Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦, Sandai Kaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessen, lit. Three Giant Monsters: Earth's Greatest Battle) is a 1964 Japanese kaiju film directed by Ishirō Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced and distributed by Toho Studios, it is the fifth film in the Godzilla franchise, and was the second Godzilla film produced that year, after Mothra vs. Godzilla. The film stars Yosuke Natsuki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, with Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla, Masanori Shinohara as Rodan, and Shoichi Hirose as King Ghidorah. In the film, a Venus alien, possessing the body of a princess, warns humanity of the arrival of King Ghidorah, with Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra being their last hope for survival.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster
Theatrical release poster
Directed byIshirō Honda
Produced byTomoyuki Tanaka
Screenplay byShinichi Sekizawa[1]
Music byAkira Ifukube[1]
CinematographyHajime Koizumi[1]
Edited byRyohei Fujii[1]
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • December 20, 1964 (1964-12-20) (Japan)
Running time
92 minutes[1]
Box office¥375 million[2]

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was released in Japan on December 20, 1964, and received a theatrical release in the United States on September 29, 1965 by the Walter Reade Organization and Continental Distributing as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. The film marks the debut of King Ghidorah, a recurring antagonist of the Godzilla franchise.


Police Detective Shindo is assigned to guard Princess Selina Salno of Selgina during the Princess' visit to Japan, due to a suspected assassination plot. However, her plane is destroyed by a bomb en route. At the same time, a meteorite shower draws the attention of Professor Murai, who, along with his team of scientists, strikes out into the wilderness to examine the largest of the meteors, which has magnetic properties.

To Shindo's surprise, Selina turns up in Japan, without her royal garb, claiming to be from the planet Venus and preaching to skeptical crowds of forthcoming disaster. To their surprise, her prophecies begin coming true. First, she predicts Rodan (which was presumed dead in 1956) will emerge from Mt. Aso's crater and that Godzilla will destroy a ship on the sea. Both of these events transpire.

In the meantime, Selina's uncle, who was behind the assassination attempt, learns of her survival and sends his best assassin to Japan to dispatch the Princess. The assassin and his henchmen are stopped by Shindo, who was warned of their attempt by the Shobijin, Mothra's twin fairies. The Shobijin had been scheduled to return to Infant Island aboard the ship sunk by Godzilla but opted not to go after overhearing Selina's prophecy. A further attempt by the assassins is thwarted when both Godzilla and Rodan attack the city and engage in battle, forcing everyone to flee.

Convinced that Selina is insane, Shindo takes the Princess to see a renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Tsukamoto, in the hopes of curing her. However, Tsukamoto can find nothing wrong with her, mentally or physically. He concludes she must therefore truly be possessed by a Venusian as she claims. As if emboldened by the doctor's diagnosis, Selina reveals her final prophecy—that Venus's once thriving civilization was destroyed by an evil golden three-headed space dragon named King Ghidorah, and furthermore that Ghidorah itself has already arrived on Earth. The meteor Professor Murai and his colleagues are studying cracks open, revealing Ghidorah in a fiery explosion and the dragon proceeds to raze the countryside.

To combat the combined threats of the three monsters, the Japanese government enlists the aid of the Shobijin to summon the sole surviving Mothra larva (which once fought Godzilla in 1964). Once arriving on the Japanese mainland, Mothra attempts to persuade the quarrelling Godzilla and Rodan to team up against Ghidorah but both refuse. Unable to convince them and despite being vastly outmatched, Mothra resolves to fight Ghidorah by herself. Mothra engages Ghidorah and is continually blasted by its gravity beams. Fortunately, Godzilla and Rodan arrive to help, and a titanic battle against Ghidorah begins. Meanwhile, Shindo and Dr. Tsukamoto are forced to protect Princess Selina as the assassins converge on Tsukamoto's clinic; they manage to fend off the killers and escape into the mountains as the duelling monsters draw closer.

