Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Japanese Import) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Feb 16, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Japanese Import) (4K UHD Review)


Yoshimitsu Banno

Release Date(s)

1971 (December 20, 2023)


  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B+

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (4K UHD)

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[Editor's Note: This is a Region-Free Japanese import, but it does not contain English language audio tracks or subtitles. More on that below.]

Over the span of more than a century of cinematic history, there have been a few visionary directors who have worked outside the system in order to shake up the existing order while providing sights and sounds that have shocked, baffled, and delighted audiences around the world. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali with Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or. Stan Brakhage with Dog Star Man. Alejandro Jodorowsky with pretty much everything that he ever made. David Lynch with Eraserhead. A few of those directors have tried to work within the studio system with varying degrees of success. David Lynch, for example. Another one would be Yoshimitsu Banno.

Wait, what?

Yes, Yoshimitsu Banno. During the Shōwa era in Japan, Toho operated a factory system akin to the way that Hollywood studios worked during the golden age of Hollywood. That didn’t necessarily preclude individual directors pursuing their own unique visions, but it did tend to make everything a bit more challenging for them. Akira Kurosawa was granted relative freedom to tell stories in his own singular fashion, but producer Tomoyuki Tanaka generally kept a tighter rein on the directors who worked in the Godzilla franchise. Ishirō Honda was able to squeeze his humanist themes into the Godzilla films that he directed, but he still wasn’t in control of increasingly silly and humorous directions that the series took over the Sixties and Seventies. He worked within the system, not always to his own satisfaction. Jun Fukuda, on the other hand, saw every Godzilla film that he directed as nothing more than an assignment. He brought style and flair to everything that he did, but his heart wasn’t always in it.

And then there’s Banno. There’s never been anyone else quite like Banno, and there’s definitely never been anything else even remotely like his sole contribution to the Godzilla franchise, Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka Gojira tai Hedora and Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster). Honda had managed to turn the original Godzilla into a deeply heartfelt warning about the perils of the nuclear age, but Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a no less personal and heartfelt warning about the dangers posed by pollution instead. The difference wasn’t really in terms of the kinds of stories that each of them told, but rather in how they told those stories.

Brothers and sisters, no director in the entire seventy-year history of the Godzilla franchise has told a story the way that Banno did. That’s as much due to exigent circumstances as anything else. For the first time on a Godzilla film, the main unit and the effects unit was combined in order to economize, so Banno personally oversaw everything that was shot. Tanaka was hospitalized for most of the 35-day shooting schedule, so no one was keeping an eye on what Banno was doing. When the cat’s away, visionary directors will play. According to effects director Teruyoshi Nakano, Tanaka was so horrified by the results that he accused Banno of ruining the entire franchise. That spelled the end of Banno’s involvement with Godzilla, at least for the time being. (There’s an interesting coda in that regard, but more on that in a moment.)

The story that Banno and Takeshi Kimura concocted for Godzilla vs. Hedorah took a step back from the alien invaders and kaiju battle royales of the previous films. For the first time since Mothra vs. Godzilla, the King of Monster would face off against a single rival monster, and one with very human origins. Hedorah (dubbed the Smog Monster for the English-language version) is theorized to have been an alien species from the Horsehead Nebula that traveled to Earth via a passing comet, but the creature thrives and grows to monstrous scale thanks to mankind’s thoughtlessness. Godzilla was birthed when the human race split the atom, but Hedorah was birthed when it just didn’t give a damn about all of the toxic waste that it was spewing into the environment. Godzilla resulted from scientific hubris, but Hedorah occurred because of industrial carelessness. Either way, innocent lives are caught in the crossfire, and everyone else is powerless to stop it.

