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Godzilla Vs. Hedorah

Godzilla Vs. Hedorah

Gojira tai Hedora / Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster

Yoshimitsu Banno

Japan, 1971

Credits

Review by Steve Macfarlane

Posted on 11 February 2013

Source DVD

Categories The Compleat Godzilla

To call Godzilla Vs. Hedorah a relative masterpiece may sound like faint praise, but hindsight solidifies the film’s status as one of the most novel in the Godzilla canon. The family at its core are tenants of a badly polluted suburb, living in a Japan where Mt. Fuji appears carefully nestled between power station grids, where news commentators can’t tell the difference between a colossal beast and a new military weapon. Humanity and nature flat-out do not get along, and Godzilla’s rival, the “smog monster” Hedorah, is less the traditional diamond-encrusted invader from outer space than a sprawling manifestation of industrial Japanese growth after World War II, a red-eyed effigy in sludge. Director Yoshimitsu Banno dives head-first into making the series ever kid-friendlier, while simultaneously returning to it the political teeth that had gone lacking long since. For a franchise that is, at times punishingly, its own genre, this is no small feat. Inevitably, Banno’s lone credit in the series was hated by Toho brass for its freaky-deaky visual palette and Joan Baez-grade subtlety of political message.

Godzilla appears less a malignant spinoff of nuclear power than in the mold that would see the ’70s films to their leaden conclusion: as protector of the earth, innately cued into the internal rhythms of Japanese children’s dreams. The story is told through the prism of a little boy named Ken, a perspective that allows for nauseating fear and constant hints of widespread carnage, ever-so-slightly suppressed. This is, to my knowledge, the only kaiju film where, following a monster brawl, a body count is provided—again, by the mindlessly jibber-jabbering “experts” on the TV set. Banno achieves a lot through fierce, symmetrical images: wilting flowers, shrinking and expanding protoplasms on a hippie nightclub screen, commingling toxic tadpoles, whole buildings full of people wiped out by waves of steaming garbage. In one scene, Ken’s father – a biologist – dives in the river, looking for clues. Hedorah flies over the embankment and Ken cries out, but his father never returns. Alone on the rocks, all the kid can do is wait… and then wait some more. Triumphal cheer goes head-to-head with Hedorah’s long pall of unstoppable, science-proof death; when Godzilla finally lumbers forth to save the day, he is as steady and repetitive a vision as the movies can offer.

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