Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) review [The Godzilla Project]


When Kurosawa’s Red Beard (1965) fell behind schedule, a new kaiju film was rushed into production to fill in the open slot in Toho’s New Year’s holiday slate. After the success of previous cross-over films, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka ordered Shinichi Sekizawa to develop a narrative that would feature both Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan. Ishiro Honda, once again, took place in the director’s seat and Eiji Tsuburaya returned to ensure that the special effects were satisfactory.  


One night in mid-winter, Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi), a reporter, attends an attempt to communicate with aliens for her upcoming television program. When no response from outer-space comes, Shindo’s scepticism is blamed. If she was a believer, they could have made contact and ask about the strange heatwave that is plaguing Japan.  

Naoko’s brother (Yosuke Natsuki), who is a detective, is ordered by his boss to guard Princess Mas Dorina Selno of Seligna (Akiko Wakabayashi) while she visits Japan on unofficial business. She might be an assassination target due to ongoing power struggles in her home country. Such fears are confirmed when her plane, on route to Japan, explodes. Luckily, merely seconds before the bomb detonated, the princess escaped the doomed plane.

Professor Murai (Hiroshi Koizumi) travels with his team to mount Kurodake to investigate a strange magnetic meteorite. Around the same time, a prophet appears in Tokyo who warns people about the coming destruction of the earth. She foretells that it will all begin with a disaster at mount Aso. 

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) by Ishiro Honda

Ghidorah: the three headed monster is the first narrative in the Godzilla series that, due to its narrative reliance on outer-space, gaps between worlds, and prophets from other worlds, decontextualizes the kaiju-monsters. Rather than certain post-war societal dynamics and conflicts causing the birth of these monstrous beings, it is the disturbance by something other-worldly, by something that has no connection to the conflictual state of the Japanese post-war society, that calls these kaiju forth onto the Japanese archipelago. How can read this shift and how does it impact the fabric of the narrative?

Even though the monsters are decontextualized by the narrative structure, i.e. the shift away from depicting internal societal tensions via conflicts between monstrous beings, we can still rely on what these beings represented in previous narratives to try and situate ourselves within Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster (1964).

It is therefore not unimportant to re-introduce what Godzilla represents before we further analyse the structure and logic of the narrative. In short, up until now, following the waves of repression and its return, the monstrous shape of Godzilla has been the image of what remains refused by the Japanese societal Other, of what the societal field does not want to deal with or accept.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) by Ishiro Honda

In our previous articles, we have quite vaguely equated Godzilla with the post-war traumatic truth that, despite scarring the societal field profoundly, faces a radical repression by the post-war introduction of the joys of consumption and the blossoming of the capitalistic discourse, with all its promise and seduction. This traumatic truth is, to put it more concretely, nothing but Japan’s defeat as such. It is the haunting smoke of defeat, as emerging from the ruins and ashes from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, that rewrites and threaten the societal fabric and the place of the Japanese subject. In this sense, we could interpret each return of Godzilla as a demand for this traumatic truth to be integrated into the societal fabric. Each destructive lashing out, each burst of jouissance, by virtue of echoing the destruction caused by the atom bomb, was a demand to the Other to deal with this truth in a proper way and not to try to repress it by indulging in consumption and capitalism.

There are three decontextualized or decentred events within the narrative: the resurfacing of Rodan (Masanori Shinohara), the appearance of Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima), and their fight near mount Fuji. In our review of Rodan (1956), we argued that this flying Kaiju embodied the destructive finality of a blind economic growth on the planet – the destruction it caused echoing the environmental destruction that the capitalistic Japanese Other was blindly producing. Even though in Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964), there is no societal dynamic that explains his sudden bursting forth from the crater of mount Aso, we should nevertheless read his presence as a visualization of the rejected post-war capitalistic truth – he is the victim of the blossoming capitalism, the embodiment of the environmental trauma that blind belief and adherence to such logic ends up causing (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2). Godzilla, whose sudden appearance also lacks any reference to the societal field, is present as the victim of pre-war Japanese imperialism. He embodies the imperialistic trauma, the traumatic stain that refuses to be erased from the Japanese Other.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) by Ishiro Honda

