Kaiju Appreciations: Hedorah (Update)

Another Kaiju Appreciation is up, this time an updated version of my video for Hedorah the Smog Monster.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah, AKA Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster is a very strange film. It marks the transition of Godzilla into straight-up hero mode and its environmentalist message is as nuanced as an anvil. There’s a full-on theme song, which we get to hear at least three times over the course of the film, interludes of animation, a bit where a guy hallucinates the dancers around him as having fish heads, and so on. In a word, it’s really not a very good film and it’s dripping with the ethos of the late-60s/early-70s (including typically moronic hippy youths). It also features an annoying child protagonist and some of the goofiest nonsense in the whole series, most notoriously a bit where Godzilla flies by using his atomic ray for propulsion.

Though, that said, it does boast some really impressive effects and some startlingly gruesome imagery. This is the first film in the series since the original to actually show civilian deaths on screen, and Hedorah racks up quite the body count, with people being poisoned, melted down to skeletons, burned by acidic sludge, etc. The aforementioned hippy youths pretty much all get wiped out, including one of the film’s main characters (which is kind of interesting; the implication being that the idealistic youth movement has no idea what its doing and it’s down to cool-headed scientists and the military to figure out the problem).

Hedorah himself is really one of the more impressive kaiju to come out of the Showa era, and certainly one of the most dangerous. Of all the pollution monsters that have come and gone, he really tops the list in terms of design and concept. He’s this creepy, ambulatory blob of goo that can more or less kill anyone just by touching them, or even just by passing overhead. In concept, he’s some eldritch alien life form that’s landed on Earth and started absorbing and drawing power from the toxic wastes in the ocean, which means we never actually see his ‘natural’ form. And, of course, his gooey, toxic nature makes him almost impossible to kill.

The writers at least took the care to give him a solid lifecycle, beginning as a bunch of tiny tadpoles that join together into first a four-legged, then a flying, and finally an almost humanoid creature as he feeds on more and more pollution, while allows the stakes to escalate as the film goes on (with the implication that he’ll just get bigger and more powerful forever unless he’s stopped). His whole design reflects the idea of toxicity and corruption, even down to his eye beams producing billows of nasty-looking, corrosive smoke wherever they hit. He’s also easily one of the most powerful monsters of the Showa era, to the point that Godzilla actually loses a hand and an eye in the fight.

Again, the message is thuddingly heavy handed, but Hedorah himself is such a cool and creepy concept that it’s really a shame they never brought him back (except for a pointless ten-second cameo in Godzilla: Final Wars, where he does nothing and gets taken out immediately). He’s one kaiju who would definitely benefit from modern technology.

(By the way, this movie came out within days of Gamera vs. Zigra, another heavy-handed environmentalist film. And whatever flaws Godzilla vs. Hedorah has, it can at least claim to be exponentially better than that one)

Now, if you grew up in the 90s, odds are you’re familiar with the movie Ferngully, an extremely stupid and heavy-handed animated “save the rainforest” film that was more or less everywhere for a bit (and if you haven’t seen it, James Cameron’s Avatar is basically the live action version). The movie’s main saving graces were that it featured the talents of Robin Williams and Tim Curry. The latter of whom, of course, voices the villain, who is…well, pretty much just a discount Hedorah. In the process, he gets to sing a gloriously hammy (and mildly suggestive) song all about how much he loves being a pollution monster.

Naturally, that was the only possible song choice for Hedorah.

(I’ll admit, I’m also rather fond of another song from that movie, where a random lizard sings an (again mildly suggestive) song about how he plans to eat the protagonist).

For the update, I didn’t change as much as I did for Iris, since I was mostly pretty pleased with the original. The changes are pretty much that I replaced a lot of the shots of pollution with more footage of Hedorah himself (I suspect the poor recording quality left most of the climactic battle too dark to use), swapped a few shots for ones that I thought were more dramatic / dynamic, and tried to make the whole thing a bit more active. Here’s the original for comparison.

My main regret about the new version is that I couldn’t recreate the ‘dripping titles’ effect, since Final Cut simply doesn’t have that animation.

One last bit of trivia to end on: Hedorah in this film was portrayed by a young stuntman named Kenpachiro Satsuma, who was the only one on staff strong enough to wear the 300-pound latex suit for extended periods. Fifteen years later, he would assume the role of Godzilla himself for The Return of Godzilla and play it throughout the Hesei series, making him second only to Haruo Nakajima for number of times playing the character.

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