Summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, and many big-budget genre flicks hit the big screen and get reviewed on the small one. Summer also presents opportunities for kicking back, and some of our weekend reviews will harken to drive-in and creature feature classics of the past. Today, we return to 1956, and Japan’s third kaiju film: the first to feature someone other than the Big G.

The American release of Rodan makes fewer changes than were wreaked upon Gojira, but the U.S. still managed to cheese-up an already cheesy film, draining much of the tension from it. The original Japanese film should be sought out where possible.

Title: Rodan (Sora no daikaijû Radon in Nippon)

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Ishirô Honda

Written by Takeshi Kamura and Ken Koronuma.
(American version includes material by David Duncan)

Kenji Sahara as Shigeru Kawamura
Yumi Shirakawa as Kiyo
Akihiko Hirata as Professor Kyuichiro Kashiwagi
Akio Kobori as Police Chief Nishimura
Minosuke Yamada as Colliery Chief Osaki
Rinsaku Ogatu as Goro
Haruo Nakajima as Rodan

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Available from Amazon.com and as an instant rental.

Premise:

A mystery in a mine deepens from murder and a missing man to gigantic insect-creatures…. And the thing that feeds on them.

High Points:

Shigeru’s account, once he recovers his memory, makes for a memorable first clear appearance of the title creature. The effects are a bit shaky, especially by today’s standards, but this remains one of the definitive moments in kaiju films.

The conclusion delivers a genuinely tragic ending for the monsters. They aren’t malevolent: just woefully out of place and time.

Low Points:

I’ll accept the presence of creatures hundreds of feet long that can fly, since the science in these movies makes little pretense towards being credible. But why don’t the Rodans need to flap their wings once aloft? Why do make airplane noises and leave jet trails?

Come to think of it, those problems could be mutually resolved, but only by making a silly premise even sillier.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 For their second kaiju creature, Toho Studios went in a slightly different direction. Yes, we have the same basic plot as Gojira: disparate mysteries resolve when a giant monster appears. Radiation plays some role. The monster destroys stuff, and survivor drama ensues. Some method of killing the monster finally materializes (if you recall the plot of Godzilla unfolding differently, it’s because you’ve only seen the American release, which re-edited the film, changed the order of sequences, and inserted new scenes).

However, the nature of the creatures, the reasons for their destructive rage, and the mood that surrounds their ending, all differ from Godzilla.

Effects: 4/6 Look, a rubber suit on wires looks like a rubber suit on wires. The Toho kaiju films have great model work, however. And while the meganulons hardly represent the height of special effects technology, they do have a creepy, low-rent nightmarish quality.

The film relies heavily on matte paintings to show different locations and, especially given that the film is in colour, these look extraordinarily like matte paintings.

Acting: 3/6 It’s very hard to assess acting when you watch a subtitled film, but this plays as very wooden. Characters have been drawn broadly, or not at all. And if it’s difficult to act in a rubber Godzilla suit, try to imagine what it’s like to emote from within a giant rubber chicken.

Story: 4/6

Production: 4/6 This is the first colour kaiju film, and that colour is excellent. Actual locations and models look great.

Emotional Response: 3/6 I’m not a fan of the endless remakes, and the 1998 American Gozilla has cast a shadow dark enough and long enough that to this day few outside of Japan want to risk a brand new Kaiju. Nevertheless, one continually glimpses a better movie in Rodan, a fact which may explain its lasting appeal. It makes me wonder: could a re-envisioned Rodan fly today?

Overall: 4/6 If you’ve only watched the endless, frequently silly sequels, spin-offs, and monster rallies that comprise the kaiju genre, you may be surprised at how seriously the early efforts were taken. None match the grim, Hiroshima/Nagasaki-inspired tone of the first Godzilla, but Rodan at least tries to be about something more than destruction wrought by impossible creatures.

In total, Rodan receives 25/42.

International Connections

The interplay between American monster cinema and Japanese kaiju, and with similar efforts elsewhere in the world, has long been discussed, at least, by people who watch films where ginormous monsters break stuff. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms directly inspired Godzilla, which led to a slew of films in Japan and elsewhere.

The American drive-in classic Them! precedes this film by a couple of years, and I find it likely them giant ants inspired the meganulons that creep around as Rodan‘s appetizer creatures.

Oddities and Trivia

  • The Japanese original contains a reference to “global warming.”
  • The Asahi brewery is among the buildings destroyed in this film. The Japanese were prescient about product placement as well as environmental concerns.
  • Kaiju fans generally regard the Rodan that teams with Godzilla in future films as the offspring of the ones in this film.