The assassins attempt to follow, but a stray blast from Ghidorah buries their car in an avalanche. Only Malmess, the leader, remains uninjured enough to continue. He attempts to snipe the Princess from an elevated position, but only injures her. In her pain, she regains her memory and is no longer possessed by the Venusian. Before Malmess can take another shot, another stray blast from Ghidorah buries the assassin under a second avalanche. With the heroes thus saved from the human menace, they gather at a safe distance to watch the battle between Earth's monsters and Ghidorah. Finally, Godzilla throws Ghidorah off the cliff and the alien dragon retreats back into outer space.

Mothra and the Shobijin return to Infant Island while Godzilla and Rodan go their separate ways. Selina, having retained the memories of her time with Shindo, bids farewell to her guardian as she meets her bodyguards at the airport to return home.


Yoshio Tsuchiya was originally attached to play Malmess but scheduling conflicts prevented him from participating.[4]


After the success of previous films where monsters were partnered up such as King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra vs. Godzilla, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to develop a film which would feature Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra.[5] The film also includes a new monster, King Ghidorah.[5][6] Ghidorah's design owes much to Japanese mythology.[7] In 1959, producer Tanaka developed a film that retold the legendary stories of Japan.[6] These included the tale of Yamata no Orochi,[8] an eight-headed dragon.[6] King Ghidorah is based on Tsuburaya's design for Orochi with a reduced number of heads.[6]

The film was rushed into production to follow the popularity of Mothra vs. Godzilla.[6] It is written as a direct sequel to the film.[6]

King Ghidorah was played by Shoichi Hirose (who had previously played King Kong in King Kong vs Godzilla). Hirose spent hours hunched over inside the costume, holding onto a crossbar for support.[8] A team of wire work puppeteers manipulated the necks, tails and wings. As many as seven men were in the rafters over the sound stage working the wires.[9] Sadamasa Arikawa (who assisted Eiji Tsuburaya with the special effects), stated "There were times when all three necks got tangled up or the plastic wires would reflect the studio lights, or the wires would get caught in Ghidorah's scales. It was an agonizing operation!"[10] Haruo Nakajima once again played Godzilla and the same suit from Mothra vs Godzilla was reused here with a slightly altered face. Masaki Shinohara played Rodan, and a new Rodan costume was constructed.[11] The new suit had a different appearance for the face, with a muscular neck and triangular wings. Small models of the monsters were also used for far away shots or flying shots of Rodan and King Ghidorah.[12]



Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster was released theatrically in Japan on December 20, 1964 by Toho.[1] In the United States, the film was released by the Walter Reade Organization and Continental Distributing on September 29, 1965 as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster[13] in 150 theatres in the southwestern United States.[14] It was double-billed with Harum Scarum.[15] To promote the film in the United States, Ghidorah masks were created as promotional tie-ins with local super markets and radio stations.[16] The American version runs at 85 minutes[13] and significantly alters certain scenes.[16] David Kalat opined that the English-dubbed version is superior in some ways, stating that the film is dramatically tightened and that continuity corrections resulted in an "improvement over the original".[17]

Home media

In 2007, Classic Media released the film on DVD in North America, along with other Godzilla titles. This release included the remastered, widescreen versions of the Japanese and American versions, as well as a biography on Eiji Tsuburaya, image galleries, promotional material, and an audio commentary by David Kalat.[18] Slant Magazine commented that the image quality on the DVD was clear, "but unremarkable" as "dust and dirt is evident throughout but one imagines this is about as good a transfer as we're going to get with a film of this sort."[19]

In 2010, Toho released the film on Blu-ray.[20] In 2017, Janus Films and the Criterion Collection acquired the film, as well as other Godzilla titles, to stream on Starz and FilmStruck.[21] In 2019, the Japanese version was included in a Blu-ray box set released by the Criterion Collection, which included all 15 films from the franchise's Shōwa era.[22]


