Day 12. As the 1970s begin, Godzilla movies start to get even crazier, as proven by this movie, wherein our favorite monster fights a mound of living sewage. #12: Godzilla vs. Hedorah, a/k/a Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster.
It’s about here, in the early 1970s, where you can see Toho clearly straining for something new to do with the Godzilla series. After the glories of Destroy All Monsters, it seemed like there was nothing left to do. Godzilla teamed up with nine other monsters to fight King Ghidorah. After that, everything might’ve seem like small potatoes. As such, the hard-working monster-makers at Toho tried to come up with new, more unusual creatures to replace the ones we had already seen.
This, then, was the first film to resurrect the motion of monster-as-political allegory since the 1954 original. Godzilla was, if you’ll recall, intended to be a symbol for the lingering cultural fear of the atomic bomb. By 1971, those fears had pretty much abated, and the source of global destruction was none other than pollution. As such, the monster in Godzilla vs. Hedorah was an amorphous mound of living sewage that was created by human pollution. It’s a big silvery blob that breathes exhaust and oozes into dance halls. I don’t want to think of what it smelled like. The warnings against polluting are about as deep and hard-hitting as an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
This film also takes a new aesthetic bent. The bright, crisp Saturday afternoon visuals have given way to something far weirder and more psychedelic. This film has a few musical numbers in an LSD-laced nightclub, and a few animated sequences.
The story follows a trio of regular guys (scientist Akira Yamauchi, regular dude Hiroyuki Kawase, little kid Toshie Kimura) who discover a new monster in the bay. Using test tubes, they discover that it’s a Hedorah (naturally!), and that it was borne of human waste. When exposed to more pollution, it can grow. The only way to stop it is with a military-funded electrocuting machine, and, of course, with Godzilla’s nuclear breath. Nuclear bombs, it turns out, don’t work on Hedorah. The political allusion here is clear: Even the nuclear bomb isn’t as bad as pollution. In terms of how we go about destroying ourselves as a species, war is lesser than smog.
The final fight in Godzilla vs. Hedorah is long and kinda gross. Godzilla punches holes through Hedorah, and Hedorah only reconstitutes itself. It’s bigger than Godzilla, too. It can change shape and even fly. Godzilla gets covered with filth. It’s hard to look past the fact that Godzilla is fighting a monster that’s essentially made of poo.
And you can probably sense the tonal clash going on here. Half of the movie is preachy about its anti-pollution message, a tiny sliver of it is a stylish 1970s drug trip, and the rest is a bonkers genre film about a giant radioactive amphibian fighting poop. I can recommend this film if you’re the type who likes to get really, really high before they watch movies, but otherwise, I’m wholly baffled. Hedorah is a bizarre creation, and will not be referred to in any of the future Godzilla movies. Godzilla ends up ripping out Hedorah’s eyes, frying him, stomping on him, frying him again, and then crushing the eyes. Godzilla is not effing around this time.
I think Toho once tried to sweep this one under the rug, because I had trouble tracking it down on home video. Many see Godzilla vs. Hedorah as an oddity in the canon.
Up next: Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)