Luke Owen counts down to Pacific Rim by looking at some of his favourite giant monsters…
Kaiju: The Japanese word for “strange beast”. However, the word Kaiju has been universally translated and defined into English as “monster” or “giant monster”.
Today’s entry into My Favourite Kaiju is one of Godzilla’s most formidable foes, the three-headed dragon alien, King Ghidorah.
King Ghidorah made his first appearance in the 1964 follow up to Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster and quickly became a fan favourite. Although he was only on screen for the last portion of the movie, the design of the creature as well as the suitmation work done by Shôichi Hirose made for an impressive visual that captured the imagination of kaiju-eiga fans. With such a popular reaction to the character, he was brought back again to fight Godzilla and Rodan in the 1965 movie Invasion of Astro-Monster, which also marked the first movie where Godzilla was portrayed as a hero character from the start having turned into a ‘good guy’ at the end of the previous movie.
From there he would again be the main villain in 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, a movie that was intended to be the final Godzilla film. In this movie he is once again controlled by aliens and it takes a whole army of kaiju to take him down including Anguirus, Mothra, Minilla, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Kumonga, Manda, Baragon, and Varan. His last appearance in the Showa era of Toho was in 1972’s disappointing Godzilla vs. Gigan. The suitmation and miniature work is lacking in this entry due to the budget constraints Toho was currently under and the majority of King Ghidorah’s main attacks are from stock footage of Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster and Destroy All Monsters.
As we moved into the Heisei era of Toho, King Ghidroah would make his landmark appearance in a movie that many claim to be the best of the entire franchise – 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
In this movie, a group of visitors from the future tell our present day heroes of a way to remove Godzilla from existence. They travel back to World War II where they find the Godzillasaurus, the creature that would eventually turn into Godzilla when the American started nuclear testing in the 1950s. However what our heroes don’t realise is that after removing the Godzillasaurus, the visitors left behind three cute little creatures called Dorats. When the 1950s nuclear testing happens, these Dorats merge to create King Ghidorah – who is now under the control of the future visitors. So the only thing to stop this three headed beast is Godzilla, only he no longer exists. Through some convoluted (and frankly coincidental) happenings, they create a new and badder Godzilla which leads to one of the best fights in kaiju-eiga history. But after the fight is done, Godzilla now starts his own rampage – and who can stop him? King Ghiroah of course! So our heroes travel to the future, rebuild King Ghidorah and bring him back as Mecha-King Ghidorah.
The creature would also make appear in the Rebirth of Mothra trilogy of the mid-to-late 90s before returning to the Godzilla franchise in 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack where he acts as an Earth protector against Godzilla. His final showing in the franchise would be in the 2004 epic conclusion to the franchise, Godzilla: Final Wars where he is under the disguise of Monster X before revealing his true form in the final act of the movie.
Where do I begin with my love of this character? Aside from his incredible design, King Ghidorah is just a formidable screen presence. His initial attack in Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster is one of the best examples of the genius of Eiji Tsuburaya’s miniature work as well Ishiro Honda’s direction and could very well be one of the best city attacks in the entire series. Ghidorah commands every frame he’s in and he has featured in some of the best movies of the King of the Monsters’ 28 movie franchise. 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is one of my all-time favourites and despite its cheesy sci-fi nature, I absolutely love Invasion of Astro-Monster. He is a character that is loved not just by the fans, but by Toho themselves who would do everything in their power to protect him.
In 1993, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio wrote a script for an American Godzilla movie that would feature the King of the Monsters going against a mythical alien creature named The Gryphon, which the writers admitted was their version of King Ghidorah because Toho wouldn’t allow the writers to use the actual character. Whether we’ll ever see a big screen American version of this three-headed dragon remains to be seen, but we know for sure that Godzilla won’t be alone in the 2014 Gareth Edwards reboot…
…Although we can guarantee that it definitely won’t be King Ghidorah.
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Month in Review show for Flickering Myth’s Podcast Network. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.