Innocent eyes end up being opened, too. Like All Monsters Attack before it, the story of Godzilla vs. Hedorah centers around a small child. Yet while Ichiro in that film fantasized about monsters as a way from escaping the pressures of his lonely existence, Ken (Hiroyuki Kawase) is a hardcore G-fan who has an unexplained psychic connection to the real Godzilla. His father Toru (Akria Yamanouchi) is a scientist studying the equally real threat posed by Hedorah. His mother Toshie (Toshie Kimura) is a bit befuddled by both of them, but unlike Ichiro, she’s there to support her son. Ken ends up experiencing some of the death and destruction that follow in Hedorah’s wake, but he still manages to maintain his unwavering belief in Godzilla as the only solution.

The death and destruction in Godzilla vs. Hedorah can seem a little jarring, even when watching the film more than a half century later. After the somber nuclear metaphors of the original Godzilla, the series had become increasingly more family-friendly, and the collateral damage from the kaiju shenanigans was kept to a minimum. The unavoidable human toll from all the action was mostly kept offscreen. Yet Banno ripped off that Band-aid with a vengeance in Godzilla vs. Hedorah. People are asphyxiated, drowned in sludge, and melted down to skeletons by Hedorah’s acidic emissions. Even a small infant and a cat are shown sinking into Hedorah’s toxic stew. Godzilla vs. Hedorah may be every bit as whimsical and silly as any of the other Shōwa era Godzilla sequels, but it still managed to be far more gruesome than even the original Godzilla was.

Yet the graphic violence in Godzilla vs. Hedorah still doesn’t even get close to the real heart of darkness in the film. To put it bluntly, the ultimate message is that we’re all screwed. Banno presents the problem, but then he doesn’t offer any valid solutions that don’t involve the intervention of a mythical giant monster. Honda had faith that mankind could work together to solve a crisis, but Banno sure as hell didn’t. The industries that created the issue in the first place have no interest in trying to fix it. Governmental intervention is useless, especially when the military is involved. Even science is ineffectual, because it needs either big business or the government in order to operate at a scale large enough to enact real change, and that means it’s doomed from the start.

Banno was equally contemptuous of the youth movement that was on his side. Ken’s uncle Miki (Keiko Mari) and Miki’s girlfriend Yukio (Toshio Shiba) try to organize a protest in order to raise public consciousness about the issue, but it ends up devolving into a wasteful party that attracts the attentions of Hedorah instead. Vanity of vanities, saith Banno, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? Whether or not that’s what Banno really intended to say with Godzilla vs. Hedorah, it’s the message that comes through, loud and clear. Considering that mankind has remained incapable of joining together to solve the problem ever since then, he definitely had a point. Some of the loudest voices against climate change have enormous carbon footprints of their own, and disaster areas like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch continue to grow because no government will accept responsibility for them. Scientific proposals to help ameliorate some of these issues have little chance of being implemented because no one is willing to pay for them. Only Godzilla could save the day in Godzilla vs. Hedorah, but we’re not going to be so lucky.

To be fair, that’s not necessarily the message that everyone will take away from Godzilla vs. Hedorah, but that’s partly due to the astonishingly subversive way that Banno visualized it. Without Tomoyuki Takana’s guiding hand to keep things more or less grounded, Banno pulled out all the stops to craft an insanely psychedelic multimedia nightmare. The incessant death and destruction aren’t even close to being the most disturbing imagery in the film. Banno sprinkled abstract animated sequences throughout, including a transition from human faces to a danger zone on a map that looks like something out of Yellow Submarine. Then there’s Yukio dancing in a flesh-colored bodysuit painted with fish markings, Miki drunkenly hallucinating people with fish faces, broken mannequins floating in pools of toxic waste, multiplying split-screens of man-on-the street interviews, the ominous red vagina-shaped eyes on Hedorah—there’s just no end to Banno’s audacious visual and auditory experimentation in Godzilla vs. Hedorah. The postmodern flair that filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone added to their films owes a clear debt to visionaries like Banno.

