Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 10 - Rodan

Rodan* is another member of the classic Godzilla pantheon of giant monsters, appearing as a reluctant ally to Godzilla in several movies, typically in battles against the arch-demon of the kaiju franchise, King Ghidorah.  He's best described as a gigantic pterosaur, ultimately looking the most bird-like of all the old Toho kaiju creatures.  However, though Rodan is best known as being one of Godzilla's friends, his origins actually stem back to his own 1956 movie, titled simply, "Rodan".  "Rodan" was the third kaiju film directed by Ishiro Honda, director of "Godzilla" and "Half-Human".  Its production saw the reunion of the key members of the Godzilla team:  Akira Ifukube wrote the soundtrack, Tomoyuki Tanaka produced, Haruo Nakajima is the guy in the monster suit, Eiji Tsuburaya is again the effects master, and they even got Akihito Hirata, who previously played the Godzilla-slaying Professor Serizawa, to be the lead scientist again.  But "Rodan" featured something that no movie on All-Out Giant Monster Attack! has had yet...  COLOR!!

Yes, glorious beautiful color would now be the standard for all Japanese giant monster movies.  Colorization methods for film exist all the way back to the beginning of the medium, with George Milies personally painting every frame of his classic movies.  The first major modern color movie (using Technicolor) was "Gone With the Wind" in 1939, and that's the film most people call "the first color movie".  However, Technicolor was an expensive and complicated process, and for independent filmmaking, it was generally outside of the range of possibilities.  And really, it wasn't until the late 1960s that color became so easy to produce and so standardized that generally every movie would be filmed that way.  Even major American releases of the mid-Sixties such as "Dr. Strangelove" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" were still in black and white, while color was restricted to genre films like Westerns and fantasy but growing more popular all the time.  In the US, dirt poor filmmakers like Bert. I Gordon and Roger Corman simply did without color until the Seventies.  But in Japan, Toho was a major studio and their SciFi films were growing in popularity and complexity, color was an inevitable innovation.

Back on topic, "Rodan" is actually an impressive kaiju film.  Its effects range from impressive to hilariously awful, the human characters are pretty tertiary, existing really only to watch the events unfold.  Rodan doesn't show up until rather late in the movie, until then the main villain is a group of terrible-looking giant bugs, possibly inspired by the American movie, "Them!"  But when "Rodan" finally gets going, it gets going well, featuring some awesome dogfights and scenes of destruction.  And it ends with what is easily the most shocking and sad ending of any kaiju film I've ever seen.

"Rodan" opens in a small mining town in the mountains of Kyushu, one of the main Japanese islands.  The miners there have unfortunately dug too greedily and too deep, and thus have opened up an ancient ecosystem of giant monsters that have been hid away within a stratum below our world for millions of years.  So "Rodan" is actually the first giant monster movie we've seen in a long time that has absolutely nothing to do with nuclear weapons.  At first the monster attacks begin small, with just a few miners being killed, with some blaming a missing worker, Goro, for the murders.  As our generic hero, Shigeru (played by frequent Godzilla actor, Kenji Sahara), hugs his generic girlfriend, the real killer makes its triumphant and hysterical debut.

"Help me... Help me..."

The killer is actually a giant bugs called "Meganulon".  They're these lumbering giant props with dragonfly faces which are more or less horrible to look at.  And I mean "horrible" in that the effect is so bad that you can't help but laugh.  They look like huge worms, but have the faces of a fly.  I don't think they have any particular powers other than being huge and eating people, but they are very resilient to bullets.  Its especially funny considering how sudden these creatures showed up.  I had assumed this movie was about Rodan, the flying monster, really the last thing I expected was... that.  Its like watching "King Kong Escapes" and being blind-sided by Mechani-Kong, another one of the silliest creatures Toho ever made.  But we'll cover that later.

Eventually Shigeru crushes the Meganulon by riding a mine cart right into its face.  Somehow this causes a massive earthquake, trapping Shigeru deep below the surface.  When he's finally found again, he's suffered massive cranial damage and has... you guessed-it, AMNESIA!  So whatever terrible thing he saw down below has escaped his memory.

Meanwhile, around the world unidentified flying objects have been seen over every major city across the Pacific.  Its a gigantic object so fast and agile that it can make a full turn at mach speed.  Nobody knows what it is, except for Shigeru, who is finally able to wake up and tell his tale.  When he was down there, he saw a giant egg, the egg of Baby Rodan.  Rodan ate all the Meganulon - thus ending their kaiju career for the next forty years until "Godzilla vs. Megaguirus" - and flew off.  So far the pacing and slow reveal of the Rodan creature was actually rather well-done, and the only kills Rodan accomplished were against two unsuspecting lovers who get killed, but you never see what did it. Terrible Meganulon effects notwithstanding, the movie actually has been moving rather speedily so far, but things will only get better in the final act.