In a contemporary review, Vincent Canby (New York Times) noted that the film "at least provides a smile or two as Ghidorah lurches and lunges through a veritable anthology of Japanese monster picture plots." and that "This fascination, on the part of contemporary Japanese film makers, with the destruction of their land by fantastic, prehistoric forces only 20 years after Hiroshima, might be of interest to social historians. The film, otherwise, is strictly for the comic book set." [23] Variety noted that "When the viewer finds himself cheering on the trio of unlikely allies, it's a tribute to Honda's ability to capture an audience" while noting that the dubbing in the film was "as usual, atrocious."[24]

From retrospective reviews, the American version was reviewed by Leonard Maltin who gave the film two and a half stars, calling it "one of the better Toho monster rallies”.[25] Phil Hardy's book Science Fiction noted that the film's visual effects "are better than usual and the cast includes Okada (Mistakenly believing actor Eiji Okada to be in the film), best known for his performance in Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), as well as the brilliant Shimura, star of Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952)."[26] Slant Magazine stated that the film "embodies much of what the popular monster films have come to be known for over the years: reptilian wrestling matches on a citywide scale, human drama paralleling the monster threat, rubbery creature effects, and the gleeful destruction of many a miniature architectural set piece." [27]

In its first five days of release in 150 theatres in the United States, it grossed $782,973.[14]

See also


  1. Galbraith IV 2008, p. 215.
  2. Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 217.
  3. Ryfle 1998, p. 354.
  4. David Kalat (2007). Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster Audio Commentary (DVD). Classic Media.
  5. Kalat 2007, p. 74.
  6. Kalat 2007, p. 75.
  7. Kalat 2007, p. 77.
  8. Ryfle 1998, p. 116.
  9. Kabushiki, Gaisha (1993). Gojira Eiga 40-Nenshi, Gojira Deizu (Godzilla Days: 40 years of Godzilla Movies). Shueisha. Pg.65
  10. Toho Co. Ltd. Publishing Division (1983). Toho Tokusha Eiga Zenshi (The Complete History of Toho Special Effects Movies) Pg. 26
  11. Kaneko, Masumi; Nakajima, Shinsuke (1983). Gojira Mook (Godzilla Graph Book). Kondansya Publishing Pgs.70 & 71
  12. Kaneko, Masumi; Nakajima, Shinsuke Pg. 103
  13. Ryfle 1998, p. 113.
  14. "Ghidrah (advertisement)". Variety. October 6, 1965. pp. 20–21.
  15. Kalat 2007, p. 72.
  16. Kalat 2007, p. 78.
  17. Dallmann, Shane M. (August 2007). "Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster". Video Watchdog. No. 133. p. 13. ISSN 1070-9991.
  18. Kotz, Sean (June 4, 2007). "DVD Reviews: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of Astro-Monster". SciFi Japan. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  19. Humanick, Rob (June 5, 2007). "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster". Slant Magazine. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  20. 三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦
  21. Squires, John (November 8, 2017). "Criterion Collection Has Obtained Most of the Shōwa Era 'Godzilla' Films!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  22. "Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954–1975". The Criterion Collection. 25 July 2019. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
      Squires, John (25 July 2019). "Criterion Collection Announces Epic 15-Film 'Godzilla: The Showa Era' Box Set for This October!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
      Patches, Matt (25 July 2019). "Criterion reveals the collection's 1000th disc: the ultimate Godzilla set". Polygon. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  23. Canby, Vincent (December 16, 1965). "Presley Shares Billing". New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  24. Galbraith IV 1994, p. 100.
  25. Maltin, Leonard (2009), p. 520. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. ISBN 1-101-10660-3. Signet Books. Accessed May 9, 2012
  26. Hardy 1984, p. 241.
  27. Humanick, Rob (June 5, 2007). "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster". Slant Magazine. Retrieved August 16, 2016.


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