So, when Godzilla and Rodan face off, they fight each other as victims of societal dynamics, as carriers of truth and trauma not yet fully assumed. Yet, is such fight not contradictory? The only way to make some sense of their decontextualized lashing out at each other is by assuming that these monstrous beings attack each other due to the continued attempts to repress them within the societal field. Yet, their fight endangers the very truth or trauma they represent and threatens to erase them from the post-war societal field structured by capitalism.

The choice to place their fight near mount Fuji as well as the minimal destruction their bursting forth causes are quite important factors. Both elements underlines that their violence is not directed at the societal Other – the neon city-scapes. Their conflict stages, if one wants to read it this way, a hidden tension within the societal field, one between the haunting spectre of pre-war trauma and the unconformable and this dismissed finality of capitalism. Yet, as mentioned before, this violent dissent between conflicts threatens, by virtue of being contradictory, to eradicate their echoing effect within a capitalistic societal field.

Mothra returns as a motherly presence, the spectre of forgiveness returning to the Japanese archipelago to unite the brawling kaiju – see Mothra vs Godzilla (1964). In a very estranging sequence where she communicates with Godzilla and Rodan – a conversation translated to our main characters by the shobijin, we learn that their refusal to cooperate and unite lies is due to the trouble humans cause or, in our words, due to the repression they face by the Japanese Other (Narra-note 3, General-note 1).

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) by Ishiro Honda

The act that, finally, unites the monsters is sacrificial and motherly in nature. As Mothra embodies the unconditional love of the ideal (m)Other, her act is not simply aimed at protecting her infants. The act has no other effect that raising the kaiju to the statute of her infant and to include them into her love and forgiveness. If her act reveals something is that only motherly love can unite a scarred and conflictual social field.     

What do the united forces Mothra, Rodan and Godzilla represent? To be able to formulate an answer to this question, we need to analyse what the treat called King Ghidorah (Shoichi Hirose) visualizes. From a topological perspective, the three headed alien dragon, the destroyer of planets, represents a radical outside that threatens an inside (General-note 2). The annihilation the three heads causes in city environments implies that this inside is nothing other than the Japanese societal fabric as such. In this sense, Ghidorah can be read as a radical Otherness, an Otherness that poses a threat to the phantasmatic and imaginary consistency of the societal fabric.  

If Ghidorah represents such radical Otherness then the combined forces of Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan cannot but represent Japanese society as such. Yet, this representation of Japanese society is not one that has come to terms with its past and is able to deal with its repressed truths. Rather, this formidable unity echoes Japan’s post-war resilience and a societal field that mistakenly believes in its harmonious consistency.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) by Ishiro Honda

The effect of Sekizawa’s decontextualization of the kaiju on the thematical fabric of these monster-films can thus not be underestimated. While previous kaiju narratives dealt with the societal dynamic of repression and its return – hereby exploring the fracture lines that define post-war Japanese society, the screenwriter represses the traumatic spectres (i.e. the representation of Godzilla) and the repressed truths (i.e. Rodan’s logic) that trouble Japanese society to transform Godzilla and Rodan into heroic figures. With his pleasant finale, Sekizawa, in short, ends up denouncing the conflictual nature of the societal field to stage a grand heroic finale that celebrates the false sense of societal unity within post-war Japan. At the limit, Honda’s Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964) even reveals that the most powerful motivation for repression, for investing in the deceptive nature of wholeness, is nothing other than the (m)Other’s love.

