Ah, Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Where to begin, where to begin indeed. Released in the states as Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, (who could forget that title?) this film is by far the most 'interesting' Godzilla film. I don't remember what I first thought about it when I first saw it many years ago, but I probably had thought around the same thing I do now. Strange, strange is the term best used for this weird film. It's a love it or hate it film, it really has divided the fan-base. It's one of my least favorite Godzila films, but that doesn't mean it's unmemorable.
Official description from Sony TriStar:
We humans are destroying our environment - and now there is a price to pay. From the sewage and sludge pumped into the sea, life degenerates, then mutates, creating a mega-monster, Hedorah . A radically ugly creature, this mammoth of muck swims, walks and flies, pausing only to inhale noxious smokestack fumes. He emits poisonous gasm crushes armies and annihilates cities while thriving on the toxins of our ecosystem. Cannons and missiles can't harm him, but his nefarious stench summons the attention of Godzilla, whose own refuge is threatened. Now, the monster of waste...is about to get wasted.
This film has a rather funny/infamous history. This would be the first 'official' Godzilla film since DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. (I say official, since technically in All Monsters Attack big G didn't appear.) This film was directed by Yosimitsu Banno, who had big plans for this franchise. He had a message to tell with this film. To sum it up: DON'T POLLUTE. (Here comes the owl.) A lot of the G films have their messages, but this one proudly displays it throughout. Banno had a unique vision for this film. The soundtrack gives this film a goofy atmosphere, you know you're in for something different right when you see the TOHO logo with G's goofy theme from the film playing over it. At the same time, this is one of the most horrific G films, complete with melting heads and plenty of skeletons throughout. Then there's these really weird cartoon sequences that don't belong in a Godzilla film. (Hedorah looks like Snuffleupagus in those.) There's a reason why TOHO didn't let Banno do his planned sequel. (In that one, G would have battled a Star fish.) One of the reasons I'm sure is the cast.
The two main characters would be Dr. Yano and his son Ken. First off, it should be said that Akira Yamauchi as the doctor gives a solid performance as the 'man who wants to help.' His relationship with all his family members felt fluid and real. Now Ken I thought was a strange one. His fixation on Godzilla usually would be a normal thing, just the way film goes about it makes you think he has some sort of crazy connection with the lizard. He also appears to be a little too smart for his age. His performance felt a little robotic with little to no emotion. Then there's Yukio Keuchi and his (I presume) girlfriend Miki Fujiyama. Yukio was definitely the worst with absolutely zero character development. What exactly is his relationship with Dr. Yano? That was never fully explained. His 'friend' Miki was one of the better characters in the film. (Admittedly the song she sang had a lovely ring to it.) However, there are some characters here doing things that don't make much sense, that will be addressed in two paragraphs. First, the always-awesome monsters.
Godzilla is looking good, with the suit from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. The personality is here, complete with some new traits. (Chin rub taunt anyone?) His personality fits the heroic character he would have in the next four films. (It's amazing when you look back at the older films, seeing how his character progress until this one.) Hedorah, the infamous Smog Monster, makes his proud debut. First of all, the special effects team did an awesome job with the suit, it looks both fantastic and unique. (I gotta give it to TOHO for making these monster roars, Hedorah's sound/roar is pretty creepy and awesome.) There are some fantastic scenes with it, such as the one where he's inhaling smoke from a factory. (The symbolism in this film doesn't stop.) Really, Hedorah is a menace that I wouldn't mind seeing again. I'm pretty sure TOHO wanted nothing to do with the film after they dropped Banno, hence why the Smog Monster wasn't brought back until Final Wars. (After seeing this film, I'm very disappointed at how brief and weak he was made in that film.)
The soundtrack is a major criticism. While different, it isn't that great. I still cringe whenever I hear Godzilla's goofy theme. Not to say it's all bad, Hedorah's theme is appropriately creepy. The fights in this film are pretty good, especially the 'showdown at Mt. Fuji.' Hedorah's final form appearance was dramatic, with G and it about to duke it out. Quite investing moment there. There are some strange (been using that word a lot) things in the film that deserve a mention. First, an inconsistency. Hedorah is shown burying Godzilla. The scene cuts away to show the humans, then it goes back, showing the two monsters rolling down the mountain. G was in no position to escape, it just didn't make sense. Now, for the infamous dance at Mt Fuji. So Yukio had a 'great' idea. Since they're all going to die, why not party it out at Mt. Fuji? Not only didn't that make sense, it felt really unnatural and forced. Then the even stranger part is that Miki brings along Ken, who dances along with them! Of course, how can forget that Godzilla uses his flying ability in this film? That's right folks, G uses his atomic breath to fly through the air. It's kind of silly, (hence why it was never used again) but how can one not love it? (And does anyone else wonder what was up with those pales looking people watching the teens dance it out?)
Overall, Godzilla vs. Hedorah is......a strange movie. It really isn't that great, (there's a reason why Banno was booted right after his film. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka of the 22 Godzilla films before this one literally said that Banno 'ruined the Godzilla franchise.') but that doesn't mean it isn't unmemorable. On the contrary, you won't be forgetting it anytime soon. Hedorah is a great kaiju with a unique design, with the fights being (mostly) dramatic, especially the showdown at Mt. Fuji. Godzilla vs. Hedorah is one of my least favorite Godzilla movies, but it's also one of the more memorable ones. (Those fish heads still creep me out to this day.)