Release Date(s)1964 (November 22, 2023)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor's Note: This is a Region-Free Japanese import.]
The Toho kaiju factory was running at full capacity during the Sixties, churning out new films at a breakneck pace. Just like Godzilla Raids Again had been rushed into production shortly after the original Godzilla was released, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster followed right on the heels of Mothra vs. Godzilla, and it managed to hit the theatres later that same year. Yet while Godzilla Raids Again played a relatively minor role in the evolution of the Godzilla franchise, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster proved far more consequential. Not so much because of Shinichi Sekizawa’s actual story, which was as lightweight and preposterous as anything that he had written up to that point, but more in terms of the elements that he added into the mix. Since Godzilla’s debut in 1954, each successive film had introduced new concepts that would prove important going forward, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was no exception. By the end of the film, nearly all the most important pieces of Toho’s kaiju puzzle were in place, save perhaps for the addition of Monster Island in Son of Godzilla. For the rest of the Shōwa era, Sekizawa and other writers would shuffle those same pieces around in different combinations—although Yoshimitsu Banno stubbornly went his own way with Godzilla vs. Hedorah, but once again, that’s a story for another day.
Obviously, the most memorable element that Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster added to the canon is right there in the title: King Ghidorah. Ghidorah became an instant favorite of kaiju fans, and would continue to make appearances throughout the Shōwa, Heisei, and Millennium Godzilla cycles (not yet during the Reiwa era, although Ghidorah has already shown up in the Legendary Monsterverse). Yet the real significance of Ghidorah isn’t necessarily his popularity, but rather an associated detail that he represents. I’m not saying that it’s aliens, but... it’s aliens. The actual alien intelligences in Sekizawa’s story appear only indirectly; Princess Sarno (You Only Live Twice’s Akiko Wakabayashi) is an otherwise human character who’s been possessed by the spirit of a long-dead Venusian. It wasn’t until Invasion of Astro-Monster the following year that aliens would take center stage. Yet there’s no getting around the fact that King Ghidorah definitely wasn’t from these here parts. All of the previous monsters in the Godzilla franchise had been of terrestrial origin, but with Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla took a bold leap into the cosmic.
While Sekizawa’s script drops the corporate satire of both King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra vs. Godzilla, in many respects the broad narrative arc is the same. The details are different, but Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster still has Japan under dire threat from a destructive monster, with another monster having to be convinced to save the day. Sekizawa upped the ante this time, however, and in the process, he effected a transformation that would reshape the entire franchise. In Mothra vs. Godzilla, Godzilla was the threat, and Mothra had to be convinced to help mankind despite the fact that her egg was being held captive by those who she was helping. In Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Ghidorah is the extraterrestrial menace, and while Mothra is openly willing to help this time, she can’t do it alone. So, she has to go to Godzilla and Rodan to ask for their help, and while they’re initially reluctant to give up their own destructive ways, they eventually agree. That was a watershed moment for the franchise, and aside from a few moments of ambiguity here and there, Godzilla would remain a relatively heroic character for the rest of the Shōwa era. Where Man failed to work together for the common good, Monster would succeed.
The theme of the brotherhood of man was a common one throughout director Ishirō Honda’s entire career, and its presence here was likely due to his influence (he also had a hand in the final shooting scripts on many of his projects, whether credited for it or not). The central irony here is that rival giant monsters are able to overcome their differences even when human factions can’t, so they become aspirational in that regard. It’s not quite that simple, of course, because Godzilla and Rodan really do take some convincing. For the first time in the Godzilla franchise, monsters are shown communicating with each other in a scene that manages to be both silly and profound, in roughly equal measures. While Godzilla vs. Gigan would take the drastic approach of using cartoon thought bubbles to translate what’s being said, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster brings back the Shobijin (Emi and Yumi Itō) to offer their interpretation of Mothra’s thoughts. Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) and reporter Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi) offer their own feelings about how Godzilla and Rodan are responding. The theme of overcoming differences (and even hatred) to work together for the common good is verbalized directly here, because once again, Honda and Sekizawa were hardly subtle. Yet there’s still that extra layer of irony since it’s the monsters who ultimately do the right thing while the human race continues its petty squabbles.
