Sunday, March 22, 2020
Kaiju Watch: Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)
I had never seen Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), and I remember asking Stuart about it about a year or two ago, and he sort of said "it's the psychedelic one" and sort of gave an amused shrug, so... I didn't really know what to expect.
As we watched this as a bit of a distraction in our current situation of lockdown, it wasn't exactly a 1:1 analogy to our current situation (at least kaiju fights would give you something to look at), but there were some parallels I wasn't expecting out of my monster mayhem movie. But when a film starts with a cheery song about how mankind has ruined his environment and it will leave no one alive, and people are cowering as something is flying around spraying grim death on them... anyway.
The through-line of Godzilla vs. Hedorah is not overly complex and more or less sounds like an episode of Spectreman, a favorite Japanese import of my youth. There's a lot of characters and plot that a summary will not do justice, but center around a young boy who in inevitably named "Ken", who happens to love Godzilla despite the massive death toll Godzilla has surely racked up in Japan. His father is a scientist, who seems to be a marine biologist/ physicist/ defense expert/ scuba enthusiast. His mother mostly worries. He has a hipster uncle (it's unclear from which side) who has a foxy, singer girlfriend who has about four lines and we know nothing about.
Anyway, after an accident and some Sea Monkeys-level science, it's determined that a giant monster in the local bay is a product of pollution. Well, both pollution and monsters really cheese-off Godzilla, who happens to share a psychic link with Ken. Because movie.
There is a *lot* of monster fighting in this film, unlike Edirah, Horror of the Deep. Honestly, lengthy monster fights were more or less exactly what I wanted this evening, and this movie delivered in spades. It also takes it's self way more seriously. There's a *lot* of heavy-handed stuff about pollution, mostly because Tokyo had become deeply polluted in the years of post WWII re-industrialization. There was also a general world-wide curve toward pollution awareness at this time - the first Earth Day was in 1970.
Anyway, if you're looking for parallels between man's thoughtless exploitation of resources and taking for granted the world in which we live and something making us pay for that on a grand scale - again, I've got your analogy to today's headlines. But, as Jamie pointed out as a bunch of young adults and kids take to the foothills of Mt. Fuji to respond to tragedy by rocking out and making no impact on the situation whatsoever while causing, honestly, a lot more problems: again - parallels to today's youth not ducking and covering. (The uncle who organizes the thing actually dies badly from Hedorah slime, so.)
I'd seen some "club" scenes in clips of this movie, so assumed that would be the weirdo part of the film to which Stuart had referred. If you're familiar with people Go-Go Dancing and the psychedelic splatter art film screens of the era, they have that! But that's all very concrete, visually. Rather, every so often there are illustrative cartoon segments clarifying the story or building the ideas, such as "Hedorah really loves smog" and "Growth of Industry Destroys Nature". And one particularly timely scene of people walking around in gas masks to avoid the pollution.
The animation is of that same style those of us who grew up on Sesame Street in the 1970's might recall, where we already kinda knew "this is more for the adults who made it than for me, the intended audience". Weirdly, I can't find them on YouTube, but, trust me, it's a pretty wild part of a movie that's clearly gotten away from the director as far as making anything actually both entertaining and coherent, and we will not have both at the same time.
Honestly, I don't expect much out of a Godzilla movie, story-wise (and *still* the American studios seem to make worse movies than any of these), but somehow this one was just a jumble of a mess. It's not even clear who is keeping track of or raising Ken through most of the movie, and it's just possible he somehow winds up with the uncle's girlfriend after the end of the movie - and that seems like a lot for her, and unfair since his parents are alive.
But, speaking of entertaining: this is the movie where Godzilla just straight up makes himself fly using his atomic breath as propulsion. This unexpected bit of joy filled me with a delight I have not felt in weeks. Also: couldn't find this flying bit on YouTube, but maybe the only real way to see it the first time is in context. It's goddamn movie making at it's finest.