Shigeru and his girlfriend, and really all the human characters, disappear at this point.  They're just around to watch and continue a flat romance nobody really cares about.  Because the star of the show has arrived!  Its Rodan time!


Rodan in his own movie appears considerably stronger and faster than he ever appeared in any of the Godzilla movies.  Because of his mass and speed, he creates sonic booms stronger than most hurricanes simply by flying.  He trashes the city with a simply flyby, crumbling a bridge, tossing buses in skyscrapers, just wrecking the place.  He also has a Godzilla-style atomic breath weapon that Toho seems to have forgotten about in his later appearances.  After a very exciting and spectacular dogfight chase scene against a few fighter jets, where he blows most of them out of the sky, he lands in the city to take on the JSDF directly.  The combined barrage of tank blasts and rockets actually does a number on Rodan until... a SECOND Rodan flies out of nowhere and rescues its mate.  Yup, turns out there was a breeding pair of these creatures.  And the world is truly doomed now.

That is, until the rather confusing and tragic ending.  All the many earthquakes in Kyushu have finally awakened a volcano, and the JSDF decide to use their artillery to trigger an eruption, hopefully burning the Rodans away.  And it actually works, since one of the Rodans gets set on fire, though the other is unharmed.  Then even though both appear like they're about to get clear, the weakened Rodan collapses right into the lava, and is burned away.  This is where the movie gets really shocking.  The other Rodan then, rather then flying to safety, jumps on top of its buddy, and together they burn together.  Jesus Christ!  All the humans watch as the Rodan species is destroyed, but the viewers are really unsure of what just happened.

 I keep reading this as "The Flying Rooster"

I didn't understand the ending of "Rodan" until the I watched some of the Western dubbed version.  I'd say all in all, the Japanese version of "Rodan" is superior, because the English dubbing is simply awful.  Its done by the same people who dubbed "Godzilla Raids Again", which means that it was dubbed by only four people for the entire cast, one of those actors being a young George Takai.  The romance isn't great in the Japanese version, but its unwatchably corny in English.  Also, for some stupid reason the Western version decided to reveal the existence of the second Rodan earlier in the movie, spoiling a great surprise.  The Americans, frankly, ruined the dogfight scene, because the two Rodans muddles everything, and for some reason they removed Akira Ifukube's excellent chase music.  They also added stock footage of nuclear stuff at the beginning because, I guess, the Americans didn't believe a giant monster movie could exist without a radioactive enemy.  What the dubbing does do better though, is explain the ending.  Because Shigeru now narrates the entire movie in the same offensive Japanese accent that was used for Tsukoika in "Godzilla Raids Again", we learn that in the end, the two Rodans were actually mates, and the death scene was the conclusion of a tragic kaiju romance.

Which gives "Rodan" the saddest ending to a kaiju movie ever, I think.  This is even worse than "King Kong", at least that was just humans defeating a single monster, we weren't wiping out two forlorn dinosaur lovers.  So far giant monster movies have rarely ended well for the monster, but this is something else.  That's a giant monster committed suicide by embracing the burning body of its mate.  That's fucking dark.  Holy crap.

In conclusion, we human beings are a terrible race of monsters far worse than any giant kaiju creature.  We should all be ashamed of ourselves.  But we did make "Rodan", which though slow and goofy at times, is still a very good giant monster movie.  Now I have to go cry in a corner someplace.

Next time on All-Out Giant Monster Attack! - I changed my mind, we're covering this movie after all, we return to America where giant bugs are still attacking in "Tarantula"!


---------------------------------------------------------------------------- * Rodan's original name is "Radon", as a kinda shorthand version of "PteRAnoDON".  The original English release flipped the vowels in his name to "Rodan", because "Radon" is the name of an Noble Gas, which would just be confusing.  However, in their own brilliant way, "Radon" sounds exactly like the name for a brilliant French sculptor from the 19th century, Auguste Rodin, which makes even less sense.  At least the American dubbers didn't give him a completely new name like "Gigantis the Fire Monster".

1 comment:

  1. I'm a pretty big fan of the more emotional kaiju movies.

    Holy shit am I ever excited for Pacific Rim.