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The strangest of all Godzilla films, but a great DVD!
on December 20, 2004
It's wonderful that American home video distributors have finally started taking Godzilla seriously and releasing excellent DVDs of the Big Guy's flicks. This DVD of the 1971 "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" (originally released in America as "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster") may not offer much in the way of extras, but it lets you see the film as you've never been able to: in a beautiful widescreen image (enhanced for 16:9 TVs) with the option to watch it in Japanese with English subtitles or dubbed into English. For older viewers, I definitely recommend watching it in Japanese; it will change your whole perspective on Godzilla and makes the film seem less cheap and campy. However, the English dub is a good feature to have for younger children, who will definitely want to watch the film as well.
Although watching "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" in Japanese will tone down the camp somewhat, this remains the weirdest, oddest, most mind-bogglingly bizarre of all Godzilla movies. In the 1970s the Japanese film industry entered a steep decline because of competition from television, and the Godzilla films suffered from severe budget cutbacks. One of the guiding fathers of the Godzilla films, special effects wizard Eiji Tsubaraya, died in 1969 and the effects work on the Godzilla films suffered an additional drop in quality. "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" therefore came at a time when the Godzilla films were changing, and not always for the better. A new director, Yoshimitsu Banno, helmed this film and purposely set out to make a completely new kind of Godzilla film: a weird mixture of serious environmental message, frightening horror sequences, rock 'n' roll party scenes, cartoon montages, kiddie antics, and surreal monster fights. This is one strange film! The shift between the often grisly horror sequences (Hedorah the Smog Monster does some nasty things to his human victims) to animated "bumper" sequences and Godzilla actually flying (!!!) will make you wonder if somebody put the reels out of sequence! For all these problems and the film's silliness, there's something endearing about this monster mash: compared to the next few films, which are so cheap and uninspired, "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" feels like a project that the people working on it actually cared about. The environmental slant also provides a real message, the first time since the original "Godzilla" (1954) that the series approached such a heated topic.
Godzilla steps into full superhero mode here. Hedorah (the name comes from the word 'hedoro' meaning 'sludge'), a monster born in the waters from humanity's pollution, rapidly mutates into a jelly-like giant that comes ashore in Japan and starts wreaking havoc and turning humans into skeletons. Godzilla answers the call to save humanity. But Hedorah is a fearsome foe, armed with laser eyes, poison gas, and toxic spit-balls! Godzilla won't have an easy time, but maybe the scientists and the military can lend a hand with their electrode device. In between scenes of monsters battling, you can hang out with Japanese teens at a disco and watch the psychadelic acid pattern show on the wall. Or just listen to the wah-wah-wah soundtrack music -- guaranteed to make you want to buy a lava lamp!
Yeah, this is a weird film. But it's a cult classic, and resembles no other Godzilla film. (Apparently series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka hated the final product and director Banno consequently never directed another film.)
Note about the English dub: Viewers who remember seeing this film on TV in the 1970s and '80s may notice that the English dub on this film is different than the one they remember. This is because there were two English soundtracks made for the film back in 1971. American International Pictures released the film as "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster" and did their own dub through Titra Sound in New York, composing cool English lyrics for the theme song, "Save the Earth." Toho studios made their own English dub in Hong Kong for use in other English-speaking territories. In the early 1990s, the rights to the picture in America returned to Toho, and the Toho dub has now replaced the American International one. This DVD therefore contains the Hong Kong dubbing job, and that means "Save the Earth" is now in Japanese instead of English. Fans of this classic camp song might be a bit disappointed!