Godzilla Vs. Hedorah (Japan 1971)

Rating: *
Alternate Title: Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster (US title)
Review Date: 3/14/20

Japan's post-war pollution problem was a serious issue in the 1960's, which served as inspiration for this film. A space monster called Hedorah comes to Earth and thrives on pollution. It quickly grows to an enormous size and people start dying from the toxic chemicals that it secretes. Godzilla senses trouble and shows up to destroy Hedorah, but the ever-evolving beast proves to be too much for him to deal with. Meanwhile, the Japanese Self Defense Force comes up with a plan to electrocute the monster, hoping to dehydrate it and reduce it to dust. When the power grid fails, Godzilla steps in and powers the device himself, tearing Hedorah into tiny pieces and smashing them into the ground in the process.

The director wanted to return the series to its environmentally conscious roots, but also aim it at children. The result is a disastrous combination of heavy handed social commentary, child-centric drama, misplaced humor, and psychedelic hippie sensibilities. The music is bad, and includes an overwrought theme song about saving the world from pollution. It also introduces a new Godzilla theme, which resembles circus music. This is the first film in the series that presents Godzilla as Earth's protector rather than a menace, and he can telepathically communicate with children (an ability shared with Gamera). It's also the first, and only film in the series that features Godzilla flying by using his atomic breath for propulsion (possibly another nod to Gamera?). The visual effects are uninspired and uninteresting, and the film is only notable for the radical shift in Godzilla's presentation and personality. He's not a lumbering monster in this film, and is surprisingly active and agile. Was there a different actor in the suit this time? In addition to the new light-hearted theme music, Godzilla also introduces a new signature taunt where he wipes his mouth and pumps his fist. It's odd, to say the least.

The film is also a cinematic mess. The editing is chaotic and scenes don't fit together well. Animated sequences describing Hedorah's characteristics are strange and interrupt the flow. The pacing is also dreadfully slow and the characters are uninteresting. Their only purpose seems to be to explain what's going on, rather than do anything about it. The hippie night club scene is particularly bizarre, and ends in a bad hallucinatory trip. One of the characters decides that it's the end of the world, and sets up a massive party at the foot of Mt. Fuji so that people can sing and dance to their doom. They expected millions to turn out for this apocalyptic jam fest, but only a few dozen showed up. Which is probably a good thing, since Hedorah kills most of the crowd with sulfuric acid.

Toho executives were reportedly infuriated by the final film and banned the director from ever working on the series again. They followed up with a more conventional outing in "Godzilla Vs. Gigan" (1972), a personal favorite of mine.