Any pretense of subtlety goes out the window during the Battle Royale that follows. In Mothra vs. Godzilla, Honda and effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya had kept the monster action relatively serious in contrast with the satirical human story, but Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster returns to the WWE-style combat of King Kong vs. Godzilla, and even doubles down on it. The behavior of the monsters would become increasingly anthropomorphic as the series progressed, and while Godzilla doesn’t dance a jig here like in Invasion of Astro-Monster, the action is no less ridiculous. It’s all staged well enough, but the goofiness does seem to undercut the serious themes of the film. On the other hand, maybe that was the whole point. As somber as the original Godzilla may have been, the primary goal for the rest of the Shōwa films was family entertainment first and foremost. Honda still snuck his themes in, quite boldly in this case, but he was careful to soften the blow by offering rousing but silly kaiju action afterward. That helped to create a new brotherhood of man by attracting disparate audiences into the theatres together. All differences are set aside where love of giant monsters is concerned.
Cinematographer Hajime Koizumi shot Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster on 35 mm film using anamorphic Tohoscope lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. While the original nitrate negatives for Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again no longer exist, the negatives for the rest of the franchise do. The problem is that the negatives for King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Invasion of Astro-Monster were all cut to conform to the abbreviated Toho Champion Festival versions in the Seventies, and the missing material had to be sourced from master positive elements instead. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, but I haven’t been able to confirm that with certainty. In any event, the original negative and any necessary dupe materials were scanned at 4K resolution, with all digital restoration work being performed in full 4K.
No High Dynamic Range grade has been applied to any of Toho’s 4K restorations for the Godzilla franchise, but they do take advantage of 10-bit color in the BT.2020 color space. Depending on how your display is set up and calibrated, SDR BT.2020 may require some adjustments in order to work properly. Some displays will default to BT.2020 for HDR but automatically switch to Rec.709 for SDR material, and that can cause the colors to look pale and washed out. Manually switching to BT.2020 instead should restore the colors to their intended glory. (You’ll need to remember to switch back later or else colors will distort on other discs.)
The differences aren’t subtle, so be sure to check your hardware to make sure that it’s set to BT.2020. Properly calibrated, the colors here are vivid without ever appearing oversaturated. The contrast range is excellent, with nighttime sequences like Godzilla’s first encounter with Rodan looking better than it ever has before. Some light noise reduction has been applied to the image, but not as much as with Mothra vs. Godzilla (that may have been a case where the extra noise reduction was applied to help blend the disparate sources together). The grain has still been reduced here, but it’s just a touch more prominent than in Mothra vs. Godzilla. There’s a few light scratches and other small damage marks remaining, but they’re really only noticeable if you look for them. There are a few horizontal scratches/blemishes on some of the composite shots, which must have been due to a defect in the optical printer. Speaking of which, it’s worth keeping in mind that anytime that King Ghidorah uses his energy attack, that’s an optical effect and you’re watching dupe footage. Between Ghidorah’s lighting, the Shobijin, and other matte work, there’s arguably more dupe footage here than in any previous Godzilla film. That means that significant number of shots appear softer than the surrounding material, but it’s just the nature of how Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was produced.
Audio is offered in Japanese 2.0 mono LPCM and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix from 2001, with optional Japanese barrier-free subtitles (the Japanese equivalent of SDH). Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was originally recorded and mixed in mono (even the music), so this 5.1 track is just processed mono rather than a true remix. There’s a bit of separation between the channels, and an occasional effect that’s been steered one way of the other, but that’s about it. There’s a little more presence due to the fake stereo spread, but on the other hand it sounds less robust overall than the original mono track does. The choice is yours, but the latter arguably has a slight edge.