On the auditory side, Banno was greatly added by a wry score from composer Riichirō Manabe. Manabe replaced Akira Ifukube’s legendary Godzilla fanfare with a honking trombone fanfare of his own, and it perfectly captures the satirical tone of the film. He also threw in some electronic effects that ended up fusing with the sound effects in order to create a synthesis unlike anything else in the Godzilla franchise. He contributed an earworm of a title song in Give Back the Sun! (which was replaced in the original AIP English language dub by singer/songwriter Adryan Russ performing it as Save the Earth!). Manabe even managed to sell the otherwise absurd moment when Godzilla uses his atomic breath to fly by adding in a hilariously inappropriate 4/4 march, tongue firmly in cheek. Manabe’s score proved no less controversial than anything else in Godzilla vs. Hedorah, but at least he was invited back a couple of years later to work on Godzilla vs. Megalon. Banno, unfortunately, was never invited back again. His banishment by Tanaka resulted in Godzilla vs. Hedorah being the first and last feature film that he ever directed. He proposed a couple of sequels, including one that would have moved the action to Africa instead, but Toho had quite enough of Banno’s audaciousness at that point.

Banno continued to shop around variations of his ideas, but to no avail. Finally, after the Millennium era drew to a close with Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004, Toho granted Banno the rights to put together a large format Godzilla short pitting the King of Monsters against a new environmental monster called Deathla. The plan was to shoot it in IMAX 3D, under the proposed title Godzilla 3-D to the MAX, but the film never materialized. When Legendary Pictures expressed interest in yet another American remake, Banno graciously relinquished the rights back to Toho so that they could strike the new deal that launched the Legendary Monsterverse instead. That’s why Banno and Kenji Okuhira received an executive producer credit on the 2014 Godzilla, as well as on every Godzilla sequel that Legendary has produced so far (including the Apple TV+ series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters). Sadly, all of those credits after the first film were posthumous ones, since Banno passed away in 2017. Like far too many visionary artists, the world just wasn’t big enough for him. Yet his legacy is still secure thanks to the jaw-dropping marvel that is Godzilla vs. Hedorah. It may be only a single film, but it’s enough.

Cinematographer Yoichi Manoda shot Godzilla vs. Hedorah 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 negatives for some of the films from the Sixties were cut to conform to the abbreviated Toho Champion Festival versions during the Seventies, but that’s not an issue with the Seventies films like this one. The original negative and any necessary dupe materials for optical work 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.)

When displayed properly at BT.2020, the lack of HDR shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. The colors are all nicely saturated without ever pushing too far toward oversaturation like some HDR grades can do. (If the colors look washed out and desaturated to you, double check your settings again.) The contrast, black levels, and shadow detail are all excellent even without the expanded bandwidth that HDR could provide. There’s little remaining damage visible, aside from a few faint single-fame scratches that will barely be visible at normal viewing distances. With the usual caveat that any opticals like the travelling mattes and energy effects necessitate using dupe elements, so they’re softer than the surrounding material, overall this is the best-looking transfer for any of the Shōwa era 4K Godzilla titles that Toho has released so far. Yes, there’s still been a bit of noise reduction applied here, but not in a destructive fashion. The grain is softened slightly, but the fine detail hasn’t been harmed in the process. The elements may have been in better shape this time, so they used a more delicate touch with the digital tools. Everything looks natural and filmic, and while it may not be quite as sharp and well-resolved as the best that the 4K format can offer, it’s still a massive upgrade over previous home video versions of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and likely the best that the film has ever looked—it’s doubtful that 35 mm theatrical prints in 1971 would have been this sharp.

Audio is offered in Japanese 2.0 mono LPCM and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix from 2004, with optional barrier-free Japanese subtitles (the Japanese equivalent of SDH). Godzilla vs. Hedorah was originally recorded and mixed in mono (even the music), so this 5.1 track is processed mono rather than being a true remix. While most of these remixes haven’t improved upon the original mono tracks, like Destroy All Monsters before it, this one is arguably an exception to that rule. Maybe they had better DME stems to work with on both of these, but there’s more directionality here than with the others, and the 5.1 does sound a bit more robust than mono. The bass has been sweetened a bit, and that gives the action more impact. The dialogue in the mono track does still have a bit more clarity, but there’s more body to the overall soundstage in 5.1. Try both of them and decide for yourself, but you might be surprised by the 5.1.

