Blu-ray: ‘Godzilla vs. Hedorah’

Godzilla, the biggest star of Japan’s giant monster craze of the 1960s, went through an interesting evolution since his debut in the 1954 Godzilla, a dark nuclear parable in a solemn key featuring a giant rampaging lizard who descends upon Tokyo like a biblical curse with attitude. Godzilla’s devastating rampage and radioactive breath leaves behind thousands of casualties and a city aflame, recalling nothing less than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In subsequent years and through numerous spin-offs, the films went color, he was joined by more giant monsters, fought aliens, had a son, took up residence on Monster Island, and transformed from enemy of humanity to its protector, a state of affairs that lasted until the series reboot in 1984 and a second wave of films. Through them all, Godzilla was incarnated by a stuntman in a suit stomping through miniature cities and landscapes while an overcranked camera filmed it at high speed to give a dreamy, slightly-slow motion look and a sense of mass and size to the monster battles. The process is affectionately known as suitmation.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (released in the U.S. under the title Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), the eleventh film to feature the big green scaly one, was the strangest, trippiest picture of the original cycle of Godzilla films, perhaps of all time. The series had descended into juvenile fantasy in recent years and for this 1971 production a whole new creative team was brought in, headed by first-time director Yoshimitsu Banno, who had apprenticed as an assistant director under Akira Kurosawa. He and co-screenwriter Kaoru Mabuchi created a new kind of monster, one created of pollution and toxic waste, and brought in a supporting cast of teenagers and young adults who dress in mod fashions and flail away in go-go clubs along with dancers in body paint. The opening credits, which features a close-up of a female vocalist singing a pop song called “Save the Earth (Find a Solution/To Stop Pollution)” against a psychedelic backdrop, evokes James Bond by way of macroscopic imagery on acid. Intercut with the vocal stylings are shots of seas polluted with oil and garbage that look more like documentary clips than special effects.

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