A scene from GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH, directed by Banno Yoshimitsu for Toho Company Ltd.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971, Banno Yoshimitsu)

There are two types of people in the world. People who like Godzilla vs. Hedorah and people who do not. I am in the former category. I think director Banno knows how to do what he wants to do, which is make an impassioned environmental statement with a Godzilla movie. Banno asks the audience to humor the film for a while and he incentivizes along the way–there are these reassuring odd-ball segments (somehow the news briefs are almost as strange as the animated transition sequences)–he promises it will pay off. It does.

During that humoring period, Banno tries to explain how the film is going to work. How it should be consumed. Godzilla as a symbol of Japan, of the Japanese people. He’s old-fashioned, but he’s fun-loving. He’s got a hop in his step. He’s a seventies man. Banno gets there through an annoying little kid. The kid gets less annoying, but only because Banno pairs the seven year-old lead (his name’s Kawase Hiroyuki) with his uncle’s love interest (the twenty-three year-old Mari Keiko) in the last act. This move presumably to reward all the older brothers who got stuck either bringing younger siblings with or to the film. Banno’s a considerate guy. He knows the audience. He says, let’s have this unpleasant talk about pollution. In a Godzilla movie. Better than just in a Godzilla movie, but in a good one. It’s a technically superior giant monster movie. It’s awesome.

Again, it’s because of how the film targets its audience. It acknowledges its limited reach–people who see Godzilla movies–but it’s excited to have that reach, excited to have that audience. Banno rejoices in getting to do his message in this format.

Now, the big dripping brown mess in the middle of the room. Hedorah, the radioactive, poopy sludge monster. It’s a terrible costume on the guy. The giant monster fight scenes are excellent–the miniature designers, the practical effects guys, cinematographer Manoda Yôichi, Banno, everything except the actual suit. They’ve got a great sense of scale with everything else, but not that suit. It looks like Zombie Sweetums.

But it drips. It drips toxic waste, which looks like poo. It shoots poop at Godzilla. After Banno has set him up as the symbol of Japan. Hedorah is Japan’s waste. Banno tells the audience to feel bad about themselves.

And there’s lots more with metaphors, visual and narrative ones. Banno goes all out. He’s proud of the film; everyone involved should be proud of it. Even Kawase, who I kind of picked on a little, but he’s fine. The role is really annoying, but he’s not. He doesn’t make the role not annoying, but he doesn’t make it worse. There, with that qualified retraction, I feel better.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah. I am a fan.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Banno Yoshimitsu; written by Banno and Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Manoda Yôichi; edited by Kuroiwa Yoshitami; music by Manabe Riichirô; production designer, Inoue Yasuyuki; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Yamauchi Akira (Dr. Yano), Kimura Toshie (Toshie), Kawase Hiroyuki (Ken), Shiba Toshio (Yukio), and Mari Keiko (Miki).


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