Toho’s Region-Free 4K Ultra HD release of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster comes in a black Amaray case with striking metallic silver artwork on the insert. Per standard Toho policy, neither the film nor any of the extras offer English subtitles. That’s not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle, however. Some players like the Oppo UDP-203 and UDP-205 offer the ability to load external subtitles. You’ll have to do a little Googling to see if your particular player does so as well. If it can, all that you need to do is take the English subtitle file (with an .srt extension) from disc like Criterion’s Blu-ray. Rename it “sub.srt,” create a folder on a USB drive called “sub,” and place the file in that folder. Insert the drive into the USB port on your player, then when playing the disc, use the subtitle button on your remote to select “other,” and Bob’s your uncle. You’ll have to adjust the sync to get it to line up properly. On the Oppos, that’s accessible using the Option button.
There are other sources for .srt files, but you’ll have to discover those on your own. There’s a more drastic (and permanent) way of adding subtitles to a film that doesn’t offer them, but that’s also something that you’ll have to find out for yourself. Google will be your friend here.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Eiko Wakabayashi
- Special News Trailer (4K – 3:44)
- Textless Special News Trailer (4K – 3:44)
- Trailer (4K – 2:20)
- Textless Trailer (4K – 2:20)
- Toho Champion Festival Special News Trailer (4K – 1:30)
- Toho Champion Festival Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster Trailer (4K – 2:24)
- Overseas Trailer (4K – 3:11)
- Toho Champion Festival Version of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (HD – 73:05)
- Unused Special Effects Footage (Upscaled SD – 15:12)
- Making-of 8 mm Film (Upscaled SD – 11:30)
- Godzilla Road (Upscaled SD – 2:46)
- Space Monster King Ghidorah 8 mm Digest (HD – 4:44)
- Space Monster King Ghidorah Picture Book (HD – 3:09)
- Still Galleries:
- Cast (4K, 30 in all)
- Special Effects (4K, 38 in all)
- Promotional Materials (4K, 101 in all)
- Press Books (4K, 63 in all)
Since many of these extras are in Japanese with no way to add subtitles, they’re of limited utility to anyone who doesn’t speak the language. All’s not lost, however. Google Lens with Google Translate can also be your friend in deciphering some of the text, and a few of the extras are English-friendly. The shortened Toho Champion Festival version of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster appears to have been sourced from the same scans as the full-length version of the film, but without all of the rest of the work that was done to that. There’s a bit more damage visible, and none of the noise reduction. The Unused Special Effects Footage offers a montage of additional scenes of monster rampages and destruction, including raw footage of buildings exploding before Ghidorah’s energy beams were comped in. There’s also some unused animation like when Ghidorah first coalesces. The footage has been upscaled from a low-quality interlaced standard definition source and it’s filled with combing artifacts, but it’s still invaluable. The Making-of 8 mm Film was shot by artist, photographer, and director Keizo Murase, and it includes commentary from him (without subtitles). It’s a mix of behind-the-scenes footage and promotional events involving the suits.
Godzilla Road is an interview with legendary suit performer Haruo Nakajima. It’s really more of a conversation between him and Hariken Ryu (aka Hurricane Ryu), who worked on some of the Heisei era films as both and artist and a suit performer. He’s also written books on the subject. The two go through most of Nakajima’s career as a suit performer, and comment on offscreen footage from the films. If there’s one extra here where the lack of English subtitles is a genuine shame, it’s this one. Space Monster King Ghidorah 8mm Digest is a single-reel cutdown of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, squeezing as much as possible into barely five minutes. The Space Monster King Ghidorah Picture Book isn’t based on either that reel or the full-length film, but is instead a pure work of the imagination with artwork by Takeaki Tsukuda. It features Godzilla doing battle with a variety of kaiju and mecha including Baragon (among many others), with King Ghidorah being the least of Godzilla’s problems. Finally, the various Still Galleries offer plenty of material that valuable with or without subtitles.
Will there eventually be a domestic release of this 4K restoration of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster? Maybe, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Toho has a long history of only offering substandard masters for overseas distribution—witness the poor-quality masters that they provided to Criterion for the Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954–1975 Blu-ray set. Time will tell, but for the time being, this disc is the best possible option. Exchange rates are currently favorable, too. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be cheap, because physical media in Japan has always been expensive relative to North America. Whether or not it’s worth the cost is up to you. As silly as much of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster may be, it’s still an essential part of the franchise, so I’m content.
- Stephen Bjork