, 2020. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  27. ^ Kotz, Sean (June 4, 2007). "DVD Reviews: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of Astro-Monster". SciFi Japan. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  28. ^ Squires, John (November 8, 2017). "Criterion Collection Has Obtained Most of the Shōwa Era 'Godzilla' Films!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  29. ^ Patches, Matt (July 25, 2019). "Criterion reveals the collection's 1000th disc: the ultimate Godzilla set". Polygon. Archived from the original on January 29, 2020. Retrieved July 25, 2019.


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