Toho’s Region-Free 4K Ultra HD release of Godzilla vs. Hedorah 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 Teruyoshi Nakano
  • Trailers:
    • Theatrical Trailer (UHD – 2:11)
    • Textless Theatrical Trailer (UHD – 2:11)
    • Overseas Trailer (UHD – 2:13)
  • News Videos:
    • Birth of a Pollution Monster! (HD – 1:24)
    • Raging Monsters: Godzilla and Hedorah (HD – 1:24)
    • This Week’s Highlights: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (HD – 3:31)
  • Making-of Video (HD – 2:06)
  • Bring Back the Sun! 2014 (HD – 4:57)
  • Pollution Monsters Overrun the World (Upscaled SD – 25:48)
  • Godzilla vs. Hedorah: Yasuyuki Inoue’s Art World (HD – 12:25)
  • Bring Back the Sun! Karaoke Video (HD – 1:57)
  • Bring Back the Sun! Karaoke Video (no vocals) (HD – 1:57)
  • Still Galleries:
    • Cast (UHD, 19 in all)
    • Special Effects (UHD, 51 in all)
    • Promotional Materials (UHD, 39 in all)
    • Press Books (UHD, 46 in all)
    • Storyboards (UHD, 73 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 News Videos are brief EPK-style promotional featurettes. Birth of a Pollution Monster! And Raging Monsters offer black-and-white behind-the-scenes footage of the effects shoot, with the former looking at the urban fight at the power station, and the latter focusing on the battle at Mt. Fuji. This Week’s Highlights is in color, and it includes footage of a promotional event where suit performers battled “live” to amuse some enthusiastic children in the audience, as well as some clips from the film. The Making-of Video offers more black-and-white footage from the effects shoot. Yasuyuki Inoue’s Art World shows comparisons between the conceptual artwork that was done by art director Yasuyuki Inoue and the final shots as they appear in the film. As wild as Godzilla vs. Hedorah may be, a few of his designs were even wilder.

Aside from the various Still Galleries offering plenty of material that’s valuable with or without subtitles, the rest of the are extras focused on music. Pollution Monsters Overrun the World is a conversation between Yoshimitsu Banno and Mari Keiko, who performed Bring Back the Sun! in Godzilla vs. Hedorah. While there are a few titles cards here that can be translated in order to figure out what they’re talking about, this is the one extra on the disc where the lack of English subtitles is really unfortunate. It’s easy enough to get the gist of nearly everything else on the disc, but this invaluable conversation will be lost if you don’t speak Japanese. That’s not really an issue with Bring Back the Sun! 2014, which is a recent music video performance of the song that’s done in the same psychedelic style as the original, with similar results at the end. There are also two different karaoke versions of the song, one with Keiko’s vocals, and the other without them. Alas, no Adryan Russ versions, but Toho has pretty much tried to erase her version of the song out of existence. (For anyone who’s interested, her 2001 album Everyone Has a Story: The Songs of Adryan Russ has a hidden bonus track at the end with her performance of the song, although unfortunately it’s just one that’s been ripped from the optical tracks of a print with the original AIP dub. The master tapes must be lost at this point.)

Will there eventually be a domestic release of this 4K restoration of Godzilla vs. Hedorah? 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. Godzilla vs. Hedorah has always been a controversial installment in the Godzilla franchise and it’s no less contentious today than it was back in 1971, but for the enlightened few who recognize Yoshimitsu Banno for the visionary genius that he truly was, Toho’s UHD is a jewel beyond price.

- Stephen Bjork

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