I am fire! I am...death!
Godzilla vs. Hedorah, also known as Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, is directed by Yoshimitsu Banno and stars Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, and Hiroyuki Kawase.
To review Godzilla vs. Hedorah without the use of the word 'weird' is simply an impossible task. There are far too many bizarre happenings throughout the movie to not walk away feeling like you sat through some drug-induced mind trip that only made sense when you saw Godzilla going toe-to-toe with Hedorah, a sludge monster that looks like Oscar the Grouch hiding under a filthy ghost sheet. Weird is a tricky word to use when describing a film; we could be talking about a good weird like in a David Lynch movie, or we could be talking about a bad weird, like Night of the Lepus, though I think there's more bad than weird in a bad weird movie. But anyway, Godzilla vs. Hedorah contains a lot more good weird than bad weird, because it's not overly difficult to identify a connection between the film's weirdest scenes and its overall context. The context is that our world is being overrun with pollution, and if we don't do something about it, well, it's probably gonna wipe us out, one way or another.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah was the directorial debut for Yoshimitsu Banno, who was given only 35 days to complete the film, and doing so with a budget much smaller than previous Godzilla films. Nonetheless, Banno was super happy with the final product, so much so that he began writing a script for Godzilla vs. Hedorah 2, a film that never saw the light of day. This was because longtime Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was hospitalized while Godzilla vs. Hedorah was being made, was so irate over the way Godzilla vs. Hedorah turned out, he told Banno that he would never direct another Godzilla movie ever again. Yikes, but don't feel too bad for Banno; his film is far from being the worst Godzilla movie. In fact, I might even argue his film is pretty decent, despite how god damn weird it is.
The plot is as bare bones as they come for a Godzilla film: Godzilla comes by to take on Hedorah, an alien life-form that feeds on pollution and takes on an amphibious form. As Hedorah wreaks havoc on Japan, a young boy named Ken Yano (Hiroyuki Kawase) and his father Dr. Toru Yano (Akira Yamauchi) learn more about where Hedorah came from and how he was formed.
Seriously, that's it. Aside from giving us exposition on Hedorah, the humans serve no other purpose in this movie. The rest of the time is spent watching Hedorah dump his crap everywhere, with Godzilla showing up every now and then to remind us that we are indeed watching a Godzilla movie and not some low budget documentary on National Geographic. This is the movie that I would say marks Godzilla's full transition into superhero monster, a role he would play for the rest of the Showa series. Godzilla himself doesn't do anything astronomically weird, but he does show us that he is capable of flying. Oh, you think I'm making that up? Observe!
I fondly remember the title for this scene on the DVD menu: Something You Don't See Every Day.
So about this movie being weird: some of the eccentric things to happen throughout this movie include animated clips in which we watch a cartoon version of Hedorah feed off of smokestacks and fly around, spraying his toxic fumes everywhere. There's also a moment where a guy hallucinates in a dance club, in which he sees everyone wearing fish heads. I am one to believe that these scenes are meant to drive the sense of dread and discomfort that Banno wants us to feel towards pollution, and the only way he could get the point across without resorting to shove-it-down-your-throat preaching is to go all out on the weirdness, because weirdness always makes you feel on edge.
- It's hard to be upset when a movie called Godzilla vs. Hedorah consists mostly of Godzilla fighting Hedorah. The two monsters fight in a way that hardly resembles Monday Night Raw: Godzilla and Hedorah stand and observe one another, exchanging blows like characters taking turns in an RPG video game. It's never 100 percent goofy, almost a complete U-turn from the kind of kiddie violence that Jun Fukuda made a habit out of.
- I give Yoshimitsu Banno credit for this: he does his best to make the movie into as much of a horror film as possible, trying to disturb us not only with the unadulterated weirdness, but with other grisly moments like Hedorah turning people to bones. This is about the closest that the Godzilla series comes in regards to returning to its horror roots, the original 1954 Godzilla doing the best job of any Godzilla film when it comes to showing Godzilla as a monster of pure terror and expressing his destructive ways like they were truly horrifying events. Hedorah is a little too funny-looking to take seriously as a monster of pure evil, but the movie sells him enough to make you at least a little curious as to how Godzilla is going to fight such a creature.
- Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a slow-burn, but not in a way in which it takes the plot too long to get started (something we would not envision to be at all possible for an 85 minute film). The movie is a slow burn in that the movie loves to drag out several of its scenes to match the pacing of a slug, a heavily sedated slug at that. No scene makes this more clear than the one where Dr. Yano and the military try to lure Hedorah into a trap, where they plan to zap him with two giant electrodes. Hedorah takes his sweet old time, and I mean he takes ALL FREAKING DAY to walk over to where the military wants him to walk. Other scenes aren't as bad as the one I just described, but they like to overstay their welcome a little. The slowness makes the film feel somewhat longer than it actually is, though I would think this is a pretty smart move on the part of Banno, because despair is something that shouldn't feel rushed in a movie.
So make whatever you will of the weirdness. You might like it, or you might not. Remember this though: weird and bad are not always positively correlated, because weirdness is sometimes a useful mechanism in challenging the viewer and getting them to think a little harder about what they're watching. In the case of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, a movie that isn't at all deep, Yoshimitsu Banno relies on weirdness to substitute for pretentious messages about saving the environment and cutting down on pollution, all while giving us an interestingly choreographed monster fight that manages to transcend a lot of the goofy WWE-style monster fighting that became prevalent in several of the 60's Godzilla films and some of the other 70's Godzilla films. Godzilla vs. Hedorah isn't amazing by any means, but if you don't let yourself be blindsided by how weird the movie seems to enjoy being, you might look at things in the movie a little differently. Tomoyuki Tanaka didn't see things that way, however. I guess the weirdness was too much for him.
Recommend? Yes, because I think it's tough to pass up a movie known as Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster.
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