The composition of King Ghidorah: the three headed monster proves that Honda has settled for a certain consistent visual style. Once again, his composition has a pleasant visual rhythm, which helps the spectator invest into the narrative, and the special effects are, as spectators have come to expect, fluidly integrated into the composition. Imagery of models and miniature landscapes are elegantly concatenated with footage of cast-members and extra’s and many convincing composite moments are integrated into the visual fabric. The resulting spatial and temporal easily allow the spectator to suspend his disbelief and invest in the world of kaiju.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) by Ishiro Honda

Yet, the anthropomorphising of the Kaiju will complicate some spectators’ ability to suspend their disbelief. While King Ghidorah: the three headed monster offers pleasant brawls and satisfying finale, the act of humanizing Godzilla and Rodan create some moments that border on the silly – e.g. Mothra biting Godzilla’s tail to move faster, Mothra utilizes Rodan to better utilize her silk-attack, Rodan and Godzilla throwing rocks at each other.

Yet, the reason for this anthropomorphising is quite clear – i.e. to allows the spectator to more easily sympathize with them, to accept their shift from antagonist to hero. This also explain why neither Rodan and Godzilla cause a trail of destruction (e.g. the birth of Rodan from the crater is followed by merely two shots to illustrate the power of his wings). While the absence of such decorative shots of destruction can also be partially blamed on the fact the film was rushed into production to replace Red Beard in Toho’s New Year’s holiday slate, the choice fits within the attempt to re-frame these monsters from enemies that threaten to Japanese society to protectors of the fictional Japanese societal harmony. As a matter of fact, within the narrative, only king Ghidorah causes a kind of destruction that worthy of the name – a sequence that is breathtaking and will satisfy anyone thirst to see miniature cityscapes explode and crumble to pieces. 

King Ghidorah: the three headed monster is a pleasant kaiju film that, nevertheless, constitutes a radical thematical break with the previous narratives. Sekizawa’s act of humanizing and decontextualizing Godzilla and Rodan (e.g. the possibility of communication, more human-like violent act, …etc.) does not merely erase the societal critical nature of the kaiju film, the exploration of the fracture-lines that define the Japanese post-war society, but subtly transform the monstrous shape of Godzilla into the heroic symbol of a fictional and mendacious societal unity. While Sekisawa could have utilized the presence of Mothra to show that true cultural strength lies in the ability to come to terms with its fracture-lines and scars, her sacrificial act of motherly love enables the screenwriter to repress the scars and unwanted truth that fracture the Japanese societal field and previous films so clearly outlined.


Narra-note 1: The impact of such discourse on the societal fabric is furthermore – intentionally or unintentionally – highlighted by the proliferation of neon-lights within the visual fabric. These colourful signs do not merely try to seduce the potential costumer, but seductively echoes the subject the very object-of-consumption that he lacks and thus needs to consume. 

Narra-note 2: Besides the indirect reference to the capitalistic discourse through the neon-lit scenes, the prophet underlines the problematic nature of materialism for subjectivity and society in a more direct way. Rather than investing in intersubjective relations as such, the contemporary subject searches object-of-pleasure, imaginary things to support one’s ego, to mediate between him and the Other. Yet, such reliance on what are essentially phallic objects, objects to feel desired or to support one’s desire, slowly empties out the social bond.

Narra-note 3: The humanisation of Godzilla and Rodan – the framing of them being misunderstood by the Japanese Other, intends to arouse empathy within the spectator for these kaiju, these victims of humanity’s desire to repress. Yet, this attempt is not without infusing some silliness into the narrative fabric, enough to put the spectator’s ability to suspend his disbelief to the test.  

General-note 1: Ryfle and Godziszewski (2017, p.215) underline, in their book, that Honda had misgivings about the anthropomorphising of the monsters and that he had to force himself to stage the inter-species conversation.

General-note 2: Given the structure of the narrative, we are inclined to agree with Honda that that Ghidorah does not represent the  nuclear threat from China (Ryfle and Godziszewski, 2017). Yet, he is not merely a homage to Yamata no Oroshi, the mythological eight-headed dragon either. He embodies an Otherness that is more fantasized and thus more radical.


Ryfle, S., Godziszewski, E. (2017). Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa. Wesleyan University Press.


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