Film Review: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (US recut version)
Release Date: July 24th, 1971 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshimitsu Banno
Written by: Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Riichiro Manabe
Cast: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Keiko Mari, Toshio Shiba

Toho Co. Ltd., 85 Minutes

Review:

“There’s no place else to go and pretty soon we’ll all be dead, so forget it! Enjoy yourself! Let’s sing and dance while we can! Come on, blow your mind!” – Yukio Keuchi

This is probably the weirdest Godzilla movie of the original Shōwa era. There are a few reasons as to why and I’ll get to that.

But first, I have to admit that this is one of my favorite films in the franchise. It’s also pretty divisive, as people either seem to love it or hate it. My reasons for liking it is its weirdness and because its visually striking, does things outside of the box, creatively speaking, and it is very musical.

The film also carries an environmental message, which is important. Especially, to the Japanese people of the time, as there was a lot of industrial pollution that was creating problems and having an adverse effect on the natural beauty of the country.

What makes this movie so unique is the fact that it had a very different creative team than the other films. This was a Shōwa era film that wasn’t directed by either Ishirō Honda or Jun Fukuda. In fact, out of the fifteen Shōwa films, only one other was directed by someone else: 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, which was helmed by Motoyoshi Oda. The reason why this is significant is due to that rarity, as well as Honda and Fukuda both having a consistent style.

This film’s director Yoshimitsu Banno made some creative changes that set this film apart. However, I wouldn’t say that this movie becomes inconsistent, it just has some neat artistic flourishes, such as hand drawn animated scene transitions, switching from black and white to color in an effort to emphasize liveliness and music, as well as a heavy use of music itself while showcasing the Japanese club scene of the early ’70s. In its own way, this is probably the most hip Godzilla picture of the Shōwa period.

The film is also visually darker, as both major battles between Godzilla and Hedorah, the Smog Monster, happen at night amidst a pretty smoggy atmosphere. But I like the tone and it still doesn’t deter from the upbeat and lightheartedness of the youthful, hippie-like characters and the pop music.

I also really love the monster in this and he’s gone on to become one of my favorite kaiju baddies of all-time. Additionally, I like that the monster has different stages of evolution throughout the film, which I feel somewhat inspired the new Godzilla in the Shin Godzilla reboot from a few years ago.

This movie also has a cheeky sense of humor to it and it could really be looked at as the stoner’s Godzilla movie between the music, the club scene, the outdoor party and Hedorah vegging out on top of a factory, inhaling the smoke stacks like a hookah. I guess the cool animated scenes would add to this as well.

Banno was slated to direct a sequel to this film but the heads of Toho hated the final product and ended up only working with Honda and Fukuda for the remainder of the Shōwa series.

After this film, we were going to get a picture called Godzilla vs. Redmoon. That was scrapped and eventually became the film Daigoro vs. Goliath. Then the studio switched gears and planned Godzilla vs. The Space Monsters: Earth Defensive Directive, which would have been similar to the style of the Ultraman television series. That was also canned and retooled to The Return of King Ghidorah, which was also cancelled and then further retooled into the actual followup, Godzilla vs. Gigan. Luckily for Ghidorah fans, he returned in that film anyway.

As for Hedorah, the monster wouldn’t be seen on the big screen for another 33 years, as one of dozens of monsters in the over the top Godzilla: Final Wars. Despite his lack of big screen love, he’s grown to become a cultural icon and has appeared in tons of video games, comics and television, primarily featured multiple times in Godzilla Island from 1977-1998.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Gigan.

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